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Anti-inflammatory Drugs May Ease Symptoms of Clinical Depression

  • Jessica Berman

New research suggests that some anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin, may improve symptoms of clinical depression. The findings were based on observations that people with inflammatory diseases suffer from more depression than others and are helped by the addition of some painkillers.

It’s estimated that 10 to 20 percent of the world's population suffers from clinical depression at some point in their lives. For a significant number of them, traditional anti-depressant drugs don’t work that well.

Now, researchers in Denmark have discovered that some pain medications, including aspirin and ibuprofen, appear to ease depressive symptoms. A review of 14 international studies, involving more than 6,200 patients, found the prescription pain-killer celecoxib offered the strongest mood elevation when given with anti-depressant medication. Celecoxib goes by the brand name Celebrex.

The findings were published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

In most of the studies, all of the participants were already taking anti-depressants and were either given an anti-inflammatory drug or a placebo - an inactive substance.

Medical student Ole Kohler of Aarhus University helped lead the study. Kohler says researchers have observed for some time that people who suffer from chronic illnesses which involve inflammation, such as heart disease and diabetes, are at highest risk.

“So that when you have infections or cancer, so disorders where there is an inflammation going on, then you have an increased risk of depression, for example,” Kohler said.

Clinical depression is marked by feelings of hopelessness, sadness and sometimes suicidal thoughts.

Kohler says researchers were interested in seeing whether there was a benefit among psychiatric patients who took anti-depressants along with a painkiller- compared to those on depression medication alone.

“And we found basically that treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs improved the anti-depressant treatment,” Kohler said.

Kohler says further studies are needed to determine exactly who benefits from anti-inflammatory drugs and at what doses.

Doctors will also need to weigh the risk of some painkillers against their potential benefits. For example, some anti-inflammatory drugs, notably Celebrex, have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke.

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