For years, researchers questioned how molecular changes in our bodies can contribute to, or perhaps fight, depression. According to Medical Xpress, this answer may soon be available. Researchers from UT Southwestern utilized data from the 20-year Dallas Heart Study (DHS) to analyze which elements raise the risk of depression. Ultimately, findings published in Maturitas and the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry not only link a specific inflammatory molecule to depression, but also describe how to identify menopausal symptoms indicative of depression.
Dallas Heart Study
According to the UT Southwestern Medical Center, the Dallas Heart Study:
was initiated in 2000 with funding from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation and with the primary goal of improving the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of heart disease. The DHS was transformed from a cross-sectional to longitudinal study in 2007 [and] is now supported by the Hoffman Family Center in Genetics and Epidemiology, directed by Dr. Helen Hobbs, and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.
When the Dallas Heart Study first began, over 6,000 individuals filled out a comprehensive medical questionnaire. 58% (3500) later went on to undergo imaging and provide blood samples. Altogether, the latter group consisted of individuals between ages 30-65. Over 50% of participants were Black, and 17% were Hispanic. Ultimately, this enhanced the diversity of this study.
DHS, Depression, and Menopause
Throughout the years, there has been a concentrated attempt to more effectively treat depression. Over twenty years ago, some researchers determined that a pro-inflammatory drug could cause people to develop depression. Thus, a more contemporary question asks what role inflammation plays in this mood disorder.
To begin, UT Southwestern researchers sourced data from 3,033 participants in the Dallas Heart Study who provided blood samples and were also screened for depressive symptoms. They determined that an inflammatory molecule called GlycA was associated with more severe depression. In validating their findings, the researchers also considered biological sex, educational level, BMI, and ethnicity. But even taking these into account, GlycA heightened depression. While additional research is needed, this suggests that inflammatory scores could one day be used as a predictor of depression severity.
Later, additional research explored the intersection between menopause and depression. Generally, menopause is linked to a higher risk of developing depression; this also links to menopausal symptoms such as libido loss, sleep changes, and hot flashes. First, researchers evaluated data sourced from 384 women between ages 37-73. To account for cultural experiences and beliefs around menopause, researchers utilized a diverse group: 64% Black, 26.8% white, and 9.11% Hispanic. Researchers used data from self-reported symptoms, as well as the Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology Self Report survey. Ultimately, researchers found that physical menopausal symptoms were related to more severe depression.
The Mayo Clinic describes depression as:
a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.
For some, depression may be situational or only be present in one time period of someone’s life. For others, depression is a lifelong struggle. An estimated 4.4% of people across the globe have depression. Symptoms and characteristics include:
- Feelings of hopelessness or sadness
- Irritability or anger
- Sleep disturbances (insomnia, excessive fatigue)
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low appetite and unintended weight loss
- Or, contrastingly, excessive appetite and unintended weight gain
- Unexplained physical aches
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or self-hatred
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Suicidal ideation
If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out to your doctor immediately. Learn more about depression.