Article Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed

How Untreated Depression Changes The Brain Over Time


Apr. 5, 2018 Psychology Today

Years of untreated depressionmay lead to neurodegenerative levels of brain inflammation. That’s according to a first-of-its-kind study(link is external) showing evidence of lasting biological changes in the brain for those suffering with depression for more than a decade.

The study findings are from the same research team that originally identified a link between brain inflammation and depression. Along with subsequent research, the findings have started to change thinking about depression treatments. Evidence is increasingly pointing to the possibility that it’s not only a biological disorder with immediate implications, but over time depression may alter the brain in ways requiring different forms of treatment than what’s currently available.

This was a relatively small study of 80 participants; 25 had untreated depression for more than 10 years, 25 for less than 10 years, and 30 had never been diagnosed. All were evaluated with positron emission tomography scans (PET scans) to locate a specific type of protein that results from the brain’s inflammatory response to injury or illness. Throughout the body, the brain included, the right amount of inflammation protects us from disease and repairs us when we’re injured. But too much inflammation leads to chronic illness, including heart disease and potentially neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

If long-term depression results in more inflammation, the researchers expected to find more of the protein in the brains of those who’d suffered from untreated depression the longest. And that’s exactly what they found, with higher levels in a handful of brain areas including the prefrontal cortex, the brain area central to reasoning and other “executive” functions thought to be compromised by disorders like depression.

If the results hold up (via more research with more participants) this will prove to be an important finding adding evidence to the argument that depression shares similarities with degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s, changing the brain in ways research-to-date hasn’t fully grasped.

“Greater inflammation in the brain is a common response with degenerative brain diseases as they progress, such as with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease,” said senior study author Dr. Jeff Meyer of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) at the University of Toronto.

These findings build on a study(link is external) published in 2016 showing that patients with depression had higher levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP), another biological marker of inflammation throughout the body, than those not suffering from the disorder. That was an observational study looking for a link between depression and inflammation (correlation not causation), but the results were significant. After adjusting for several factors, those with depression had CRP levels more than 30% higher than those without depression.

What the research is collectively indicating is that we may need to change our thinking about depression and its effects. The evidence affirms that depression truly is a biologically based disorder of the brain, and left unchecked it may run a degenerative course that damages brain tissue, possibly in ways similar to other neurodegenerative diseases. All of this places greater emphasis on the need to develop more effective treatments and, as urgently, work toward removing the stigma from those suffering.

Read More on Psychology Today

Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust Fund

Apply Today

All Resources

Tell Me More

Dementia - six diet and lifestyle changes to lower Alzheimer’s disease risk at home

Your risk could be lowered by making some simple lifestyle or diet changes.

Read More

13 Things Confident People Don't Do

Avoid these traps to enjoy more self-confidence.

Read More

A Real Dietary Treatment for Depression

More reason to watch what you eat.

Read More

Harvard Psychology Professor Discusses How Trauma Affects Memory

A recent podcast discusses the impact trauma can have on your memories.

Read More

9 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Morning Productivity Plan

Starting your day the right was is vital to keeping productivity up and stress down.

Read More

Treating sleep apnea may improve stroke outcomes

Nearly 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea.

Read More

How I’m Teaching My Son Not to Fear Failure

Let you kids know when you fail, when you make a mistake.

Read More

6 Steps to Getting a Credit Card When You Have Bad Credit

Rebuilding your finances can be tough without a line of credit.

Read More