Fact Check

Risks of anti-inflammatory drugs unclear for people with depression

It is more likely that anti-inflammatory drugs are used as add-ons or adjuncts to current antidepressant treatments, rather than as a standalone remedy.
It is more likely that anti-inflammatory drugs are used as add-ons or adjuncts to current antidepressant treatments, rather than as a standalone remedy.PHOTO: ST FILE

Headline: Depression can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs - yes or no?

Where: The Telegraph, a British newspaper, published a report on Sept 8 with the headline, Depression is a physical illness which could be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, scientists suggest. It quoted scientists as saying that depression can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs as it was determined that depression is a physical illness caused by a faulty immune system. The story was picked up by Snopes.com, a fact-checking site.

Checked: Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre in Singapore, said the relationship between depression and inflammation has been known for a long time. "There are studies which have shown that patients who have autoimmune diseases and depression and were treated with anti-inflammatory medications showed improvement in their mood."

These anti-inflammatory medications are not commonly used painkillers. They are prescribed for people with serious autoimmune disorders, he said.

The actual effectiveness and safety of these anti-inflammatory drugs, when weighed against the risks of taking them, remains unclear for patients with depression, he said, adding that more studies need to be done.

However, he said, it is more likely that anti-inflammatory drugs are used as add-ons or adjuncts to current antidepressant treatments, rather than as a standalone remedy. It is unlikely that these treatments will be more effective or safer than antidepressants, he said.

"A combination of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioural therapy, has been shown to give the best outcome," he said.

Joyce Teo

•This column seeks to debunk fake health news reported around the world. It will run till the end of this month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2017, with the headline 'Risks of anti-inflammatory drugs unclear for people with depression'. Print Edition | Subscribe