An antidepressant medication has been found to also protect against memory loss and dementia, according to a new study by the Loyola University Medical Center. Published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, the study reveals how depression can trigger inflammatory responses in the immune system, as the immune system fights against depression as it would a disease or infection. Over time this tension can cause chronic inflammation and produce neurotoxic compounds. These compounds can destroy brain cells and lead to memory loss and dementia if the depression is not treated.

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The study compared 30 severely depressed patients with 27 healthy subjects, each participant was monitored for 12 weeks and each depressed patient was given a course of the antidepressant escitalopram.

The researchers measured the level of nine substances in blood secreted by the immune system. Before the start of the study the blood levels of these substances were higher in the depressed patients than in the healthy individuals, significantly in four of the substances (hsCRP, TNFα, IL6 and MCP1). These levels dropped significantly during the study for patients treated with escitalopram. The levels of 3-hydroxykynurenine fell by over two-thirds between the 8th and 12th week, and the level of quinolinic acid dropped by 50%.

The authors of the study stress that the small number of subjects limits their findings, but it should inspire further similar studies that involve a larger number of participants.

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