Inflammation and Depression: How Lifestyle Choices Make a Difference

Learn how to make lifestyle changes to reduce inflammation to improve your mood

Daniesha Govender
By Daniesha Govender
Jovan Mijailovic
Edited by Jovan Mijailovic

Updated December 6, 2023.

Inflammation and depression: a sad woman lying on the couch.

Inflammation and depression have a complex relationship. When the immune system responds to infections or stress, it releases pro-inflammatory molecules known as cytokines. They communicate with the brain, disrupting neurotransmitter balance, which can contribute to depression. [1, 2]

To explore how you can make a difference with lifestyle choices, let's first find out how inflammation and depression may be connected.

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Inflammation and depression: the neuroimmune connection

The mechanisms by which inflammation influences depression are complex and not fully understood. However, some of the proposed ones include:

  • Cytokine-mediated neurotransmitter disruption: Cytokines can interfere with the production and release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine. This can lead to mood swings and depressive symptoms. [3]
  • Neuroinflammation-induced neurodegeneration: Neuroinflammation can damage neurons and disrupt neural circuits. This can lead to cognitive impairment and depressive symptoms. [3]
  • Reducing the production of synaptic proteins: Neuroinflammation can reduce the production of synaptic proteins, essential for communication between neurons. It can lead to impaired synaptic plasticity and impaired mood regulation. [4]

Role of microglia

Microglia are the brain's immune cells responsible for protecting the brain from infection and injury. But, when they become overactivated, they can damage neurons and contribute to depression. [5] The neuroinflammation microglia causes is thought to play a role in the development and progression of depression.

Lifestyle choices and anti-inflammatory strategies

There are several lifestyle choices and anti-inflammatory strategies that you can adopt to help reduce inflammation and depression symptoms. They include:

  • Regular exercise: Exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation by increasing the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines. [6]
  • Balanced diet: A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contains antioxidants and other compounds that can help protect the body from damage and inflammation. [7]
  • Stress management: When stressed, our bodies release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can increase inflammation. Stress management techniques such as meditation can help reduce it. [8]
  • Quality sleep: Sleep is essential for cognitive function, which can be impaired in depression. [9] Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

» Read more on how diet can influence depressive disorders

Treatment options

If you're experiencing symptoms of depression, you should consult a healthcare professional for the best possible course of action. Treatments may include anti-inflammatory drugs, omega-3 supplements, and psychotherapy. [3]

» Learn about the benefits of taking supplements

Improving your mental well-being

Focusing on a holistic health approach can reduce inflammation and improve your mood. You can consult a qualified healthcare professional to help decide which steps to take.

Additionally, tracking inflammatory markers through personalized health services like InsideTracker can help identify areas where you can make lifestyle changes to reduce inflammation.

InsideTracker doesn't treat or diagnose medical conditions. If you have any health concerns, please consult a qualified healthcare professional.