Diabetes and Depression

Which came first - the chicken or the egg? That is the question some researchers are asking about the relationship of diabetes and depression. Does depression increase the risk for diabetes, or does diabetes increase the risk for depression?

Diabetes and depression are both highly prevalent in the United States. More than 10 percent of adult Americans have diabetes, and almost 7 percent of adults suffer from major depressive disorder. Studies have long shown that people who have diabetes have a greater incidence of depression than people without diabetes.

Diabetes Causing Depression

Because diabetes is a serious, chronic disease that requires constant attention, monitoring and treatment, it was believed that the increased incidence of depression accompanying the diagnosis of diabetes was due to the stress of managing the disease.

Recently a small research study was undertaken to look at this relationship. The findings suggest that people who have diabetes might be more susceptible to developing depression as the result of an interaction between elevated blood sugar level and a certain neurotransmitter in the brain that is associated with depression at high levels. The levels of the neurotransmitter, glutamate, became elevated as sugar levels rose, but only in those participants who already had diabetes. Elevated glutamate is commonly found in those suffering depression. The findings of this study were presented to a joint meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society in 2014.

Depression Causing Diabetes

The potential incidence of diabetes as a result of depression is less well understood. There is evidence that this association occurs, but the bio-mechanism has not been determined.

A 2011 study financed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showed that depression is moderately associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These results are consistent with other studies, which taken together suggest that depression is a significant risk factor for the development of diabetes.

Depression can lead to neglecting personal health or the inability to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Prescriptions used to treat depression often cause weight gain, increasing the risk of obesity, one of the comorbidities of diabetes. The cycle of depression and health care issues continues, with diabetes a possible outcome.

Treating Both

Effective treatments for both depression and diabetes include exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and consuming a healthy diet. To the extent that a depressed person or a person with diabetes is able to make these changes in their daily lives, they might be able to avoid, or even reverse, the onset of either depression or diabetes. At the least, they should experience some improvement in their own circumstances.

Sources: Medical News Today , National Institutes of Health and Mayo Clinic

Photo credit: Maddie Photography

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