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Aspirin for Depression: Anti-Inflammatory Medicines Prove Successful

New depression treatment aspirin tablet.

Depression is one of the most common health problems today. It affects approximately 350 million people worldwide, with 20 percent of the population likely to experience depression in their lifetime. Modern-day management for depression involves a number of treatments, including antidepressants and behavioral therapies. But a third of patients with depression fail to find relief. And that relief might be found in one of the most common items in your medicine cabinet: aspirin.

Cartoon of a man walking through an aspirin tablet.
Experts are working to find cure among anti-inflammatory medicines for depression.

Medicines like ibuprofen and aspirin, which serve to reduce inflammation, have been shown to help with depression. In addition, several anti-inflammatory medicines used in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis also seem to provide benefits. This revelation not only offers a new dimension to the treatment of depression, but it also invites new perspectives about how and why depression develops.

New Research Involving Anti-Inflammatory Medicines

Clinicians and scientists are always searching for new depression treatments. However, recent research involving reviews of past medication trials have actually led to the discovery that anti-inflammatory medicines help depression. In one review of 30 clinical studies, Chinese researchers found that anti-inflammatory medicines were 79 percent more effective than placebo. This included medicines like aspirin and ibuprofen. Likewise, they also found that other anti-inflammatory medicines like statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) and Omega-3s also helped. And adding these types of drugs to standard antidepressant care boosted overall effectiveness.

This was not the only recent study that indicated anti-inflammatory medicines might serve as a new depression treatment. Another meta-analysis review involving 20 clinical studies also showed how some anti-cytokine drugs improve depression symptoms. These drugs (like etanercept and infliximab) are currently in use for autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. In essence, they too are anti-inflammatory medicines. This naturally expands the potential use of these types of medications as a new depression treatment.

The Good and the Bad of Anti-Inflammatory Medicines for Depression

From a positive perspective, drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin offer significant opportunities as new depression treatments. Specifically, these medications are inexpensive, have a long history of use, and have a well-established, mild side effect profile. Thus, employing some of these drugs as new depression treatments can help lower costs of care while improving overall benefit for patients. Of course, some may tolerate these medications poorly and may require other considerations. But clearly, these types of anti-inflammatory medicines hold significant promise as an adjunctive new depression treatment. And they may lead to new directions of pharmaceutical research.

Other anti-inflammatory medicines may not be as ideal in their use as a new depression treatment. For example, many anti-cytokine drugs carry significant costs and have a number of potential side effects. If these medications are being taken for other conditions, then they may be a good choice as a new depression treatment. Cost and side effects will otherwise be the barrier. There is a need for additional research and investigation before these agents can be better assessed in this capacity.

A Path for Better Understanding Depression

While questions remain regarding the use of anti-inflammatory medicines as a new depression treatment, these studies offer new insights. There was a belief that depression was an isolated phenomenon involving brain chemistry. But recent studies support the role of systemic inflammation in the development of depression. From an evolutionary perspective, it is now believed that depression associated with an enhanced immune response may have been protective. In essence, those with infections that concurrently exhibited depression may have isolated themselves from others. This would naturally help prevent the spread of any potential infectious illness.

With this in mind, scientists and clinicians have a better appreciation that systemic inflammation and infection can trigger depression. This awareness can encourage additional research to examine the relationship between the two. Clinicians may now use the current evidence to promote the use of anti-inflammatory medicine as new depression treatments. But ongoing insights can further refine specific recommendations of care. Thus, these latest discoveries may indeed have a broader impact on depression management in the future.

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