Is depression just as bad for your heart as obesity and high blood pressure?
New research from a 10-year German study suggests so, asserting that depression causes 15 percent of cardiac arrests. To put this in context, 21 percent of heart attacks are caused by obesity, and 8.4 percent by high blood pressure.
According to the World Health Organization, depression affects around 350 million people worldwide. And while we shouldn’t have to establish a link to cardiac arrest to make people take mental illness seriously, this new research adds weight to the argument that depression is (for some people) just as much of a physical illness as a mental one.
How did the researchers arrive at this conclusion? Over the 10-year period, a team from the Technical University of Munich, led by Professor Karl-Heinz Ladwig, analyzed data from 3,428 male patients aged between 45 and 74 years old. They assessed the impact of depression on the heart compared with the four most common risk factors: obesity, smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Their results showed that depression was the root cause for 15 percent of the deaths (557 people died during the course of the study.)
Further research is required to determine how much of this is down to physiological factors such as increased stress hormones (which may increase plaque formation in the arteries), higher levels of cortisol and higher glucose levels and an increase the production of free radicals and fatty acids, which damage the lining of the blood vessels.
The study acknowledges that cardiac arrest may also be the result of the poor lifestyle choices people with depression may make, for example alcohol and drug use, smoking, a poor diet and lack of exercise.
“The question now is, what is the relationship between depression and other risk factors like tobacco smoke, high cholesterol levels, obesity or hypertension? How big a role does each factor play?” Professor Ladwig said in a press release from the research center.