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.
For decades we’ve been told how important it is to exercise if we want to lose weight—but we may not be getting the whole story. While staying active plays an important role in disease prevention and overall health, it turns out it is not the main factor in the fight against obesity. That title is reserved for sugar, according to a new report.
The report, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, points out that sugar and carbohydrates are the biggest culprits contributing to the sharp rise in obesity among Americans and those in similarly developed countries—and that even vigorous exercise will not offset the consequences of a high-sugar diet.
To make their case, researchers called attention to the fact that while obesity rates have skyrocketed in the last 30 years, our physical activity levels have remained pretty much the same. In other words, we’re not doing anything drastically different, but we’re still getting heavier. What has changed, however, is our diet—mainly the overload of sugar-laden processed foods introduced in the last few decades. The excess sugar and carbs pose a bigger risk than alcohol, tobacco use, and a lack of exercise combined, says the report.
Study authors spotlight the need to do a better job of educating consumers about the dangers of a high-sugar diet and, if possible, eliminating the perception that we can eat whatever we want as long as we exercise enough. Once again, we are reminded that the quality of the calories we eat is just as important—if not more so—than the quantity.
The bottom line is this: the body does not need nearly as much sugar as it gets from the Standard American Diet. Still, Americans consume at least 37 teaspoons of sugar daily (including the hidden sugars from starchy carbohydrates), which studies show can alter the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut and actually cause us to hold on to excess weight. By breaking free of our sugar addiction, we may be able to turn the tables on obesity and move toward a healthier future.