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The Inflamed Mind

A Radical New Approach to Depression

By Edward Bullmore
16-minute read
Audio available
The Inflamed Mind by Edward Bullmore

The Inflamed Mind (2018) explains the latest science behind a new theory linking depression to inflammation of the body and brain. Bringing together insights from medicine, psychology and evolutionary theory, psychiatrist Edward Bullmore reveals the complex connections between our immune system and our mental health – and shows how a new holistic understanding of body, mind and brain could revolutionize the way we see and treat depression.

  • Med students, physicians and scientists interested in the mind and brain
  • Psychologists and therapists interested in how physical illness affects mental health
  • Anyone who has dealt with depression

Edward Bullmore is a psychiatrist, neuroscientist and mental health expert from the UK. He studied medicine at the University of Oxford and is now a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. Since 2005, he has been working for pharma company GlaxoSmithKline on developing new anti-inflammatory drugs for depression. 

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The Inflamed Mind

A Radical New Approach to Depression

By Edward Bullmore
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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The Inflamed Mind by Edward Bullmore
Synopsis

The Inflamed Mind (2018) explains the latest science behind a new theory linking depression to inflammation of the body and brain. Bringing together insights from medicine, psychology and evolutionary theory, psychiatrist Edward Bullmore reveals the complex connections between our immune system and our mental health – and shows how a new holistic understanding of body, mind and brain could revolutionize the way we see and treat depression.

Key idea 1 of 10

Physical illness can make you feel depressed, and the reason for this could be inflammation.

Have you ever caught a bad cold that made you inexplicably sad, lethargic and antisocial?

When you’re sick, it’s normal to feel a bit gloomy. In fact, it makes sense for you to feel this way, so that you’ll stay in bed and save your energy for fighting off the infection. Your immune system does this by causing inflammation throughout your body that’s meant to destroy the cold virus. Once the virus is gone and the inflammation subsides, your mood lifts again.

But there might be more to the process of cold-induced gloominess than we thought. A growing number of scientists are arguing that it could provide an essential clue to understanding depression.

They believe that gloominess is not caused by the sickness itself or your negative thoughts about being sick, but by your immune system’s reaction to the sickness: widespread bodily inflammation. These scientists are also starting to suspect that lingering inflammation could be the cause of the long-term mood disorder we commonly call “depression.”

An anecdote about a drug for rheumatoid arthritis illustrates the powerful effect that inflammation can have on our mood.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease of the joints that makes them increasingly stiff and swollen. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system causes an unnecessary, chronic inflammation in response to some of the body’s parts or components – in this case, the joints.

In the 1990s, scientists finally found an antibody against one of the key inflammatory proteins of the disease. With this antibody, they developed a drug that would help reduce the inflammation, and so ease the painful side effects of stiffness and swelling.

In 1999, the first such drug came to market under the brand name Remicade. To many rheumatic patients, Remicade felt like a miracle cure. Administered as an infusion, not only did it immediately relieve pain, but it also made users feel instantly happy and cheerful. At the University College Hospital in London, the patients’ euphoric “Remicade high” caused nurses to fight over who got to administer the infusion.

Though not well studied, this Remicade high suggests that reducing inflammation can boost people’s moods. Conversely, it seems that too much inflammation can make people depressed. To understand why this might be, let's have a closer look at how inflammation works.

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