Inflammation attacks the brain. That’s a no-brainer to anyone that’s battling an inflammation-inducing illness. We all know the way it changes us, eroding the smart, determined, organized, able to leap tall-buildings-in-a-single-bound person we were… to a fuzzy, slow, overwhelmed, barely able to step over the cat without face-planting, person we are today. Why exactly would something attack our brain causing diminished blood flow, IQ deficits, seizures and not have the ability to trigger anxiety, cause depression, smash libido, and even possibly cause suicidal thoughts?
In a previous blog I talked about studies showing inflammation and depression (and anxiety) can be linked in black and white. A new study found a possible cause.
Brain Chemical may be the link between Inflammation and Depression
Lena Brundin, a professor of translational science and molecular medicine at Michigan State University and her team looked for inflammatory changes associated with symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts. They found that suicidal patients had higher levels of cytokines. Cytokines are something you hear a lot about these days, they are protein molecules associated with inflammation.
“We still were missing the link between inflammation and what was actually happening to the brain cells,” Brundin said.
They weren’t able to explain how inflammation could translate to depression, hopelessness and even suicidal thoughts or attempts.
To find out, Brundin and her colleagues started a new study. They tested 100 Swedish adults for quinolinic acid (a compound known to be generated by inflammation and to have an effect on the brain, due to its similarities to the neurotransmitter glutamate). Cerebrospinal fluid (that clear, yellowish liquid that cushions the brain and spinal cord) was extracted for testing.
- About two-thirds of participants were tested right after hospitalization for a suicide attempt.
- The rest of the participants were healthy.
Suicidal individuals had elevated levels of quinolinic acid in the fluid surrounding the central nervous system. The sicker the patient (the stronger the thoughts & urge to commit suicide) the higher the quinolinic acid level was in their spinal fluid. This discovery could explain a missing link between inflammation and mental illness, said Brundin.
The results also showed decreased quinolinic acid levels among a number of patients who came back six months later, when their suicidal behavior had ended.
What could this mean?
The researchers didn’t compare the suicidal patients with severely depressed (but not suicidal) individuals, so it’s not clear whether quinolinic acid is linked only to depression w/ suicidal thoughts/attempts or has broader implications. Either way: The research suggests a need to widen depression treatments beyond those used today, usually based around the neurotransmitter Serotonin, Brundin said.
How does this relate to autoimmune patients?
Quinolinic acid mimics glutamate. Glutamate plays a crucial role as the primary excitatory neurotransmitter powering the messages between neurons. We need glutamate but like anything, too much is a bad thing & causes excitotoxicity which can damage or kill nerve cells.
High glutamate levels shift the central nervous system towards seizure, Dr. Paul Cheney has long proposed that a shift towards seizure brought on by overstimulated, overly sensitive neurons explains the ‘wired but tired’ symptoms and sensory overload often experienced in patients.
“Our neurons (nerve cells) are sensing stimuli and firing when they should not. This causes amplification of sensory input. Light, noise, motion and pain are all magnified. (Something most autoimmune patients report as an issue). At the beginning of their illness, many patients report feeling exhausted, yet also strangely “wired.” The “wired” feeling is the slight shift towards seizure that occurs as a result of the excitatory neurotoxicity (of too much glutamate).” Carol Sieverlings
The discovery that quinolinic acid contributes to suicide or depression suggests that targeting this neurotransmitter could provide relief. Small studies have suggested ketamine, when injected into the bloodstream, can banish suicidal symptoms within hours. (Ketamine has anti-glutamate effects).
If the pharmaceutical industry can continue developing anti-glutamate medication, I think that might be a great hope for suicidal and depressive patients,” Brundin said