How Inflammation and Depression Go Hand in Hand

woman with inflammation and depression

Depression is a complex and challenging mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. While its exact causes remain a subject of ongoing research, one emerging area of interest is the connection between depression and inflammation. In recent years, studies have shown that inflammation in the body can play a significant role in triggering or exacerbating depressive symptoms.

Continue reading as we discuss the relationship between inflammation and depression. We’re shedding light on what inflammation does to the body, how it can impact mental health, and the potential long-term consequences of depression caused by inflammation.

What Inflammation Does to the Body

Inflammation is a natural response of the body's immune system to injury or infection. When the immune system detects a threat, it releases chemicals and white blood cells to the affected area to fight off invaders and promote healing. This acute inflammation is crucial for correcting your overall health.

However, problems arise when inflammation becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation is a prolonged and persistent state of low-grade inflammation that can affect various parts of the body, including the brain. 

Some of the ways inflammation affects the body are:

  1. Immune response: Inflammation is a fundamental part of the immune system's response to infection and injury. When the body detects a threat, immune cells release pro-inflammatory chemicals like cytokines and chemokines to eliminate the threat and initiate the healing process.
  2. Redness, heat, swelling, and pain: The classic signs of inflammation in your body are redness, heat, swelling, and pain at the site of the injury or infection. These symptoms are a result of increased blood flow to the affected area, which carries immune cells and nutrients to aid in healing.
  3. Release of Cytokines: Pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), are released during inflammation. These molecules regulate immune cell activity and promote inflammation. In the short term, they are essential for defending against infections.
  4. Fever: In response to infection, the body may raise its temperature through a controlled fever. This elevated temperature can help the immune system work more efficiently by inhibiting the growth of some pathogens.
  5. Mental health: Studies have recognized the link between inflammation and depression. The release of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the brain can disrupt neurotransmitter balance and alter brain function, potentially leading to mood disorders.

While acute inflammation is a short-term and beneficial response, chronic inflammation is long-lasting and can have detrimental effects. Chronic inflammation can be triggered by factors like a poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress, or underlying medical conditions. Over time, it can lead to damage to tissues and organs.

Bonus Tip: After this article, learn about how zero gravity chairs and other home remedies for swelling may help improve inflammation and depression symptoms.

The Connection Between Inflammation and Depression

Can inflammation cause depression? Modern science indicates the answer to that question is a definite yes. Our body's inflammatory response, which usually jumps into action when we're hurt or fighting off an infection, can become a double-edged sword. When it lingers on for too long, it can negatively impact our mental health, particularly by making depression worse.

Lower Levels of Neurotransmitters

One of the ways inflammation and depression are linked is by what it does to our neurotransmitters. When you hear about serotonin and dopamine, think of them as mood regulators. Chronic inflammation can throw their balance off, leading to decreased levels. Lower levels of these neurotransmitters are often associated with depression and inflammation can contribute to this imbalance.


Inflammation and depression may also be linked through neuroinflammation. The immune response can cross the blood-brain barrier and activate our brain's own immune system called microglia. This can lead to a condition called neuroinflammation, where the brain starts producing even more pro-inflammatory molecules. This condition can have a profound negative impact on our mental health, affecting emotions and cognitive abilities.

Brain Structure and Function

Depression caused by inflammation may also stem from its effect on your brain's structure and function. It can negatively impact areas of your brain like the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. The inflammation in the body can alter the size and connectivity of these brain regions involved in mood regulation and cognitive function. These changes can result in feeling emotionally off-balance.

Stress Management

Inflammation also has a hand in stress management. It can mess with the HPA axis, which is like our body's stress control center. This axis regulates cortisol, our stress hormone. When inflammation disrupts it, cortisol levels can go haywire, leading to more stress and anxiety – not exactly the best mood boosters. Fighting inflammation is a key way to reduce cortisol levels naturally and help against depression caused by inflammation.

Depression and inflammation can link together, negatively affecting our mood, our cognitive abilities, and even our stress responses. Understanding this connection is a big step in finding more effective ways to manage mental health, especially when inflammation is part of the equation.

Long-Term Effects of Depression Caused By Inflammation

With the connection between inflammation and depression so deeply rooted in our overall health, it’s vital that we treat it as efficiently as possible. Neglecting the management of depression caused by inflammation may expose you to a range of long-term effects that can significantly impact your holistic health. Understanding these potential consequences may help you in addressing both the underlying inflammation and depression symptoms.

Some potential long-term effects of the connection between inflammation and depression, when left untreated, are:

  • Increased risk of recurrence: Untreated depression is more likely to recur, making it harder to achieve lasting remission and maintain mental well-being.
  • Worsening mental health: Over time, untreated depression caused by inflammation can intensify, leading to more severe symptoms.
  • Physical health problems: Depression linked to inflammation may increase the risk of physical health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and immune system dysfunction, which can have long-term consequences.
  • Cognitive decline: Prolonged inflammation and depression may contribute to cognitive decline and impairments in memory, attention, and decision-making. Finding ways to prevent cognitive decline may help both ailments.
  • Relationship struggles: Chronic depression can strain relationships, hinder social functioning, and lead to difficulties at work or in your personal life.

It's crucial to recognize the importance of seeking treatment for depression, particularly when inflammation is a contributing factor, to mitigate these potential long-term consequences and improve mental and physical well-being. Consult your doctor to develop a plan for how to improve symptoms of both ailments in both the short and long term.

Science has shown us that inflammation and depression are connected. Chronic inflammation can potentially serve as a trigger or worsening factor for depressive symptoms. Understanding this relationship is essential for developing effective treatment strategies.