Women who have had an episode of depression have increased odds of having “metabolic syndrome” - a cluster of conditions such as abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar and unhealthy cholesterol levels, that set the stage for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
These findings, reported the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, may help explain why depression has long been linked to heart disease and other cardiovascular ills, the researchers write.
Depression is the most common psychological problem in the US. Minor Depression can be attributed to normal depressed feelings that arise because of a specific life situation, a side effect of medication, hormonal changes or physical illness, and does not usually require treatment. Major Depression (depressive illness) is a serious condition that result in extreme fatigue, sleep problems and eventually an inability to function. The exact cause is unknown, but it is thought to be a malfunction of brain neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that modulate moods. Major Depression is usually treated with a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressants which moderate or correct chemical imbalances in the brain. The group of antidepressants most frequently prescribed is the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which regulate the neurotransmitter serotonin.
“Depressed individuals are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and being noncompliant with medical treatment,” which may increase their risk of developing metabolic syndrome, Dr. Leslie S. Kinder told Reuters Health.
Kinder added that depression may also be linked to body changes that predispose people to metabolic syndrome and, consequently, cardiovascular disease.
“Women with depression should be aware that they may be especially vulnerable to medical problems, and therefore they should make special efforts to attend to their physical as well as their psychological health - through appropriate treatment and preventative therapies,” noted the researcher, who is based at Stanford University School of Medicine in California.
To investigate whether depression’s link to heart troubles stems from its effect on metabolic syndrome risk, Kinder and colleagues reviewed health data collected from 6189 men and women between the ages of 17 and 39 between 1988 and 1994. All participants were free of heart disease and diabetes.
The investigators found that women who had experienced an episode of major depression were twice as likely to have metabolic syndrome as women with no history of depression.
Women who were depressed were particularly likely to have high blood pressure and a high level of blood fats.
The relationship between depression and metabolic syndrome persisted even after the investigators removed the influence of smoking, age, physical activity and other factors that could affect the results.
The investigators found no such relationship in men, however, a finding they cannot yet explain, Kinder said.
The researcher noted that these results suggest that clinicians should be especially attentive when treating women with a history of depression.
“Clinicians should be aware that depression is a important concern among women with the metabolic syndrome,” Kinder noted.
SOURCE: Psychosomatic Medicine, May/June 2004.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD