Insulin resistance may be linked with a higher risk of depression

Written by Jessica Norris on September 27, 2021

— Fact checked by Harriet Pike, Ph.D

Insulin resistance can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, which, without proper management, can lead to severe health problems.

Major depressive disorder is a common and severe mental health problem. Its prominence means that researchers are striving to identify factors that put people at risk of developing depression.

A new study by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, CA, found that participants with insulin resistance had a higher risk of developing depression than those who did not. The findings appear in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Insulin resistance

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source note, the chronic condition of diabetes centers around the hormone insulin, which the pancreas produces. When the body releases insulin, this hormone allows the body’s cells to absorb sugar from the food the person eats.

Without enough insulin, the sugar from food builds up in the bloodstream, depleting the body’s energy stores. Excessively high levels of blood sugar can lead to serious long-term health complications. Currently, 34.2 million people have diabetes in the United States, where it is the seventh leading cause of death.

In addition to the many people with diabetes, about 88 million adults in the U.S. have what is called prediabetes. This occurs when blood sugar levels are high but not high enough for the person to receive a diabetes diagnosis.

The American Diabetes Association notes that insulin resistance, also called impaired insulin sensitivity, occurs when the body stops responding to insulin the way it should. The insulin that is available becomes less effective, and the pancreas produces more insulin to try to compensate.

As the resistance gets worse, the pancreatic cells that make insulin can wear out. Eventually, the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin, and blood sugar levels rise. Insulin resistance can then develop into prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

The exact cause of insulin resistance remains unclear. However, both genetic and lifestyle factors may contribute to its development.


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Major depressive disorder

Major depressive disorder, which people more commonly just call depression, is a highly prevalent mental health condition. The CDC estimates that 1 in 6Trusted Source adults will experience depression at some point in their life.

The National Institute of Mental Health describes depression as a mood disorder that influences how people think and feel. It can also have a major influence on a person’s ability to function in their day-to-day life. A doctor may diagnose someone with depression after specific symptoms have been present for 2 weeks or more.

The possible symptoms of depression include:

  • feelings of anxiety or sadness that are persistent
  • feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or irritability
  • difficulty sleeping
  • changes in appetite
  • loss of interest in activities or hobbies
  • pain, such as a headache, that has no apparent cause or does not get better with treatment
  • suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide

Not everyone with depression experiences every symptom of the condition, but it can take a serious toll on people’s well-being and their daily activities. It can also increase the risk of suicide.

Due to the significance of depression, researchers are continuing to look into risk factors that can help detect and treat the condition at an earlier stage.

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