Dr. Ed Suarez at Duke has published another study on c-reactive protein and depression. You can read the announcement here:

For years now we have been learning how depression appears to have a large component of inflammation. Dr Charles Raison at the University of Arizona Medical School has written on this. His 2010 Archives of General Psychiatry article is mind-boggling in its implications about cleanliness and depression. Suarez himself has done some of those studies. C-reactive protein (CRP) is a measure of inflammation. The higher the CRP, the higher the level of inflammation. When we exercise, eat fruits and vegetables (the more color, the better!), when we eat salmon (wild caught!), when we meditate, and when we practice gratitude, the CRP goes down. If you don’t like those, try eating an ounce of dark chocolate a day!

(Raison points out in his 2010 article that psychotherapy will reduce inflammatory markers. This is not an area where we non-medical therapists have no impact! We can and should coach people toward smarting eating, physical activity, and happiness-promoting habits like meditation and gratitude.)

In this present study, Suarez assessed subjects’ CRP. People who drink moderately, one alcoholic drink per day for a woman, two for a man, will see a decrease in CRP. But depressed subjects didn’t show that reaction. Instead, the CRP stayed high.

Exercise also reduces CRP, except in depressed subjects. What should help people doesn’t work with depressed subjects. It is almost as if depression wants to fight back against our efforts. Many of you are therapists and you know how depression seems to hang on tenaciously. Our job, of course, is to help people rebel against depression, to assert themselves against their oppressor! Ha! I feel like I flashed back to the 1960s!

Suarez wonders if tracking depressed patients over time would show that CRP eventually comes down. I suspect that it would, especially the exercise component. I am skeptical of how drinking even a little alcohol can possibly help someone who is depressed, alcohol being a depressant.

What we see is more evidence that the inflammation of the body and depression are highly correlated. High CRP, high cortisol, high interleukin (all indicators of inflammation) predict depression.

Our bodies and our minds are deeply connected. In the west we have tended to see our thinking side as independent of what the body is doing. We believe will power can rise above physical circumstance.

“OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.”
– “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

Henley’s life shows the truth that some souls are unconquerable. He has been an inspiration to many, including Nelson Mandela, who recited “Invictus” in prison. But the fact is that our soul is mostly conquerable. For every Mandela, for every Henley unbowed by adversity, hundreds are bowed or destroyed. Illness, injury, and inflammation all change our thinking. For us who are not made of such stern stuff as Henley, anti-inflammation strategies are vital.

So today I will eat my seven portions of fruits and vegetables, I will exercise, and I will meditate and count my blessings. My CRP will stay low, and I will stay happy.