Anti-Inflammatory Agents May Be Effective Depression Treatment, Study Finds

The study authors note that these results—which come out of a systematic review, by the way—definitely suggest that anti-inflammatory agents play an important role in helping patients with major depressive disorder. Most importantly, perhaps, they also conclude that these over-the-counter treatments are reasonably safe as a form of treatment.  

Professor Ed Bullmore is the head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge.  While he was not directly involved with the study, he comments that the results should definitely encourage doctors and scientists to consider new ways to use a wider range of anti-inflammatory interventions as potential treatments for depression.  For one, he suggests it may be an effective supplement to those already taking conventional antidepressant drugs. 

Specifically, the discovery examined 26 existing studies to determine that anti-inflammatory medications—including the sleeping pill modafinil as well as a cystic fibrosis drug—were nearly 80 percent better than a placebo in regards to curing depression.  Moreover, a typical six-to-twelve week course of these drugs were also found to be at least half as good as a placebo in reducing symptoms of depression. 

It is worth noting that anti-inflammatory agents include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), of course, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, statins, steroids, antibiotics, and drugs that curb inflammatory chemical production (like cytokine inhibitors).  Aside from these, a common cystic fibrosis and COPD expectorant, known as N-acetyl cysteine (or NAC) may also be effective. 

Bullmore goes on to agree with the study authors that more trial and study is necessary before the medical establishment can support the licensing of these drugs for medical prescription as a safe and effective depression treatment.  At the same time, a simple daily dose could be harmless for most patients, so the outlook is quite encouraging indeed. 

This encouraging outlook becomes particular important when we observe that roughly one-third of all people who have depression do not effectively recover from it, even though we have a bevy of anti-depressant medications available, in conjunction with various types of counseling. 

In all, the study authors conclude, “The results of this systematic review suggest the anti-inflammatory agents play an antidepressant role in patients with major depressive disorder and are reasonably safe.”