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Immune link to mental illness

Thursday August 14th, 2014

People with overactive immune systems may face an increased risk of developing mental illness, according to a new British study.

Researchers have identified people who have "cranked up" immune systems, running a little higher than normal all the time.

According to the new research, these people are twice as likely to experience depression or psychosis as those with underactive immune systems.

The researchers say those with over-active immune systems may also face an increased risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

The researchers at Cambridge University, UK, established the link by studying levels of interleukin-6 - or IL-6, a protein produced in response to infection.

The findings have been published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Researcher Dr Golam Khandaker, a psychiatrist, said: "Our immune system acts like a thermostat, turned down low most of the time, but cranked up when we have an infection.

"In some people, the thermostat is always set slightly higher, behaving as if they have a persistent low level infection – these people appear to be at a higher risk of developing depression and psychosis.

"It's too early to say whether this association is causal, and we are carrying out additional studies to examine this association further."

Fellow researcher Professor Peter Jones said: "Inflammation may be a common mechanism that influences both our physical and mental health. It is possible that early life adversity and stress lead to persistent increase in levels of IL-6 and other inflammatory markers in our body, which, in turn, increase the risk of a number of chronic physical and mental illness."

Khandaker, G. et al. Serum Interleukin-6 and C-Reactive Protein in Childhood as Predictors of Depression and Psychosis in Young Adult Life: A Population-Based Longitudinal Study. JAMA Psychiatry 13 August 2014; doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1332.

Tags: Diabetes | Heart Health | Mental Health | UK News

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