Without the ability to produce inflammation we die. The inflammatory response is the main weapon that the immune system uses to protect us from infection, keep cancer cells from growing out of control, and help tissues heal when they are damaged.
However, one has to have the right balance of inflammation to be healthy. We need enough inflammation to protect us, but too much of an inflammatory response leads to increased risk of developing diseases such as irritable bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, lupus, and diabetes.
The mind as well as the body is negatively affected by run-away inflammation. Emotional problems such as depression, spikes of high or low moods (bipolar disorders), or schizophrenia are accompanied by uncontrolled inflammation.
Genes control the amount of inflammation that the body produces. When “inflammatory” genes are turned on, up-regulated, immune cells produce cytokines, inflammatory immune messengers, along with biological compounds such as C-reactive protein (CRP).
LONELINESS AND ANHEDONIA
Loneliness and feelings of isolation are linked to an increased risk of chronic disease and death and are associated with increased levels of inflammation.
Some depressed individuals experience anhedonia, a condition in which they lack motivation and do not enjoy life. These people find no joy in food, spending time with their family or friends, concerts, or activities that others find pleasurable.
Individuals with anhedonia experience persistent brain inflammation, among other biological events and typical treatments for depression are often not helpful.
BRAIN REGIONS COMMUNICATE WITH ONE ANOTHER
Different parts of the brain communicate with one another as they control a person’s response to pleasure and rewards such as social interactions, food and sex. Reacting positively to these stimuli motivates one to repeat them in the future. The ability of these regions to communicate with one another is called “connectivity”.
Individuals with low connectivity have increased inflammation and deeper feelings of anhedonia. High CRP (an inflammatory marker) levels were also correlated with the inability to experience pleasure.
One of the medications used for individuals suffering with anhedonia is infliximab. This medication is prescribed for patients with inflammatory conditions such as bowel disease and arthritis. Additionally, administrating cytokines, immune messengers of inflammation, changes the reward-related regions of the brain.
Dopamine, which is produced brain cells, is strongly associated with the brain’s pleasure/reward regions. Dopamine helps us feel enjoyment and motivates us to participate in or continue to engage in activities that give us pleasure.
Decreased production of dopamine is associated with heighted inflammation and decreased connectivity between the pleasure centers of the brain. Administering inflammatory cytokines over a long period of time may lead to decreases in dopamine production.
THE LINK BETWEEN PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND DEPRESSION
Every time muscles contract, they release anti-inflammatory molecules that help the body balance the amount of inflammation it produces. Additionally, exercise activates the brain’s pleasure centers. The evidence shows that there is a strong link between physical activity and mental and physical health.
Regular physical activity decreases one’s risk of depression. Researchers tracked individuals that experienced their first heart attack and had been physically active for 10 years prior to the event. Heart attack survivors who exercised for years prior to the event had a 20% lower risk of developing depression compared to individuals that had not been physically active.
Also, people who had become physically active before their first heart attack had a better protection against depression compared to those who had been active at one time, but then became inactive.
Increased inflammation has been associated with depression and other negative emotional states. Maintaining the body’s balance of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses helps support healthy emotional responses.
Dr. Hellen’s major passion in life is helping people to enjoy life at its fullest. She may be contacted by using this form, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at: 302.265.3870 (ET, USA).