Depression: A Symptom of Inflammation?

It was a quiet Tuesday morning when I sipped through my coffee and sat into a deep reflection. I mentally assessed the fatigue levels of my body for final adjustments to my upcoming workout and then it struck me.

Our bodies are wonderful machines built to survive. Since the beginning of time, the deep intricacies of our body has developed ways to not only combat stress but to thrive amidst it. Despite the constant stress and inflammation I subject myself into, there were days I feel good, strong and energetic to workout. Such day was this day. 

But then and old but currently relevant concept popped into my head.

Our bodies cannot detect what kind of stress we are currently experiencing–it just knows we are under stress. Whether you doing a hard HIIT, got cornered by hold-uppers or are overwhelmed during a presentation, the body simply determines this as stress and produces the same stress response to survive–inflammation.

Now, let’s set it straight. Stress (and inflammation) is good, especially acute stress or one that occurs in a short period of time. Let’s say you are under the stress of squatting a barbell. This kind of stress is good because even though it tears down your muscle fibers and causes an inflammatory response, your muscles have enough time to recover and thus get stronger. A detrimental kind of stress is one that is prolonged, or medically termed as chronic stress. Things like living in a traumatic household where there is really no safe space to express your authentic wants and needs, or a prolonged inactive lifestyle with poor sleep patterns and overconsumption of junk food. These prolonged exposure to stress and inflammation leads to chronic inflammatory diseases (or lifestyle diseases) like diabetes, hypertension, cancer and depression. That last one is especially important because the common connotation for depression isn’t usually linked to our inflammation and lifestyle but rather to our genetics. 

Let’s take a closer look on how inflammation and depression connect.

In his book, The 4 Pillar Plan, Dr. Rangan Chatterjee pointed out a 2016 paper published by researchers at Kings’ College London that showed how inflammation and depression are linked. The study focused on the effectivity of antidepressants in relation to the level of inflammation a person has by testing their blood. Amazingly, the research concluded that people with high degrees of inflammation did not respond to conventional anti-depressants at all. Chatterjee, notes that “the results of this study confirms what other scientific researchers have been suggesting for years–that depression itself can be a symptom of biological changes in the body that are driven by inflammation. That is why antidepressants don’t work for these patients.”

This leads us to a huge insight. This means that even during an unprecedented, confusing, and tough time like this where everything is set up for chaos, suffering and depression, we can do something. We have a choice.

Even though we don’t have gym equipment at home, we have a choice to still get a workout in. Even if we live with turbulent family members or feel turbulent as well, we have a choice to set boundaries to prioritize our own healing by tuning in to what our bodies need.

Get some sunlight, set a quiet time for meditation, make a nutritious meal or force yourself to stop working when it’s getting late. These are just some simple ways we express our choice to combat a destructive mindset and ultimately contribute to society at large.

Because during a time like this, doing something good for ourselves does not and should not just end with ourselves. The effects of a good mood radiates to the next person we interact with and lightened up their mood. The habit of preparing healthy meals gets our family members curious to try the same. When our household exercises regularly, we become less prone to worsened COVID 19 symptoms and thus take off pressure to the already overwhelmed health care system.

These are simple ways we can take ownership of our health. There’s no more time for blame because you can get less inflamed!

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