Right now more than 120 million people worldwide suffer from some form of depression, and that number is growing every year. As scientists work to understand more about depressive disorders and their impact on human health, recent studies have uncovered a link between depression and high levels of inflammation in the body—a link that was the focus of a new joint study by Emory and Harvard Universities.
For the purpose of the study, researchers recruited more than 150 men and women previously diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Participants were measured for specific biomarkers indicating inflammation and grouped according to their inflammation levels (either high or low). Over the next eight weeks, they received one of the following on a daily basis: 1,060 mg of Omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), 900 mg of Omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), or a placebo.
When researchers assessed depression levels at the end of the study, they discovered that those in the high inflammation group who received the EPA saw significant improvement of their symptoms, indicating that the Omega-3 fatty acid commonly found in oily fish may be part of an effective treatment plan for people with both depression and high levels of inflammation.
A Word about Inflammation
Inflammation refers to a wide range of immune functions the body uses to protect itself against illness and disease. When you catch a cold, for example, inflammation levels become elevated as the immune system works to rid the body of this new “bad guy”. It may last a few days to a week, but then it stops; this is how a healthy immune system functions. However, when the immune system is out of balance, inflammation can persist and contribute to a host of chronic conditions, including—as recent evidence has shown—depressive disorders.
By exploring the link between inflammation and depression, scientists hope to find ways to promote healthy inflammation levels as well as support optimal physical and mental health.
Every day, no matter where you live or what you do, your body is exposed to small amounts of toxic chemicals—and not just from outdoor air pollution. Countless toxins make their way indoors as we come and go, but some are there already, hiding in everyday items like appliances, furniture, and toys. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) such low-level exposure is not dangerous to our health, but a new report suggests otherwise.
Researchers from the University of Colorado and the Endocrine Disruption Exchange recently examined more than three dozen studies focusing on four volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in particular: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene—commonly referred to as BTEX. In addition to their use in many consumer products, BTEX are found in gasoline and diesel fuel. The four chemicals are ever present in our environment, yet we don’t notice because they are odorless at low levels. As it turns out, those low levels may not be as safe as we thought.
In looking at the data collected, lead author Ashley Bolden and her team found that in many cases, indoor levels of BTEX were significantly higher than outdoor levels, and that even so-called “ambient levels” of these chemicals were associated with hormonal changes that can significantly impact human health. Specifically, researchers were able to link ambient level BTEX exposure to the following:
- Developmental effects (such as low birth weight in babies);
- Reproductive effects (such as lower sperm count and motility in males);
- Immune system effects (including allergies and a decrease in white blood cells);
- Effects on respiratory function (including an increased risk of asthma and pulmonary inflammation); and
- Effects on metabolic function.
Should we be concerned? Yes, says Bolden, especially since Americans spend the majority of their time indoors. However, the solution may be as simple as improving building ventilation standards to decrease exposure and lessen the potential health risks. The report, published in a recent issue of Environmental Science & Technology, even caught the attention of officials at the EPA, who plan to review the findings.