According to a recent study, it is estimated that people suffering from depression are up to 60% more likely to develop diabetes (1). The study was carried out by King’s College London and examined 160,000 pairs of twins. The use of twins is thought to help explain the possible genetic links between the two illnesses.
The study’s early findings currently suggest that genetic flaws allow for both illnesses – diabetes and depression – to occur at the same time. According to the study, 87% of men who took part, had both depression and diabetes (1).
Dr Carol Kan, from the Department of Psychological Medicine at Kings, was quoted by the Daily Mail:
‘These findings go some way towards explaining why diabetes and depression sometimes occur together, although further research is needed to explore the effect of gender in this interplay between genetic factors and environmental influences, such as diet and lifestyle’ (1).
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person's blood sugar (glucose) level to become too high. The hormone insulin – produced by the pancreas – is responsible for controlling the amount of glucose in the blood.
There are two main types of diabetes:
Type 1 – where the pancreas doesn't produce any insulin
Type 2 – where the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin or the body's cells don't react to insulin
Due to the lack of insulin, glucose can remain in the blood instead of being used for energy. One way the body can try to get rid of the excess glucose is to expel it through urine. Typical symptoms include:
· Feeling thirsty
· Feeling tired
· Urinating more often
· Losing weight/muscle bulk (2)
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition; the immune system is the body’s first point of defence against infections and illnesses. Type 1 diabetes can occur when the immune system mistakes cells in the pancreas as harmful, and attacks them (2).
The NHS stresses that having type 1 diabetes makes it essential that you take care of your health, including eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. These adjustments can help lower glucose levels which is very important because both types of diabetes currently have no cure (2).
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1, possibly because it is associated with obesity and often diagnosed in older people (3). Unlike type 1 diabetes, there are certain factors that have been linked to developing type 2 diabetes:
· Genetics – increased risk when close relatives also have the condition
· Weight – overweight or obesity problems can lead to a higher risk
· Age – older people are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes (4)
The NHS recommends eating healthily, losing weight if overweight and exercising regularly, for people who are pre-diabetic. Sometimes called impaired fasting glycaemia (IFG) or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), pre-diabetes occurs when the glucose level in the blood is higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be classed as a diabetic condition (4).
Depression and diabetes
In 2013, the Independent Diabetes Trust estimated that depression could occur in 14-18% of people with diabetes compared to the UK average of 5% (5). Symptoms of depression can include feeling tired, losing or gaining weight, and sleeping too much or too little (6).
The Independent Diabetes Trust claimed that according to research, depression combined with type 1 or 2 diabetes can result in patients being less likely to take their medication, being less functional both physically and mentally and failing to eat the recommended healthy diet (5).
For both depression and diabetes, one of the primary recommended treatments is eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, in order to improve energy and overall mood (6).
It has previously been suggested that there could be links between chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and depression. Issues such as failing to seek help, eating unhealthily, not getting enough exercise and failing to take medication have been thought to affect people with depression, resulting in them finding it difficult to look after their health (7).
The Institute of Mental Health points out to research which suggests that depression can affect a person’s physical wellbeing. It is believed that in some cases depression can cause:
· Stress hormone abnormalities
· Changes in blood circulation and/or heart rate
· Metabolic changes – similar symptoms sometimes seen in people at risk of developing diabetes (7)
If you identify with any of the symptoms discussed in this article, it is always advised to talk to your GP.
It is not yet clear how much this recent study will affect diagnosis or treatment of diabetes or depression. However, this is one of the few studies showing clear evidence that depression and diabetes might be connected.
More research needs to be done in order to further understand both illnesses and ways that they can be effectively treated.
1. The Daily Mail: People with depressions are 60% more likely to develop diabetes. Available here
2. NHS Choices: Type 1 diabetes. Available here
3. NHS Choices: Type 2 diabetes. Available here
4. NHS Choices: Type 2 diabetes causes. Available here
5. Independent Diabetes Trust: Diabetes: Stress, Anxiety and Depression. Available here
6. NHS Choices: Exercise for depression. Available here
7. National Institute of Mental Health: Chronic Illness and Mental Health. Available here