Can Anti-Inflammatory Meds Help With Depression?

By Kelly Burch 04/11/19

Previous research has shown that inflammation can increase risk of depression and make antidepressants less effective. 

woman with depression

Anti-inflammatory medications designed to treat conditions like arthritis can help alleviate depression symptoms, according to recent research conducted in Denmark. 

The research looked at 36 studies conducted around the globe, covering nearly 10,000 patients who had depression. 

"Our study shows that a combination of anti-inflammatory medicine, which is what arthritis medicine is, and antidepressants can have an additional beneficial effect on patients with a depression,” said researcher Ole Köhler-Forsberg. “The effect was also present when anti-inflammatory medicine was compared with a placebo in patients with a physical disease and depressive symptoms.”

Köhler-Forsberg said that the findings could help improve care for people with depression, many of whom do not experience relief by using depression medications alone. 

"This definitely bolsters our chances of being able to provide personalized treatment for individual patients in the longer term. Of course we always have to weigh the effects against the potential side-effects of the anti-inflammatory drugs,” he said. “We still need to clarify which patients will benefit from the medicine and the size of the doses they will require. The findings are interesting, but patients should consult their doctor before initiating additional treatment.”

Previous research has shown that inflammation can increase risk of depression and make antidepressants less effective. 

“Crosstalk between inflammatory pathways and neurocircuits in the brain can lead to behavioural responses, such as avoidance and alarm, that are likely to have provided early humans with an evolutionary advantage in their interactions with pathogens and predators,” authors of one study wrote. “However, in modern times, such interactions between inflammation and the brain appear to drive the development of depression and may contribute to non-responsiveness to current antidepressant therapies.”

Michael Eriksen Benros, research director at the Mental Health Centre Copenhagen, said that the new study is important because it shows significant improvements for people with depression. 

"What's persuasive is that we've found that several of the anti-inflammatory drugs have what can be characterized as a medium to a large effect on depression and depressive symptoms, in particular because the results build on almost 10,000 people who have participated in the placebo-controlled studies with anti-inflammatory treatment,” he said.

"The results from the meta-analysis are particularly promising not only because of an effect of the anti-inflammatory medicine on its own but also due to the supplementary effect when the anti-inflammatory medicine is given simultaneously with the antidepressants that are used today.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.