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New Research Links Abdominal Obesity to Depression

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers have found a direct link to abdominal obesity and depression. Researchers at VU University Medical Centre, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, found that older adults who are depressed have twice the risk of gaining fat in the mid-section. This is the first study to test the theory that older depressed adults might at greater risk for diabetes and heart disease.

The study shows that people who are depressed have higher levels of cortisol. Cortisol is an important hormone that controls our response to stress. "When experiencing chronic stress or depression, cortisol levels can become permanently elevated. One effect of high cortisol levels is that it directs fat to the visceral regions by activating lipoprotein lipase and inhibiting lipid mobilization", according to study author Nicole Vogelzangs. The researchers found no association with overall obesity as the result of depression.

The scientists studied 2008 adults, age 70 to 79. All were healthy and functioned independently. The researchers found that "depressive symptoms result in an increase in abdominal obesity independent of overall obesity, suggesting that there may be specific pathophysiological mechanisms that link depression with visceral fat accumulation". Four percent of the study participants showed symptoms of depression at the beginning of the study.

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The researchers say the increase in abdominal obesity did not seem to be related to poor dietary habits associated with depression. Nicole Vogelzangs says, "A poor diet leads to high amounts of fat entering the body; cortisol directs all this fat to the visceral area." The researchers therefore speculate it is interplay of biology and emotions that direct fat to the abdominal, promoting the unhealthy scenario.

Depression doubles a person's risk of heart disease, an important note that makes successful treatment for depression mandatory for disease prevention. Statistics show that depression may become more prevalent by 2020, affecting ten to fifteen percent of elders. The implications are increased incidences of disability in our senior population, and death from heart attacks.

We should all seek ways to combat depression. The current study reveals how emotions, such as depression, affect our health adversely. Attempting to deal with depression on our own may lead to a cascade of events that sets us up for previously unknown health risks. Abdominal obesity is a known health risk, now associated with depression. The study is published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19047525?dopt=Abstract