Cause and Effect
Written by Dr. Laurie on November 4, 2009
In surfing around the internet, I came across a very interesting study on the link between the immune system and the brain.
We intuitively know that there must be a link: we experience that we are whole selves, not parts. But medicine seems to study disease by disease, not the interrelationships — until now.
There are more and more studies that address how one thing affects another and, in this study, the scientists looked at how chronic inflammation (like in rheumatoid arthritis or heart disease) creates a depressive response. The inflammation itself changes the chemistry in the brain. This debunks the older idea that depression is a reaction to a disease, or even another form of poor coping with a chronic illness.
Instead, here we see that the disease of depression is the biochemical reaction to inflammation — not a psychological failure or a maladaptive reaction to pain and limitation.
These studies were done on mice, and so there is a way to go before we can make definitive correlations to people, but I think there is something to pay attention to in this research.
Often our impression of depression is that it is a failure of will or a personal weakness — not a serious illness with its own symptoms that go away when properly treated.
When someone is treated for depression, it goes away. They feel better. They have more energy and the world seems like a friendlier and easier place to be.
Classic signs of depression are feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and futility, along with sleeping problems, irritable moods and angry outbursts, lack of energy, and gaining or losing weight. Recent statistics suggest that one in ten people have depression, and among those with RA newer studies put the incidence at twice that of the general population.
Depression is vastly under-treated because people feel embarrassed or ashamed. In addition, many people don’t want to be on yet another medication. They “don’t like taking drugs.”
The tragic downside of this is that, when someone is treated for depression, it goes away. They feel better. They have more energy and the world seems like a friendlier and easier place to be.
What the inflammation research tells us is that, if you have RA (or another chronic illness with inflammation), the depression is a result of that disease. It isn’t your fault, and it can be treated. You don’t have to live with all those sad, angry, painful thoughts all the time.
To read the article, click here.
If you suspect you might be depressed, talk to your doctor and get an evaluation. Don’t be afraid of a brief course of anti-depressants.
You want to enjoy — not just endure your life.