According to some new research, our immune systems may play a vital role in the development of mental illness. The study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, showed that children with high levels of protein released in the blood during infection face a greater risk of developing psychosis. The immune system acts like a thermostat—and when there is infection in the body, the thermostat gets cranked up. In some people, that thermostat is always set slightly higher.
4,500 individuals’ blood samples were analyzed for the study. They took blood samples at age nine and then followed up at age 18 to see if they had experienced episodes of depression or psychosis. The researchers found that children with high levels of the protein interleukin were twice as likely to have experienced mental illness as those in the “low” group.
These findings could help explain why physical exercise and diet are not only found to improve physical health, but mental health as well. In addition to proper treatment from a child psychiatrist, healthy habits formed early in life are the best way to prevent mental illness in adults. It’s too early to say whether the association found from the study is causal, but additional studies are being carried out.