Common painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen could help curb depression, a study has claimed.
The research found anti-inflammatory agents could restrict major symptoms of depression such as low mood. Fish oils and even statins – the cholesterol-lowering pills that are the most widely prescribed drugs in the country – may also have the same effect, experts say.
Staff at the University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, reviewed 26 studies for their research in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
The anti-inflammatories included in the studies were non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin, omega 3 fatty acids often found in fish oils, cytokine inhibitors, statins and steroids.
Antibiotics, a drug used to treat sleep disorders (modafinil) and N-acetyl cysteine, which is used to loosen excess phlegm in people with cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), were also tested.
These medicines and agents were 52 per cent more effective than placebo at reducing overall symptoms of depression and were 79 per cent more effective in eliminating symptoms than placebo, the results suggest.
The most effective drugs were found to be NSAIDs, omega 3 fatty acids, statins and minocyclines.
The effect was greater if these were added to antidepressants.
However, there was no clear link with improved quality of life, although this may have been due to the small number of studies that examined this, the researchers said.
They concluded: “The results of this systematic review suggest that anti-inflammatory agents play an anti-depressant role in patients with major depressive disorder and are reasonably safe.”
Around one in six people in the UK report experiencing a common mental health problem such as anxiety and depression in any given week, according to the charity Mind.
Professor Ed Bullmore, head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, welcomed the study.
But he said: “This should encourage further consideration of ways in which we could use a range of anti-inflammatory interventions to help people with depression, perhaps especially people who are already taking a conventional anti-depressant drug with limited benefit.
“However, as the authors conclude, further trials will be needed to support licensing and medical prescription of these and other anti-inflammatory agents for depression.”
David Curtis, honorary professor at University College London, said he was not convinced by the findings.
He said: “It is quite misleading to describe the use of anti-inflammatory agents as safe.”