Looking at depression’s impact on the
05 October 2001
Scientists in Wales are investigating why feeling blue could damage our blood vessels.
Scientists in Wales are investigating why feeling blue could
damage our blood vessels.
As health officials predict a massive rise in mental health problems, the timing of the study could not be more apt. Only this week, the World Health Organization said it expects depressive disorders to be the second most common cause of global disease by 2020. Heart disease will remain the leading cause of ill health, it adds.
Evidence shows that depressed people are more likely to develop heart disease, but scientists are unclear what causes this link. Researchers at the University of Wales College of Medicine, in Cardiff, however, believe it is related to how the body deals with long-term stress.
With funding from the British Heart Foundation, the team will explore how this stress affects blood vessels, including the heart’s coronary arteries.
“When the body is under stress it produces certain chemicals that, over time, may be harmful to our arteries by causing inflammation,” explains lead researcher Professor Michael Frenneaux.
“We believe being depressed may lead to prolonged over-activity of the body’s ‘stress response’ and this could be why depression can increase the risk of coronary heart disease.”
The study will involve the use of a drug that temporarily blocks the body’s stress response, both in healthy volunteers and in those with depression. Researchers anticipate that artery function will improve once stress is reduced.
Studies have already shown that “acute” mental stress – like a short, sharp shock – can disrupt how the lining of the arteries works. Researchers will be looking at how chronic, long-term stress or depression affects the circulatory system.
The Welsh team devised the research concept after earlier work showing that depression is often sparked by a stressful life event. Depression then occurs because the stress response continues after its cause has been removed. About 50 per cent of patients with depression had raised levels of chemicals associated with stress, they explain.
© Health Media Ltd 2001