Does Inflammation Cause Mental Illness? 7 Inflammation Causes You Need to Know

Last modified: August 2, 2019

Richard Honaker M.D.
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Astonishing new connections between inflammation and mental illness has been recently discovered. A recent study from Boston Children’s Hospital, published in Nature, shed light on the mystery of the mechanisms underlying the effects of lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) on the brain.

Lupus is an incurable autoimmune disease wherein around 75 percent of patients who have it experience neuropsychiatric symptoms. The study has also identified potential new medicine to protect the brain from the neuropsychiatric effects of lupus and other CNS (central nervous system) diseases.

Lupus patients usually have a broad range of neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as mental illness like anxiety and depression, headaches, seizures, and even psychosis. The authors of the study stated that the cause has never really been clear and that for a very long time, the above mentioned symptoms weren’t even considered as lupus symptoms.

The neuropsychiatric symptoms of lupus are collectively known as CNS lupus. The researchers wondered if changes in the immune system in lupus patients were directly producing the symptoms from a pathological stance. They were curious to know how chronic inflammation affects the brain.

Lupus affects at least 1.5 million Americans and makes the immune systems to attack the body’s tissues and organs. As a result, the body’s white blood cells release type 1 interferon-alpha. It’s a small cytokine protein that serves as a systemic alarm that triggers a number of additional immune activities while it binds with receptors in different tissues.

Until recently, these cytokines were never thought to be able to cross the blood brain barrier. This barrier is a very selective membrane that controls the transfer of materials between the blood and the CNS fluids. There has never been an indication that type 1 interferon can get into and start out immune responses in the brain.

The research team worked with a mouse model of lupus and unexpectedly discovered that enough interferon-alpha permeated the blood brain barrier that caused changes in the brain. Once the cytokines are across the barrier, the immune defense cells of the CNS called microglia were launched into attack mode on the neuronal synapses of the brain. As a result, synapses became lost in the frontal cortex.

The researchers have found a mechanism that directly connects inflammation to mental illness. Such kind of discovery has big implications for a range of CNS diseases.

Does Inflammation Cause Mental Illness? 7 Inflammation Causes You Need to Know

Blocking the Effects of Inflammation on the Brain

Anti-IFNAR, a drug that blocks interferon-alpha’s receptor, was administered on the patients to see if synapse loss can be reduced. The results revealed that anti-IFNAR significantly have neuro-protective effects in mice with lupus and it prevented synapse loss when compared with the mice who did not receive the drug.

The researchers have also noticed that the treated mice had a reduction in behavioral signs linked with mental illness like anxiety and other cognitive defects.

Further study may be needed to exactly determine how interferon-alpha is able to cross the blood brain barrier. The findings of this particular research have established a foundation for upcoming clinical trials to examine the effects of anti-IFNAR drugs on CNS lupus and other CNS diseases. Anifrolumab, an anti-IFNAR, is currently being analyzed in a phase 3 human clinical trial for the treatment of other facets of lupus.

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Other mental illness like schizophrenia also features microglia dysfunction. The findings of the study allowed the connection of lupus to other CNS diseases. CNS lupus is a real disease of the brain and not just an undefined set of neuropsychiatric symptoms. And the best part of it is that it’s something that can be potentially treated.

The inferences go beyond lupus since inflammation supports many diseases and conditions, from Alzheimer’s to viral infection to chronic stress to mental illness. The research team plans to conduct further study to find out if every one of us is losing synapses just at some varying degrees.

Almost everybody has a basic idea that inflammation is the secret perpetrator at the back of dozens of health problems. The following will give you more information on what you should know about it, what are the inflammation causes, and how to keep it at bay.

What Is Inflammation And What Are The Inflammation Causes?

Inflammation is a quick and natural response that helps the body to heal when it functions properly. If it doesn’t, it seethes at chronic levels and has been recently associated with a diverse range of illnesses like dementia, heart disease, asthma, migraines, colitis, cancer, diabetes, and a pervasive mental illness called depression.

Actually, chronic inflammation has been linked with the development of at least 50 percent of the diseases on the top 10 causes of mortality from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because of its menacing pervasiveness, inflammation earned a negative reputation.

As a result, it aroused inspiring books, diets, supplements, and medical research. Scientists have been actively studying why chronic or systemic inflammation happens, what damage it can bring, and how it can be reversed.

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Your Accelerated Defense System

When your body senses that something is wrong because of an injury or an infection, it will send white blood cells and inflammatory cytokines like C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) to that specific area. This is how inflammation is supposed to work.

Then, the damage will be repaired or the invader will be fought off. Specific pro-inflammatory enzymes like COX-2 generate prostaglandins on the spot. The fast and multipronged response creates a hot or inflamed feeling in the affected part of the body, which gives inflammation its name.

Inflammation ideally goes to the affected area, then hits hard, and goes away. But when inflammatory chemicals are continuously released without any injury or infection to deal with, instead of healing damaged cells, they harm the healthy ones.

When it doesn’t stop, your body gets chronic seething inflammation that can eventually lead to tissue and cell damage. There may not be a conclusive response as to why inflammation goes erratic sometimes, but researchers have at least identified numerous different factors that produce chronic inflammation.

Inflammation Cause #1: Protein Malfunction

A recent study from Georgia State University in Atlanta have discovered that a specific protein called CYLD serves a very important role in regulating the inflammatory response to pathogens like viruses and bacteria. It’s similar to a brake pedal that turns off that defense. Uncontrolled and overactive inflammatory response is more likely a result of some defect in this particular protein.

Does Inflammation Cause Mental Illness? 7 Inflammation Causes You Need to Know

Inflammation Cause #2: Your Body’s Response

Absurdly, you could end up having a lingering and out of control inflammation because your own body’s normal inflammatory response in the face of infection is substandard. In an analogy, it’s like your body gets the signal to launch an inflammatory response to expel the bacteria, but it doesn’t do the whole job. A few bacteria is left, grows, and results to a bigger response. Your body keeps sending distress signals and in turn continues to produce inflammation without completely expelling the bacteria that’s triggering it.

Inflammation Cause #3: Extra Weight

Extra adipose or fatty tissue causes inflammatory cytokines and being overweight could mean that your body is in a perpetual state of low-grade inflammation.

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Inflammation Cause #4: Personality Traits

A 2014 study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology have found that participants who were the least diligent had an almost 50% elevated risk of high CRP levels than the ones who are the most diligent. According to one of the authors, the less diligent ones are more prone to smoking, exercising less, and eating less healthy food.

Being less diligent is also linked with more stress related activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis together with extra body weight. Both are inflammation causes. Another research connects being open to new experiences with lower levels of inflammation.

You may not be able to change your personality, but you can still dedicate yourself to become more open to new things.

Inflammation Cause #5: Mood

Research associating stress to the body’s immune response and chronic inflammation has been steadily increasing. Chronic stress alters gene activity of immune cells prior to entering the bloodstream.

A recent review from Rice University has also discovered a surprisingly strong connection between stress, higher inflammation levels, and a mental illness called depression. Patients who have this mental illness called clinical depression exhibit 50% increase in their levels of CRP and IL-6.

Inflammation Cause #6: Gut Health

Around 70% of your immune system functions out of your gut. It is therefore not surprising that an imbalance in gut bacteria can affect the health of the rest of your body. If the microbiome in your gut is unwell, the inflammation can help worsen conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and colon cancer, even conditions outside the digestive system. Microbiome issues can contribute to inflammatory conditions like arthritis, mental illness called depression, and neurological diseases.

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Inflammation Cause #7: Air Pollution

It has been made known that cigarette smoke consists of toxins that stimulate an inflammatory response in your body. Now, it has also been discovered that there is a connection between exposure to air pollution and higher levels of CRP and IL-6.

Are You Feeling the Heat?

Inflammation is not always evident. Swelling and joint pains are obvious signs of systemic inflammation. The following are other signs that are not usually associated with inflammation: gum disease, unexplained rashes, fatigue, headaches, and muscle stiffness.

What’s worse is that chronic inflammation is not usually visible until an illness like heart disease, diabetes, or an autoimmune condition like rheumatoid arthritis has been detected. Your physician may not be looking for inflammation, so it would be best if you keep your own checklist if you noticed persistent symptoms.

A simple blood test can determine the substances that doctors usually look for in an inflammation like CRP and IL-6, but unless you have particular symptoms then tests won’t be of much help. A high level of CRP is usually a sign that something is wrong, but it doesn’t really tell you which specific disease you have. Because of findings from a large clinical trial in 2009, most doctors nowadays recommend testing CRP for women above 60 and men above 50 years old.

There’s a strong link between inflammation and coronary disease, even if the patients have normal cholesterol level and average heart disease risk. Plenty of patients with normal cholesterol had high CRP, and when treated with statins, the patients had a 44 percent lesser risk of suffering a crucial heart problem.

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Submitted by Dr. Richard Honaker:

Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.

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