‘We should view depression as a disease:’ Docs say depression in pregnant women linked to inflammation

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Dr. Lena Brundin has been studying inflammation for years. She said it’s not uncommon for pregnant women to experience it but it’s not always discussed.

“It can be hard for pregnant women to talk about depression when they’re expected to be happy,” Dr. Brundin said during a Zoom interview with FOX 17 on Tuesday. “This is not what family or friends maybe expect them to say.”

So, eight years ago she teamed up with Dr. Eric Achtyes, a psychiatrist at Pine Rest, to study the impact of inflammation on pregnant women. Five years ago, they began their clinical recruitment period.

“In the end, we had over 200, women in total enrolled from West Michigan, participating in this study where we met them several times over pregnancy and postpartum, opening up, talking to us about their depressive symptoms and gave us blood samples,” said Dr. Brundin who’s also a professor at the Van Andel Institute. “So, I would say that I was surprised by the enormous response we got from the community to see how many women participated in this generous way.”

She said that it was in the blood where they found their answers.

“The most important thing with this new study that we just came out with is that we were able to predict who was going to fall ill later on in pregnancy,” Dr. Brundin said. “By using a blood sample, detecting a biomarker, signs of inflammation, several months later, we would be able to tell who is at risk to fall into with depression.”

They stated in a press release that they established 15 biological markers in the blood that can predict juts how severe a woman’s bout of depression may be, with 83 percent accuracy.

Dr. Achtyes added that they’re looking into whether or not it can be genetic.

Both doctors agreed that exercise, good eating habits and sleep help to combat, along with medication.

“If you have an infection, for example, that’s actually an inflammatory process, so your body is making inflammatory mediators and you don’t feel well,” Dr. Achtyes during the same Zoom interview. “But when you then take an antibiotic, which is a medication, it knocks down that that infection knocks down the inflammation, and you feel much better.”

Now, their next step in the work is to ‘further validate the tests,’ he said, and replicate it by broadening it to include more women, additional hospitals and equipment.

Regardless, both doctors recommended that people experiencing depression — whether pregnant or not — to seek help as soon as possible, whether it be medication or therapy.

“I usually say that we should view depression as a disease just like any other disease of the body, like a broken bone like COVID. You know, something biological is happening to your brain,” said Dr. Brundin. “So, sometimes it’s just too much for us to overcome by ourselves. And we really need help.”

***Pine Rest is doing a study on suicide and depression. For more information please click here.***