You Immune system may be linked to your Mental Health

Posted on August 15, 2014

When we are exposed to an infection, for example influenza or a stomach bug, our immune system fights back to control and remove the infection. During this process, immune cells flood the blood stream with proteins such as interleukin-6 (IL-6), a tell-tale marker of infection. However, even when we are healthy, our bodies carry trace levels of these proteins - known as ‘inflammatory markers' - which rise exponentially in response to infection.

Now, researchers have carried out the first ever longitudinal study - a study that follows the same cohort of people over a long period of time - to examine the link between these markers in childhood and subsequent mental illness.

A team of scientists led by the University of Cambridge studied a sample of 4,500 individuals from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children - also known as Children of the 90s - taking blood samples at age 9 and following up at age 18 to see if they had experienced episodes of depression or psychosis. The team divided the individuals into three groups, depending on whether their everyday levels of IL-6 were low, medium or high. They found that those children in the 'high' group were nearly two times more likely to have experienced depression or psychosis than those in the 'low' group.

Dr Golam Khandaker from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, who led the study, says: "Our immune system acts like a thermostat, turned down low most of the time, but cranked up when we have an infection. In some people, the thermostat is always set slightly higher, behaving as if they have a persistent low level infection - these people appear to be at a higher risk of developing depression and psychosis. It's too early to say whether this association is causal, and we are carrying out additional studies to examine this association further."

The research indicates that chronic physical illness such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes may share a common mechanism with mental illness. People with depression and schizophrenia are known to have a much higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, and elevated levels of IL-6 have previously been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The research also hints at interesting ways of potentially treating illnesses such as depression: anti-inflammatory drugs. Treatment with anti-inflammatory agents leads to levels of inflammatory markers falling to normal. Previous research has suggested that anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin used in conjunction with antipsychotic treatments may be more effective than just the antipsychotics themselves.

A multicentre trial is currently underway, into whether the antibiotic minocycline, used for the treatment of acne, can be used to treat lack of enjoyment, social withdrawal, apathy and other so called negative symptoms in schizophrenia. Minocycline is able to penetrate the 'blood-brain barrier', a highly selective permeability barrier which protects the central nervous system from potentially harmful substances circulating in our blood.


Category(s):Health / Illness / Medical Issues

Source material from University of Cambridge


Mental Health News

  • Inequality as a disorder

    newsthumbEconomic inequality is one of the signs that foreshadows societal disorder. It can also negatively impact people’s lives and is highly associated ...

  • The Truth about Psychopaths

    newsthumbThis article talks about the common misconceptions people have about psychopaths and who they really are, what type of person they are and what drew ...

  • ADHD drugs worsen health

    newsthumbContrary to popular beliefs, studies have proven that drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are ineffective in ...