Inflammation fix helps fight depression and obesity

As we all make our way through this new landscape of staying at home and away from other people, one thing is clear:

Eating can be either a blessing or a curse.

By that, I mean that we can maintain and even improve our health during this time by making the right food choices.

Or we can give in to the urge for “comfort food” in the form of processed sweets, salty foods, baked goods and sugar-filled treats.

Don’t get me wrong, I have my stash of chocolate on the top shelf of my kitchen cabinet. And peppermint patties, my weakness, are definitely an “essential” food item.

But I’m being careful to make very conscious choices about what I eat these days. I know that it will not only affect my weight, but my mental health as well.

The link between depression and obesity, or even being overweight, is well established.

And recent research has only confirmed this…

The connection is clear

While the mechanisms that link obesity with depression are still being explored, the connection itself is undeniable. Research has uncovered this connection again and again.

Most recently, scientists at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom analyzed 16 years of health records (from 2000 to 2016) for over half a million adults who were overweight or obese.

Then, in a 2019 follow-up, they found that 92 out of 10,000 people in the group had had a new diagnosis of depression.

Their analysis also found that antidepressants had been prescribed for two-thirds of these overweight or obese adults and that the risk of depression rose along with weight.

“Our findings highlight the complex relationship between depression and obesity,” said lead author Freya Tyrer. “We would like to see tailored guidance on antidepressant prescribing and services that focus on both mood and behaviors to improve outcomes for these individuals.”

But there’s another piece of the puzzle that may be at the root of this connection…

Inflammation fuels depression and obesity

Research at Methodist Hospital in Houston has untangled a bit of the web that connects obesity and inflammation with chronic disease and depression.

Feeding a high-calorie diet to mice caused their cells to make major histocompatibility complex, a group of proteins that helps the immune system fight off viruses and bacteria.

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Apparently, fat cells send out “distress signals,” acting as if they are under attack by pathogens.

It was a surprise to researchers that fat cells could actually set off an inflammatory response on their own.

And since inflammation is also associated with depression, you can begin to see how obesity and other conditions related to metabolic syndrome may set off depressive symptoms.

The relationship among these factors needs more exploration, but one thing is clear: inflammation is bad for both our physical and mental health.

Can any comfort really be found in comfort food? 

That depends. Because as you’ve just read, that temporary feeling of comfort can lead to some heavy health issues. But, at the same time, previous research has found that deprivation diets don’t really help with weight loss, and I don’t know about you, but when I feel deprived, I also feel down.

This brings me to the saying, “everything in moderation.”

If you can eat a healthier diet generally, you can make sweets and chips a once-in-a-while treat — not something you keep close at hand and chow down on while you watch a movie. If you’re keeping some “goodies” around, just keep them where you can’t get to them too easily. Out of sight, out of mind.

This is important because those snack foods that are largely devoid of nutrients — sugary treats, refined carbohydrates, processed foods, hydrogenated fats — are pro-inflammatory foods that promote increased inflammation in our cells.

Healthier, inflammation-fighting foods include:

  • blueberries
  • sweet peppers
  • broccoli
  • cranberries
  • sweet potatoes
  • yogurt and other fermented foods

Stay on top of your vitamins and minerals, too, especially those that have been shown in research to fight inflammation. Those would include:

Sources:

  1. Are Obesity and Depression Related? And 9 Other FAQs — Healthline
  2. Depression in adults who are overweight or obese — Wiley
  3. Overweight, Obesity, and Depression A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Longitudinal Studies — Arch Gen Psychiatry.
  4. Obesity makes fat cells act like they’re infected — Methodist Hospital, Houston
  5. Depression sufferers at risk of multiple chronic diseases — University of Queensland

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Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.