The links between mind and body have fascinated people for a long time. Do people die of a broken heart? Is a healthy mind indicative of a healthy body?

Scientists have been studying the relationship between mental and physical health for a long time. Depression and heart disease are related.

Depression is more common in people with heart disease than in the general population.

People with elevated depression symptoms are more likely to develop heart disease than people without depression.

Depression is associated with increased risk of further heart attacks and death in people with acute heart disease.

Fewer studies have investigated whether cardiovascular risk factors are associated with a higher likelihood of developing depression. A new study has sought to explore this.

What the researchers did

The link between cardiovascular risk factors and depression in people over the age of 55 was studied by the University of Granada in Spain.

High blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and elevated cholesterol are some of the conditions that can lead to Metabolic syndrome.

Some researchers think that depression may be related to metabolic syndrome.

The participants in this study were drawn from a larger trial that looked at the effects of a Mediterranean diet on overweight and obese people.

One group is following a Mediterranean diet with a physical activity program, and the other is following an unrestricted Mediterranean diet without a physical activity program.

The baseline analysis for the study included more than 6,500 participants.

The major risk factors for heart disease were determined by using the well-established Framingham risk score, which was developed by following healthy people over time. They categorized people based on their risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease within ten years.

When participants began following the diet and physical activity programs, they were asked about their depression using questionnaires.

There was no correlation between cardiovascular risk and depression at baseline. Participants with a higher risk of heart disease were not more likely to have depression.

The authors found that women with higher cardiovascular risk were more likely to have symptoms of depression. This was not the case in both men and women at the follow-up.

All participants had their depression scores reduced over the course of two years. Depression scores dropped more for people with low cardiovascular risk, and for people who were following a restricted diet and physical activity program.

It is difficult to understand the findings of the study. There are some mixed results from the different ways the data has been analyzed.

The authors found that diabetes and certain cholesterol levels resulted in lower depression scores at follow-up.

Women with heart disease have higher levels of depression than men. Women experience higher rates of depression than men in the general population.

The finding that there may be a link between heart disease risk and depression in women seems to fit with these trends.

Although we can't conclude from this study that heart disease risk is associated with a higher risk of developing depression, it does add to an already strong body of evidence suggesting heart disease and depression are linked.

There are a number of factors that may explain the relationship. Depression and heart disease risk include some biological factors.

  • increased inflammation
  • endothelial dysfunction (constriction of blood vessels in the heart)
  • altered autonomic nervous system activity (the autonomic nervous system controls muscles, including the heart)
  • blood platelet dysfunction (where blood platelets are more likely to stick together and form clots).

Maintaining a healthy diet, not smoking, and doing physical activity are lifestyle factors that are protective against both heart disease and depression.

Unhealthy lifestyle factors are associated with increased risk of heart disease and depression.

It is more difficult for people with depression to change their habits. The most interesting finding of the study is that depression scores were reduced in the group who were encouraged and supported to adopt a healthier lifestyle, including a more restrictive diet and increased physical activity.

There is good evidence to suggest that exercise is a very effective treatment for depression in people with heart disease, but the role of diet as an intervention for depression is less clear.

The study shows that diet and lifestyle can be used to treat depression in people at risk of heart disease.

The Department of Health Psychology is at the University of Medicine and Health Sciences.

This article is free to use under a Creative Commons license. The original article is worth a read.