Link between depression, diabetes

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
June 17, 2008 4:58:23 PM PDT
Depression and diabetes affect millions of Americans every year. And now, doctors believe there is a link between the two diseases.Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas. It malfunctions in regulating blood sugar. Depression is a psychological disease, which may have an identifiable trigger or no obvious one at all. But new research finds sometimes there's a relationship between the two.

Both diabetes and depression can be physically debilitating and life-altering. What researchers are now saying is that having one of them appears to heighten the risk of developing the other.

Rosalyn Terborg-Penn says taking care of her diabetes by monitoring her blood-sugar levels and administering insulin is more than a full-time job.

"Sometimes I'm overwhelmed to the point where I just have to go to bed and take a break," she said.

Dr. Sherita Golden is an endocrinologist treating patients with diabetes, as well as an epidemiologist, studying how disease affects populations.

At the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Dr. Golden and a team of researchers analyzed whether there is an association between diabetes and symptoms of depression.

They found that depression might also put people at risk for the other illness.

"Even with symptoms of depression below a clinical threshold, there's still a risk of developing type-two diabetes," Dr. Golden said.

The researchers compared some 5,000 ages 45 to 84 and followed them over a three-year period.

They found that participants who had symptoms of depression, including feelings of hopelessness, poor sleep and loss of appetite, were more likely than those without such symptoms to develop diabetes.

"They were at about a 42 percent increased risk of developing type-two diabetes over follow-ups of three years," she said.

Researchers also found that those who already had type-two diabetes at the beginning of the study and were being treated for the disease had a 52 percent higher risk of developing symptoms of depression.

"We hypothesize that some of this may be related to the increased burden of monitoring in diabetes as associated with being on medical therapy," Dr. Golden said.

The researchers believe that that some lifestyle factors associated with depression, such as poor eating habits and lack of exercise, could be contributing to the increased risk of developing type-two diabetes. But we need more studies to understand if there is a biological reason the two are associated.

Patients with either illness should be aware of the possibility of the other and speak about it to their doctor.

--- STORY BY: Dr. Jay Adlersberg