Could Depression be Infectious? One Researcher Says Yes.

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Fifteen to 20 percent of us will suffer a Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in our lifetime.  And some of us suffer some degree of depression throughout our lives.  Researcher Turhan Canli, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology and Radiology at Stony Brook University (left), proposes that we build a new concept of depression: that depression may result from an infection by a parasite, bacteria or virus.

According to Dr. Canli, and as anyone who has suffered depression knows, recurrence is common, and pharmacological treatments have not changed. He feels this is because the our understanding of what causes depression is not clearly defined. Is depression caused by loss?  Poor diet? Genetic make-up? Prolonged stress?  All have been identified as a factor in causing depression, but have researchers have delved as deeply as is needed to identify depressions' true causes? Dr. Canli argues not. And if we don't understand what causes depression, how can we effectively treat its symptoms?

In a paper just published in the medical journal, Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders, Dr.Canli suggests an infectious cause of depression, and urges that research on the causes of depression be increased.
"Given this track record of MDD, I propose reconceptualizing (sic) the condition as some form of infectious disease," said Dr. Canli, "Future research should conduct a concerted effort search of parasites, bacteria, or viruses that may play a causal role in the etiology of MDD."
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In his paper, Dr. Canli presents three arguments why considering MDD an infectious disease may be a fruitful endeavor.
  • First, he points out that patients with MDD exhibit illness behavior such as loss of energy, and that inflammatory biomarkers in MDD also suggest an illness-related origin. 
  • Second, he describes evidence that parasites, bacteria and viruses that infect humans in a way that alters their emotional behavior. 
  • Thirdly, Dr. Canli brings the notion of the human body as an ecosystem for microorganisms and the role of genetics.

Based on these points, Dr. Canli suggests that large-scale studies are needed, with depressed patients, controls, and infectious-disease related protocols to determine the association or causal nature of infectious disease and depression.

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Story Source: Turhan Canli. Reconceptualizing major depressive disorder as an infectious disease. Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders, 2014.


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