Depression is a bit like heart disease: some risk factors can be controlled

Depression and heart disease are related. What? You’re kidding me! But it’s true:

Depression can lead to heart disease

Heart disease can lead to depression

They share an underlying disease process called “inflammation.”

Researchers classify the major risk factors for heart disease as “controllable” and “uncontrollable.” All doctors know these. You can’t do anything about the uncontrollable risk factors, but you can do something about the controllable.

RISK FACTORS FOR HEART DISEASE

 Uncontrollable:        

Being Male

Having a family history of heart disease

Having a family history of diabetes

Controllable:            

Smoking

Having a sedentary lifestyle (with a lack of exercise)

Having high blood pressure

         Having high “bad” cholesterol

What’s all this got to do with depression? Well keep reading.

 To help prevent heart disease, a doctor would tell you to stop smoking and to exercise more. They would check your blood pressure and cholesterol to see what could be done about those. They could tell you that being a male with a family history of heart disease and diabetes increases the risk, but nobody could do anything about those. Well, we could approach depression in the same way. Let’s take a look.

RISK FACTORS FOR DEPRESSION: GP CALL

Genetics

Personality

Chronic stress, Chronic illness and Chronic pain

Abuse, Alcohol & drugs

Life events (Losses & change)

Lack of love (Loneliness)

The risk factors you can’t do much about are genetics, personality, chronic illness and pain, and abuse. They are uncontrollable. Still, all except genetics can be managed and helped with professional help, just like blood pressure and cholesterol in heart disease. The rest are controllable; you can do something about them. Yes, you.

Chronic stress,

Alcohol & drug use

Life events (Losses & change)

Lack of love (Loneliness)

Chronic stress leads to the release of stress hormones. These slow down your immune system and slow down your serotonin production. Low serotonin makes you feel depressed. Stress also releases toxins, doing damage to your brain via inflammation which can also damage your heart, that’s a major link between depression and heart disease. To decrease chronic stress, surround yourself with people you love and aim to enjoy your work or study. Relax more. Find meaning and purpose. Exercise. Exercise decreases chronic stress and keeps you fit and healthy. It is good to fight heart disease and depression. Many studies show this.

Exercise can …

Increase the flow of blood, oxygen, and glucose to your brain

Reduce muscle tension and anger

Increase good brain chemicals

Lift your serotonin and mood

Increase your energy

Improve sleep

Give you time for your mind to think and clear

Distract you from worries

Help you connect, socialize, and feel part of life.

 Alcohol and drugs mess with your mood. They can depress you directly (alcohol) or lead to a post-high low (amphetamines). Do what you can to limit them to help prevent clinical depression.

Life events can be positive or negative. The important thing is to manage your reaction to them. Talk to and stay in relationship with friends and family to help you react healthily to life events. You’ll cope better that way and help prevent depression.

Lack of love, also known as loneliness, is, I believe, the biggest risk factor for depression. That’s why it’s best for us to stick around family and friends. This is what the next blog will concentrate on.

 

For more info on this topic check out our second podcast on depression:

Listen on iTunes

Listen on Spotify  

EVIDENCE

Halaris, Angelos. "Inflammation, heart disease, and depression." Current psychiatry reports 15.10 (2013): 400.

Miller, G. E., Stetler, C. A., Carney, R. M., Freedland, K. E., & Banks, W. A. (2002). Clinical depression and inflammatory risk markers for coronary heart disease. The American journal of cardiology90(12), 1279-1283.

 Lichtman, J. H., Bigger Jr, J. T., Blumenthal, J. A., Frasure-Smith, N., Kaufmann, P. G., Lespérance, F., ... & Froelicher, E. S. (2008). Depression and coronary heart disease: recommendations for screening, referral, and treatment: a science advisory from the American Heart Association Prevention Committee of the Council on Cardiovascular Nursing, Council on Clinical Cardiology, Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, and Interdisciplinary Council on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research: endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association. Circulation118(17), 1768-1775

Christian Heim