It has been known for a while that depression is due to a chemical imbalance, but a new theory is gaining ground scientifically that suggests depression could be an allergic reaction.
When something ‘foreign’ enters the body, the immune system jumps into action. This is happening in the background all the time dealing with possible invaders without us necessarily knowing anything about it. However, part of that immune system is inflammation triggered by proteins called cytokines and these also switch the brain into sickness mode.
Think of when you have a bad cold or flu – how do you feel? Tired, all you want to do is sleep, miserable, you lose interest in things, have difficulty in concentrating? Doesn’t that sound a bit like depression?
Both cytokines and inflammation have been shown to rocket during depressive episodes and, in people with bipolar, they drop off during periods of remission.
The question scientists are now trying to answer is ‘what sets off the inflammation?’ We know infection does, but it is not the only trigger by any means, just as likely are allergies.
As humans, we are a delicate chemical balance designed thousands of years ago, but now more so than ever before in our history we are bombarded with foods we not designed to eat and artificial chemicals that we ingest through the additives, colourings and preservatives in our foods and water that are inevitably going to put pressure on the immune system.
When you get bitten or stung by an insect and their poison is injected into your body, your immune system reacts, sending antibodies to the area and white blood cells. For some people, their immune system reacts vigorously and swelling (inflammation) to a greater or lesser degree occurs in that area. Some people can have violent allergic reaction to some poisons.
Things that we are not designed to cope with as part of our original blueprint could quite easily be causing the same allergic reaction and inflammation.
A diet rich in trans fats and sugar has been shown to promote inflammation, while a healthy one full of fruit, veg and oily fish helps keep it at bay. Obesity is another risk factor, probably because body fat, particularly around the belly, stores large quantities of cytokines.
Many foods we now eat on a daily basis in the Western world including grains such as wheat, pulses and sugars and would not have been part of our primitive diet.
Add this to the fact that stress, particularly the kind that follows social rejection or loneliness, also causes inflammation, and it starts to look as if depression is a kind of allergy to modern life.
Perhaps this explains the spiralling prevalence of depression all over the world as we increasingly eat, sloth and isolate ourselves into a state of chronic inflammation.
The good news is that the few clinical trials done so far have found that adding anti-inflammatory medicines to antidepressants not only improves symptoms, it also increases the proportion of people who respond to treatment, although more trials will be needed to confirm this.
There is also some evidence that omega 3 and curcumin, an extract of the spice turmeric, might have similar effects. Both are available over the counter and might be worth a try, although as an add-on to any prescribed treatment – there’s definitely not enough evidence to use them as a replacement.
The even better news is however that there are steps you can take immediately if inflammation is a contributory factor of your depression to work towards eliminating toxins from your diet and be mindful of what you are consuming.
There is no doubt whatsoever that when you eat a clean health diet, free from additives and preservatives, added salt and sugar you feel better. If chemical consumption and a consumption of certain ‘foods’ our bodies are not designed for is one cause of depression which is looking more and more likely, what a lovely easy problem to be able to solve.
I would encourage you to look into the Paleo diet and lifestyle. It’s theories are aligned with the teachings of solution focused hypnotherapy in that it promotes eating and exercising in a way that emulates our original primitive blueprint. Understanding the holistic approach to how we are designed, mind and body gives us the tools to correct the errors and distortions that have crept in over the last few centuries of the rapidly developing modern world.
I don’t think it is any coincidence whatsoever that modern diseases such as depression seem to be increasing across the globe at an accelerating pace as ‘modern life’ and progress accelerates.