December 07, 2010
Get Dirty To Avoid Depression?

A theory holds that auto-immune diseases and some other disorders related to the immune system are caused by a lack of exposure to microorganisms that our immune systems are designed to handle (this idea is known as the Hygiene Hypothesis). The absence of real enemies makes the immune system incorrectly attack friendlies and to otherwise malfunction. Are imbalanced immune systems due to clean environments making people depressed?

In an effort to pinpoint potential triggers leading to inflammatory responses that eventually contribute to depression, researchers are taking a close look at the immune system of people living in today's cleaner modern society.

Rates of depression in younger people have steadily grown to outnumber rates of depression in the older populations and researchers think it may be because of a loss of healthy bacteria.

In an article published in the December issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, Emory neuroscientist Charles Raison, MD, and colleagues say there is mounting evidence that disruptions in ancient relationships with microorganisms in soil, food and the gut may contribute to the increasing rates of depression.

According to the authors, the modern world has become so clean, we are deprived of the bacteria our immune systems came to rely on over long ages to keep inflammation at bay.

To view a video with Dr. Raison:

I find this argument at least plausible because the immune cells have function in the brain beyond just wiping out pathogens.

STANFORD, Calif. - Molecules assumed to be in the exclusive employ of the immune system have been caught moonlighting in the brain - with a job description apparently quite distinct from their role in immunity.

Carla Shatz, PhD, professor of neurobiology and of biology, and her colleagues at the Stanford University School of Medicine have shown that members of a large family of proteins critical to immune function (collectively known as HLA molecules in humans and MHC molecules in mice) also play a role in the brain. "We think that this family of molecules has an important role in learning and memory," Shatz said. Surprisingly, the absence of one or another of them in the brain can trigger improved motor learning, although perhaps at the expense of other learning ability.

The study will be published online on March 30 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A healthy immune system is needed for a healthy brain.

Update: Another recent study found that an immune system protein altered in utero neuronal development in mice. The researchers suspect infections during pregnancy could cause autism or schizophrenia.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 December 07 11:00 PM  Brain Depression

Anonymous said at December 8, 2010 5:37 AM:

Depression happens due to:
1) Lack of getting what you want (or seeing as an impossibility), and
2) wanting nothing (or believing nothing or thinking that life doesn't have a meaning).
This can happen consciously and/ or unconsciously. But usually the depressed will have at least a hint of what's going on.
Some treatments for it:
1) Get a job where you talk to other people and do something manually, in a place with good lighting.
2) Getting spanked 2/3 times a week (tested in Russia).

James Bowery said at December 8, 2010 8:19 AM:

This hypothesis also could explain the rise in autism spectrum disorders!

Oh, wait... I almost forgot:

Correlation doesn't imply causation.

Hey, I've got an idea!

How about replacing the idea of uniform global law as the ideal of polity with uniform global scientific ethics along the lines -- say -- of "no experiment in the social sciences may be conducted on a population without the informed consent of all subjects". Oh, gee, but that would mean that you'd have to reallocate territorial boundaries to support assortative migration of the ecologically mutually consenting -- which might allow the so-called "white race" to establish little Nazi bastions for the "freedom of association" all such NAZI SCUM continually pine. Fuck scientific ethics. Fuck science.

Fat Man said at December 8, 2010 6:27 PM:

"The Insanity Virus" by Douglas Fox in the June 2010 issue of Discovery Magazine

Schizophrenia has long been blamed on bad genes or even bad parents. Wrong, says a growing group of psychiatrists. The real culprit, they claim, is a virus that lives entwined in every person's DNA.

Jim said at December 9, 2010 11:49 AM:

Along the same lines but like totally off base is that people who make gardening a side hobby tend to be more calm and more healthy, at least in my anecdotal world.

It's possible getting hands dirty in soil is something intrinsic our body desires but so many of us are simply unable to meet that need. I know, all whoo whoo and such, but I personally find planting a new plant particularly accomplishing (if that's a word).

Is some of that feeling an unconscious understanding by my body that I need more bacteria and such from the soil--- I dunno.

ic said at December 9, 2010 12:05 PM:

May be the young have nothing worthwhile to do, nothing except themselves to live for. They feel too much about their miserables selves. Yes, the useless you depresses you.

A further study would be how purposelessness causes depression.

Beth Donovan said at December 9, 2010 12:15 PM:

This makes a lot of sense to me. When I lived in the city and spent nearly all my time flying from one hospital to another to install software and train people, I was often exhausted, sick and depressed. Since we purchased our farm 3 years ago, and I lost my job, I've been gardening, raising animals and spending a lot of time outside, in the dirt, in the sun.

I'm much happier and I've lost 30 pounds and I have not been sick!

Rob Crawford said at December 9, 2010 12:24 PM:

Hmmm... is James Bowery a known... "problem" around here? Wondering, because if that kind of crazy crops up often, will never make it to my regular reading list.

merrybe said at December 9, 2010 12:31 PM:

Check out Discover Magazine July 2007's article "Is Dirt the New Prozac?" for an interesting read on this topic.

Some dude said at December 9, 2010 12:50 PM:

Can I buy pathogen supplements at my local heath food store?

bobby b said at December 9, 2010 12:51 PM:

"A further study would be how purposelessness causes depression."

Why? I mean, what's the point?


shannonlove said at December 9, 2010 12:53 PM:

It is probable that immune system issues influence depression. It is known that the effects goes the other way and given that absolutely everything in body is part of multiple feedback loops, there should be inputs to the immune system that could create depression. The function of depression is to suppress activity following a negative event. It is likely that the body will interpret inflammation as a resulting from a negative event such as an injury and will activate the depression subsystem to restrict activity and risk taking until the injury that caused the inflammation heals.

I don't think immune system inflammation is a major contributor to youthful depression. There are many other well defined major causes. The breakdown of the family and the general atomization of society has destroyed most of the emotional support system for young people. People used to live in largely stable nuclear families which where part of large extended families which were part of subcultures or sub communities. Family used to drive people nuts in other ways but children never felt truly alone and exposed. There is a great deal of research that shows that weak families and weak communities make children significantly more susceptible to all psychological illnesses as well as social problems and poor academic and work performance.

I think our technology granted material wealth and the rise of reliable institutions has allowed us to toss away a lot of the evolved social structures but in doing so we haven't done any real scientific cost/benefit analysis especially in terms of psychology. Just because we can physically survive living atomically with weak and transitory relationships to most people doesn't mean that is what is psychologically best. We evolved as social animals living in extended family groups not some solitary pinnacle predator. Tossing away our evolved relationships might prove to costly in the long run.

I don't think the MHC proteins working in the brain means much. Most proteins serve multiple functions. The god of biochemistry isn't Darwin, it is Rube Goldberg. Evolution just grabs whatever protein will mostly fit in a particular pathway and hammers it into place.

Uriel said at December 9, 2010 2:06 PM:

I guess I'd say that I agree with bobby b. Not that anyone cares.

Taxpayer said at December 9, 2010 5:27 PM:

"Anonymous" said
Depression happens due to:
1) Lack of getting what you want (or seeing as an impossibility), and
2) wanting nothing (or believing nothing or thinking that life doesn't have a meaning).
This can happen consciously and/ or unconsciously. But usually the depressed will have at least a hint of what's going on.


What a joke. Feeling disappointed and feeling life is meaningless are symptoms, NOT causes, of depression. In addition to the no-reason-at-all cause (that is, chemical imbalance only), trauma (emotional or physical), chronic illness, and chronic pain can also induce depression.

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