Barbara Gracious of Ohio State University became interested in the inflammatory marker CRP through studying vitamin D3 deficiency. Vitamin D is a neurosteroid, and low levels of it have been associated with risk of schizophrenia, cardiovascular disease (heart attack), diabetes, mood disorders, cognitive deficits, autoimmune disease, and obesity. High CRP levels are related to low vitamin D, to obesity, and to other inflammatory markers such as IL-6 and TNF alpha.
Gracious measured these levels of CRP in 621 children participating in the Longitudinal Study of Manic Symptoms (LAMS), who were followed up for many years. She found that those with higher levels of CRP developed a mood episode approximately two years earlier than those with normal levels. CRP binds phosphocholine, which activates complement, a kind of protein that induces inflammation. CRP is elevated in 14% to 53% of patients with depression and anxiety.
Copeland et al. reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2012 that after a first depression, high CRP was associated with relapse. CRP also increases in adolescent females (who are at increased risk for depression).
Editor’s Note: These findings suggest the potential importance not only of using CRP as an indicator of depression risk, but also of targeting CRP levels in the hopes of reducing risk of a mood episode in children with elevated inflammatory markers. Supplementing vitamin D3 in those with low levels would be a good place to start, as would preventing or treating obesity and promoting good sleep hygiene and exercise. The potential role of medications with direct anti-inflammatory effects such as aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) or minocycline deserves further study.
Balanced diet, exercise, and good sleep habits may be easier said (or recommended) than done. Such lifestyle advice must be delivered with motivational interviewing, and instilled through practice, positive feedback, encouragement, and more practice. In children in general, and especially in those at high risk for a mood episode due to a family history of a unipolar or bipolar mood disorder, starting things off right from the outset with good diet, exercise, and sleep routines would be highly recommended. The benefits for long-term health and wellbeing could be enormous.
The results of good health behaviors may be mediated through several pathways. They could lessen inflammation and obesity, increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF, which is important for new synapses and long-term memory) and neurogenesis (both of which are increased by exercise), and even lengthen the telomeres that cap the ends of each strand of DNA (short ones are associated with a variety of medical and psychiatric illnesses).
Cognitive behavioral therapy may improve both depression symptoms and inflammatory bowel disease. At a symposium on early-onset depression at the 2013 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Eva Szigethy of the University of Pittsburg discussed depression in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), i.e. Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Depression and bipolar disorder are often associated with elevated inflammatory markers, such as IL-1b, IL-2, IL-6, INF gamma, TNF alpha, and CRP (C-reactive protein). This kind of inflammation can cause symptoms like decreased appetite, fatigue, anhedonia (loss of pleasure in activities one once enjoyed), and motor slowing.
In children with IBD randomized to cognitive behavioral therapy or just routine supportive care, the somatic symptoms of those receiving cognitive behavioral therapy improved, as did their IBD.
Other treatments may also target both depression and inflammation. Szigethy noted that there is some evidence that the TNF alpha–inhibiting anti-inflammatory drug infliximab has some antidepressant effects in those with high CRP and in patients with the autoimmune condition psoriasis. She indicated that the antidepressant bupropion decreases depression and inflammation in IBD and that bupropion has anti–TNF alpha effects (at least in animals).
Currently levels of inflammation are measured with blood drawn from a vein, but new techniques may be more child-friendly. These include measuring inflammatory markers in hair (which reflects levels over the previous two weeks), saliva, or with a drop of blood from a pinprick (as used by researcher Ben Goldstein).
At the 2013 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Vilma Gabbay of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine reiterated the findings from the TORDIA (Treatment of SSRI-Resistant Depression in Adolescents) study that 20% of young people with depression remained resistant to treatment, childhood-onset depression was more likely to be recurrent and more difficult than adult-onset depression in the long run, and suicide was the second leading cause of death in 12- to 17-year-olds in 2010 according to a Centers for Disease Control report in May 2013. Anhedonia (a loss of pleasure in activities once enjoyed) was the most difficult symptom to treat in adolescents.
Gabbay carefully explained some of the rationales for using ketamine in young people with depression. The presence of inflammation is a poor prognosis factor, and ketamine has anti-inflammatory effects, decreasing levels of inflammatory markers CRP, TNF-alpha, and Il-6.Given that ketamine has been widely used as an anesthetic for surgical procedures, its safety in children has already been demonstrated. Ketamine did not appear to cause behavioral sensitization (that is, increased effect upon repetition) in a report by Cho et al. in 2005 that included 295 patients.
As noted previously, Papolos et al. reported in a 2012 article in the Journal of Affective Disorders that intranasal ketamine at doses of 50 to 120 mg was well-tolerated and had positive clinical effects in 6- to 19-year-olds with the fear of harm subtype of bipolar disorder that had been highly resistant to treatment with more conventional drugs.
Gabbay reluctantly endorsed further cautious controlled trials in children and adolescents, in light of ketamine’s suggested efficacy and good safety profile, which stands in contrast to its popular reputation as a party drug or “Special K.”
Editor’s Note: The discussant of the symposium, Neal Ryan of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, added an exquisitely brief discussion suggesting that ketamine should ultimately be studied in combination with behavioral and psychotherapeutic procedures to see if its therapeutic effects could be enhanced. He made this suggestion based on the data that ketamine has important synaptic effects, increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is important for healthy cells and long-term memory, and reverting thin dendritic spines caused by stress back to their normal mushroom shape. This editor (Robert Post) could not be more in agreement.
At the 2013 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Kyle Lapidus of Mount Sinai Hospital reviewed the literature from controlled studies on the efficacy of intravenous (IV) ketamine at a dosage of 0.5 mg/kg over a 40-minute infusion for adults with treatment-resistant depression (with consistent response rates of 50% or more), and suggested that intranasal ketamine may also be effective.
Ketamine is a strong blocker of the glutamate NMDA receptor. At high doses (6 to 12 mg/kg) it is an anesthetic, at slightly lower doses (3 to 4 mg/kg) it is psychotomimetic (causing psychotic symptoms) and is sometimes used as a drug of abuse, and at very low doses it is a rapidly acting antidepressant, often bringing about results within 2 hours. Antidepressant effects typically last 3 to 5 days, so the question of how to sustain these effects is a major one for the field.
Murrough et al. reported in Biological Psychiatry in 2012 that five subsequent infusions of ketamine sustained the initial antidepressant response and appeared to be well tolerated by the patients. Another NMDA antagonist, riluzole (used for the treatment of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), did not sustain the acute effects of ketamine, and now lithium is being studied as a possible strategy for doing so.
The bioavailability of ketamine in the body depends on the way it is administered. Compared to IV administration, intramuscular (IM) administration is painful but results in 93% of the bioavailability of IV ketamine. Intranasal (IN) administration results in 25-50% of the bioavailability of IV administration, while oral administration results in only 16-20% of the bioavailability of IV administration, so Lapidus chose to study the IN route. He compared intranasal ketamine at doses of 50mg (administered in a mist ) to 0.5 ml of intranasal saline. Both were given in two infusions seven days apart. Lapidus observed good antidepressant effects and good tolerability. Papolos et al. had reported earlier that intranasal ketamine had good effects in a small open trial in treatment-resistant childhood onset bipolar disorder.
Editor’s Note: Further studies of the efficacy and tolerability of intranasal ketamine are eagerly awaited.
Several studies in adults and children suggest that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may have antidepressant effects. At the 2013 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in October, Melissa DelBello, a professor at the University of Cincinnati, reported on a new study of omega-3 fatty acids in depressed children who had a parent with bipolar disorder. The children taking omega-3 fatty acids were more likely to improve than those taking a placebo, but the findings were only of marginal significance.
Cold-water fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, and DelBello said salmon is by far the best in this regard. People who live in countries where fish is consumed in greater quantities are less likely to suffer from depression. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include shellfish, plant and nut oils, English walnuts, flaxseed, algae oils, and fortified foods.
The omega-3 fatty acids from fish are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while the omega-3 fatty acids from plants are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which breaks down into EPA and DHA. All of these are anti-inflammatory, though one must consume much greater quantities of ALA to match the benefits of EPA and DHA. In contrast, omega-6 fatty acids, which are much more common in the typical American diet, are pro-inflammatory.
In DelBello’s study of 56 depressed children of a parent with bipolar disorder, the participants were randomized to either 1.8 g of omega-3 fatty acids (1.2 g of EPA and 0.6 g of DHA) or placebo (olive oil). Those who received the omega-3 fatty acids had a 55.6% rate of remission versus 34.5% for those who received placebo, but while the odds ratio of 2.4 favored the omega-3 fatty acids, the difference in remission rates was not statistically significant, likely because of the small size of the study. However, improvement on the Children’s Depression Rating Scale was significantly different across the two groups, with children taking omega-3s improving more. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to have an anticoagulant effect (preventing the clotting of blood), and four children in the study did have prolonged clotting times (but no clinical problems with bleeding).
Editor’s Note: Given the existing literature on omega-3 fatty acids and the trend in this study, omega-3s are worthy of consideration for the treatment and potentially for the prevention of depression in children. This later possibility is further suggested by findings from Australia that, when compared to placebo, omega-3 fatty acids significantly reduced the rate of conversion from prodromal (preliminary) psychotic symptoms to a full-blown diagnosis of schizophrenia.
- Support Pregnant Women with Bipolar Disorder
A. Depression during pregnancy is more common among women with bipolar disorder than among controls–consider cognitive behavioral therapy, omega-3 fatty acids, folate, & rTMS
B. 52% incidence of post-partum depression (3x higher than controls)–Monitor closely and treat accordingly
- Ask Your Affectively Ill Patients About Their Children
- Encourage Good Diet and Exercise in These Children
- Encourage Watchful Waiting in Families with Children at High Risk
- If a Child becomes Symptomatic, Suggest:
A. Family Focused Therapy (FFT), or other Family-Based Treatment
B. Low-Risk Interventions Like Nutrition and Sleep Hygiene
- If a Child Develops BP-NOS, Encourage:
A. Mainstream Pharmacotherapy
B. Increased Social Support (Family, Friends, Advocacy)
- If a Child Develops BP-I, Encourage Ongoing Monitoring & Medication
- If an Adolescent Becomes Manic, Educate About Substance Abuse and Attempt Primary Prevention of a Substance Abuse Disorder
Our editor Robert M. Post recommends that in the absence of good care in the community for children at high risk for bipolar disorder because a parent has the disorder, adult psychiatrists of parents with bipolar disorder who have children with the disorder should fill this gap by treating the children themselves. If the child has only early symptoms, family focused therapy as developed by David Miklowitz would be recommended.
Here are some other suggestions in addition to family focused therapy:
- Good Diet, Exercise, Sleep Hygiene
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Check Vitamin D3 levels and Add Supplement if Needed
- Melatonin for Insomnia
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC) for Irritability (as in studies of children with autism spectrum disorders)
- Folate for Depression and/or Elevated Homocysteine
- Check for Evidence of Inflammation (Increased IL-6 or CRP)
Options with Some Side Effects:
- Minocycline (an anti-inflammatory neuroprotective antibiotic)
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) review committee suggested that a new type of drug for the treatment of insomnia might be approved in the future if the company who produces the drug, Merck, begins manufacturing it in smaller doses.
The drug, suvorexant, works differently from most sleep medications. Instead of creating sleepiness, it blocks a type of neurotransmitters called orexins, which are responsible for wakefulness. (Suvorexant is a selective antagonist of orexin receptors OX1R and OX2R and blocks the binding of orexin A and B to these receptors, presumably inhibiting activation of neurons of the arousal system.) The drug has a 12-hour half-life, longer than other insomnia drugs, thus morning carryover sedation is a potential problem.
The FDA asked that suvorexant be produced at the lower dose of 10mg, with the option of prescribing it at higher doses (15mg to 20mg) if a patient tolerated the 10mg dose and that dose did not sufficiently improve the patient’s insomnia. Merck had initially proposed doses of 15mg to 40mg.
Several antidepressant drugs work by blocking activity at the NMDA receptor for the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. These drugs include intravenous ketamine, a potent NMDA receptor blocker that can produce antidepressant effects within 2 hours of administration, and memantine (Namenda), which is less potent, acts more slowly, and can potentiate the antidepressant effects of lamotrigine and help stabilize mood in patients with treatment-resistant bipolar disorder. Now a drug with a related mechanism, D-cycloserine, has been shown to have antidepressant effects. High doses of the drug act as an antagonist at the glycine site of the NMDA receptor, blocking glycine’s ability to facilitate glutamate transmission through the receptor.
Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain and is important for the development of long-term memory. However, glutamate overactivity may contribute to depression. Decreasing this overactivity with the drugs noted above appears to produce antidepressant effects.
Uriel Heresco-Levy et al. reported in a 2013 article in the Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology that high doses of D-cycloserine (1000mg/day) had substantially greater antidepressant effects than placebo in a study of 26 patients with treatment-resistant depression. The drug was well tolerated.
Interestingly, low doses of the same drug have a different effect, acting as a partial agonist at the same site, facilitating glutamate transmission and enhancing the new learning that is necessary in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders.
Editor’s Note: D-cycloserine requires further study in larger controlled trials, but this small study suggests promise. While ketamine’s effects are rapid in onset, they are also difficult to sustain. This study suggests a possible route to a slower onset with longer-lasting antidepressant effects.
Cinnamon has multiple positive effects that were affirmed in a meta-analysis by Robert W. Allen et al. in Annals of Family Medicine in 2013. Cinnamon lowered blood sugar, insulin levels, triglycerides, and low-density lipoproteins (“bad” cholesterol) while increasing high-density lipoproteins (“good” cholesterol). Cinnamon did not lower hemoglobin A1C, a global measure of glucose dysregulation, but that result could be explained by the short durations of some of the studies included in the meta-analysis.
Editor’s Note: Cinnamon’s role in the fight against type II diabetes remains to be determined, but a little bit may help those with diabetes or at risk for it. The researchers who produced the meta-analysis could not make a recommendation about how much cinnamon to add to one’s diet because the studies included in the meta-analysis had explored a wide range of doses.