More than just the winter blues… neuro-inflammation & what you need to know

Neuroinflammation in Mood Disorders

Inflammation in the body, if left uncontrolled can cause damage to the central nervous system. Inflammation is regulated throughout the body by mediators, including cytokines, which can either be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Cytokines can be measured to identify inflammatory disease. There is evidence to suggest that altered cytokine profiles are present in people with psychiatric disorders.

Inflammation and Cognitive Decline

Cognitive function naturally decreases with age, however there is a growing amount of evidence suggesting that age-related inflammation may be contributing to decline. Statistics have shown that only 1 in 1000 elderly people shall experience no signs of cognitive deterioration.

There have been consistent findings to support the role of inflammation and immune function on cognitive decline and dementia.

In an examination of the effects of inflammation on cognitive decline, results showed that participants that had the high levels of inflammation had a 24% higher risk of cognitive decline than those with low levels. Furthermore, those with low levels were more likely to maintain their level of cognitive function for a further 8 years.

Oxidation and Inflammation

Oxidative stress is also recognised as a contributing factor in ageing. Factor Nrf2 plays a central role of protection against oxidative stress. Once activated it becomes part of a line of defence protecting the body against both external and internal stressors. A study of institutionalised elderly patients showed pronounced levels of oxidative stress, low antioxidant status and high levels of pro-inflammatory markers which all correlated with low cognitive performance. Many studies have shown Nrf2 to be a promising target in prevention of chronic inflammatory disorders.

Who is at Risk?

  • Those with metabolic syndrome, diabetes or obesity.
  • Lifestyle factors: poor diet, lack of physical exercise, inadequate sleep, smoking.
  • High intake of red meat, processed meat and fast food.
  • Low intake of wholegrains.
  • Those with psychological stress.

Inflammation in Mood Disorders and Depression

Patients with severe depression show all the fundamental features of an inflammatory response, including an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines. Other factors include:

  • A large percentage of individuals with inflammatory illnesses suffer with depression.
  • Elevated inflammatory markers are associated with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
  • Pro-inflammatory cytokines lower serotonin levels, which regulates mood.
  • Anti-inflammatory agents can enhance depression treatments.
  • Blocking pro-inflammatory cytokines can reduce depressive symptoms of those with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, cancer and MDD.
  • Inhibiting inflammatory pathways can improve mood.

There appears to be a relationship between inflammation and treatment resistant depression (TRD). An increased level of inflammatory markers can be seen in patients with schizoprenia, anxiety, and those not responding to antidepressant therapy.

Treatment Considerations


Curcumin is derived from the root of the Turmeric plant and is known to exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and can be used in the fight against age associated neurodegeneration and depression as well as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and  schizoprenia.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

A healthy brain is highly enriched with omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA which help regulate cell survival, neurotransmission and neuroinflammation. Deficiency is linked to numerous psychiatric disorders. Insufficient DHA is associated with dysfunction to the processes which regulate mood.  The anti-inflammatory effects of omega 3 inhibit pro-inflammatory cytokines, and can be used to enhance the efficacy of standard treatment. Combining the use of EPA with conventional treatment, significantly improved the outcome of patients with MDD than just treatment alone.

Higher intakes of essential fatty acids is beneficial for the ageing brain and help maintain cognitive function. Improved cognitive performance can be seen in healthy adults supplementing with DHA, and in children, may improve literacy and behaviour in those with  ADHD.


Magnesium is necessary in over 600 metabolic functions, yet it is the second most common nutritional deficiency in developed countries.

Magnesium works in many ways but one way it counters stress, is by binding to and stimulating GABA receptors in the brain. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, one that puts the brakes on brain activity. When GABA is low, your brain gets stuck in the “on” position and it becomes impossible to relax.

In addition your brain’s ability to heal itself, create new brain cells, and make new neural connections throughout life is known as brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity. Magnesium is one of the few nutrients known to increase neuroplasticity. Increasing brain plasticity can help you rewire your anxious brain.

Increasing your magnesium levels into the healthy range  can result in better mood, more resilience to stress, improved focus and concentration, reduced cravings, increased energy, and better sleep!

So while there are many approaches that we can take with diet and supplementation, too many to list here, the good news is that we can tailor an approach to your individual needs. If you need a cognitive boost we are here to help!