Eating ourselves to death (and despair): The contribution of adiposity and inflammation to depression

Academic Article


  • Obesity and related metabolic conditions are of epidemic proportions in most of the world, affecting both adults and children. The accumulation of lipids in the body in the form of white adipose tissue in the abdomen is now known to activate innate immune mechanisms. Lipid accumulation causes adipocytes to directly secrete the cytokines interleukin (IL) 6 and tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα), but also monocyte chemoattractant protein 1 (MCP-1), which results in the accumulation of leukocytes in fat tissue. This sets up a chronic inflammatory state which is known to mediate the association between obesity and conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. There is also a substantial literature linking inflammation with risk for depression. This includes the observations that: (1) people with inflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, and psoriasis have elevated rates of depression; (2) many people administered inflammatory cytokines such as interferon α develop depression that is indistinguishable from depression in non-medically ill populations; (3) a significant proportion of depressed persons show upregulation of inflammatory factors such as IL-6, C-reactive protein, and TNFα; (4) inflammatory cytokines can interact with virtually every pathophysiologic domain relevant to depression, including neurotransmitter metabolism, neuroendocrine function, and synaptic plasticity. While many factors may contribute to the association between inflammatory mediators and depression, we hypothesize that increased adiposity may be one causal pathway. Mediational analysis suggests a bi-directional association between adiposity and depression, with inflammation possibly playing an intermediary role. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Shelton RC; Miller AH
  • Start Page

  • 275
  • End Page

  • 299
  • Volume

  • 91
  • Issue

  • 4