The depression-diabetes connection

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: July 27th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For years doctors have warned patients that too many pounds and too little exercise can lead to type two diabetes. A new study points to yet another risk for the disease… especially in elderly patients. Depression.

Northwestern University researchers set out to see whether there was a link between depression and diabetes by tracking nearly forty-seven-hundred men and women… ages sixty-five and older… in four states. None of the participants had diabetes at the start of the study.

Earlier studies probing the depression-diabetes connection looked at single bouts of depression. The Northwestern study tracked single bouts, chronic depression and depression that worsened over time. Researchers screened participants every year for ten years for symptoms of depression, including those related to mood, irritability, calorie intake, concentration and sleep.

The findings were convincing. People with multiple symptoms of depression were about sixty percent more likely to develop type two diabetes than those who weren’t considered depressed.

Researchers offer reasons why. First, people who report more depressive symptoms might not take care of themselves as they should and might be less active, making them more likely to gain weight. Second, depressed people often have high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood, while diabetics have high levels of glucose in their blood. Researchers report high cortisol levels may cut insulin sensitivity and increase fat deposits around the waist.

Whatever the reason for the connection, researchers urge doctors to screen older adults for depression. And if it’s there, screen them for diabetes.