Can Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Battle Depression?

effects of anti-inflammatory drugs on depression

Can Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Battle Depression?

A peer-reviewed study on the effects of anti-inflammatory drugs on depression, such as aspirin or Ibuprophen, was recently published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The title of the study is, ‘Efficacy and safety of anti-inflammatory agents for the treatment of major depressive disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised, controlled trials’. As the title suggests, the role of using anti-inflammatory drugs to treat people suffering from major depression disorder (MDD) was analyzed for effectiveness. The anti-inflammatories included, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen and aspirin, omega 3 fatty acids, cytokine inhibitors, steroids, statins, antibiotics, modafinil, and N-acetyl cysteine.

The Research

Researchers from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China postulate the cause of depression may actually be triggered by an over-active immune system causing systemic inflammation. Rather than the theory that the brain is isolated from the immune system by the blood-brain barrier, it is suggested a complex interaction between the immune system and nerve cells in the brain exists. Compiling data from 26 studies with over 1,600 participants they found anti-inflammatory agents can safely and effectively curb the symptoms of major depression. The effect increased when agents are added to standard antidepressant treatment. The study’s authors finish the investigation with “anti-inflammatory agents show promising effects for MDD. However, owing to the chronic course of MDD, quality-of-life and adverse effects should be further investigated in high-quality, randomised clinical trials with long-term follow-up.”

Side Effects

While anti-inflammatories are relatively safe to use, the study cautions that people do still suffer from side effects as a result of these medications. No major side effects were evident in the studies reviewed, although there were some gut symptoms among those taking statins and NACs, and the trials lasted only 4 to 12 weeks so it wasn’t possible to track side effects over the longer term. The most common side effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include:

  • Stomach problems, including pain, constipation, diarrhea, gas, nausea, and stomach ulcers,
  • Kidney problems
  • Anemia
  • Dizziness
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Abnormal liver tests (blood tests)
  • Headaches
  • Easy bruising
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Rash


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