Monitoring 24-hour heart rate, metabolic changes and inflammation can help diagnose depression faster, new research shows
A whole body perspective should therefore be taken into account while recommending treatments or therapies, especially for depression.
The Indian National Mental Health Survey of 2015-2016 reveals that nearly 15 percent of Indian adults need active intervention for one or more mental health issues and that one in every 20 Indians suffers from depression. The high and still increasing prevalence of depression in both India and the rest of the world draws attention to the fact that not only is better healthcare support required to overcome this challenge but so is more research into depression and other mental health issues.
Two new research studies presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology’s virtual congress may have path-breaking contributions to offer in this regard. Here’s what you need to know about them.
24-hour heart rate can aid depression diagnosis
While scientists have known for a while now that heart rate is linked to depression, the exact causal relationship has been unknown. This is primarily because while heart rates can fluctuate and change quickly, depression takes a longer period of time for diagnosis, study and therapy: thus making it difficult to analyse just how these two are linked over a viable duration of time. Researchers from Goethe University, Germany, and KU Leuven, Belgium, found a way around this.
They continuously registered the heart rate of depression patients for several days and nights and used the rapid-action antidepressant drug ketamine, which can lift symptoms almost instantly. This gave the researchers the chance to observe how the average resting heart rate may change quite suddenly to reflect the changes in mood.
The research team found that depressed patients had a higher baseline heart rate and a lower heart rate variation. On average, the heart rate of these patients was roughly 10 to 15 beats per minute higher than in those without depression. Measurement of heart rates after ketamine treatment showed that both the heart rate and heart rate fluctuation of depressed patients changed and got closer to the levels of non-depressive subjects.
The ultimate result of this study was the discovery that 24-hour heart rates can now be used as a biomarker for depression. This means that just by measuring your heart rate for 24 continuous hours via a mini-ECG, scientists may now be able to tell with 90 percent accuracy if you are currently depressed or not.
Depression, not anxiety, linked to metabolic change and inflammation
Depression and anxiety have some similar risk factors, symptoms and are often treated with the same drugs. Mental health experts have shown how almost 50 percent of patients with major depressive disorder also suffer from anxiety, and yet classify both as different disorders despite almost non-existent biochemical evidence for such a classification.
Researchers from the Netherlands Study of Anxiety and Depression have now been able to show the biochemical differences between the disorders for the first time.
For their study, the researchers used blood samples from 304 current depression patients, 548 anxiety patients, 531 patients with both depression and anxiety, 807 patients in remission for both or either disorders and 634 healthy control subjects. They then used a nuclear magnetic resonance detector to test for associations between the 40 metabolites found in blood and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The researchers found that patients with depression showed evidence of greater inflammation that patients of anxiety. Depressed patients also had high levels of triglycerides and low levels of omega-3 fatty acids, while the lipid profile of anxiety patients was similar to that of healthy subjects of the study. The study showed that if your blood work indicates more lipid levels associated with depression, your depression could be more severe.
This study clearly indicates that despite their similarities, anxiety and depression have very different biochemical markers. Metabolic changes like high triglycerides, low omega-3 fatty acids, and a higher level of inflammation are more substantially associated with depression rather than anxiety disorders.
These biomarkers and a whole-body perspective should therefore be taken into account while recommending treatments or therapies, especially for depression.
For more information, read our article on Depression.
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