September 1, 2006               

Table of Contents

Tackling a Serious Subject
(Introduction to special issue)
Depression and Diabetes
(Disease management)
Depression and Preventive Health Care
(Duke University study)
Chicken or Egg?
(Depression and body fat)
A Vicious Cycle of Mind and Body
(Connecting the dots)
Depression and Cardiac Risk
(Heart health)
The Power of Suggestion
Told You So
(Exercise to the rescue)
Myth Bustin'
(Stereotype debunked)
What, Me Worry?


Tackling a Serious Subject

Most issues of SFA's newsletter Experience!
address a variety of wellness-related topics, but sometimes we like to zero in on a single area of interest to our readers.   There has been much in the news lately about mental state, depression in particular, and how it can affect one's physical health. Today we'll share the fascinating findings researchers have been making about this mind-body connection.

Not all the news is what we think of as "good" news. But knowledge is power, and knowing the facts can help us to help ourselves.

In fact, there have been some very positive discoveries as well, and we here at SFA are delighted to spread the word. This issue of Experience! starts out with certain unvarnished realities uncovered through recent scientific study, but builds up to highly encouraging news indeed. And, of course, no matter how critical the topic, there's always someone who can help us see a lighter side of it. That someone, quoted in today's final item, winds up our discussion on an upbeat note!

Depression and Diabetes

The results of a 12-year study
of 329 persons with both depression and diabetes were published recently in the Annals of Family Medicine. Compared to participants who did not receive special depression care, those given optimal depression treatment didn't appear to adopt better self-management habits with respect to diet, exercise, or using prescribed medications as directed. Researchers stated that the unexpected findings shouldn't be taken to mean that depression care is not useful for the population. They believe that integrated diabetes and depression therapy can help patients to realize better health.

Depression and Preventative Health Care

A Duke University study
published in the journal Medical Care indicates that anxious or depressed older adults tend to skip routine health care, such as regular physical check-ups and other recommended medical services. The study analyzed data on more than 3,000 subjects ages 65-plus.

Older patients experiencing psychological distress were 23 percent less likely to undergo yearly dental check-ups, 27 percent less likely to obtain clinical breast examinations, and 30 percent less likely to get annual flu shots.

Chicken or Egg?

The Archives of General Psychiatry
recently published a study of approximately 9,000 persons that found a significant association between obesity and mood/anxiety disorders, including depression. Such conditions were seen to be roughly 25 percent more likely among obese individuals than among persons who are not obese. What the study did not resolve is: Can obesity be a cause of depression? Or, on the other hand, does depression tend to cause obesity? (Editor's note: In either case, physical exercise may help to improve matters.)

A Vicious Cycle of Mind and Body

The Pulse Wire Report
recently recapped a new Harvard Mental Health Letter describing the mind-body connection between depression and heart health:

Depression can exacerbate a heart condition. In fact, persons who are already depressed when admitted to the hospital for cardiovascular problems run a higher than average risk of dying or of experiencing further serious cardiac events during the following year.

Heart disease, in turn, can contribute to depression. About half of patients who are hospitalized for heart problems display some symptoms of depression, and a smaller percentage go on to develop severe depression.

Surprisingly, depression is more closely associated with recurring cardiovascular problems than are cigarette smoking, elevated cholesterol levels, and even high blood pressure. Why is there such a strong relationship between one's mental state and one's heart health? When a person is chronically anxious or depressed, the body stays on emergency alert. Excess stress hormones are released, increasing the heart rate and constricting blood vessels. Over time, this can damage the vessels and undermine the heart's ability to function efficiently.

On the other hand, successfully treating depression can have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system, and protecting the heart with an active, healthy lifestyle can help to ward off depression.

For more information on the powerful connection between depression and cardiovascular disease, read on.

Depression and Cardiac Risk

Researchers recently compared the cases
of 2,228 persons who experienced cardiac arrest during a 15-year period with 4,164 persons who did not. Across the board, depression appeared to increase the risk for cardiac arrest -- including for persons with no cardiovascular risk factors. In fact, it escalated the risk notwithstanding a person's age, sex, and whether or not the person already had a preexisting heart condition. The researchers' analysis, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, indicated that depressed persons were more likely to suffer cardiac arrest than non-depressed persons by a margin of 43 percent.

Not surprisingly, the degree of one's depression was seen to affect his or her risk for cardiac arrest. In persons with major depression, the risk increased by 77 percent. In those with milder levels of depression, it increased by 30 percent.

The authors noted that perhaps depressed individuals are more likely to make negative lifestyle choices (for example, with regard to tobacco, alcohol, or drugs) and perhaps they're more liable to skip taking preventative medications. However, the scientists also believe that depression may contribute to nervous system dysfunction, the accumulation of arterial plaque, red blood cell problems, and -- as mentioned in the preceding item -- blood vessel constriction and undesirable changes in heart rate.

After reading the information given above, are you ready for some good news on this subject? If so, read on.

The Power of Suggestion

Research published by the American Journal of Psychiatry
indicates that some persons with depression respond positively to a placebo before they are given actual antidepressant medication. Since they believe the placebo will be effective, such patients quickly begin to experience improved mood states. Moreover, the placebo treatment may pave the way for greater drug therapy success in these patients. That outcome might be achieved when a placebo readies certain passageways within the brain, which the genuine antidepressant medication will then be able to utilize.    

Told You So

Fitness advocates have been trumpeting the news for years.
Anecdotal evidence has appeared to support it. Now -- finally -- a scientific study that does so!

Performing regular, long-term physical exercise is widely acknowledged as an effective tool for combating depression. But exercise enthusiasts have long maintained that even a single, non-strenuous session of physical activity (for example, walking for half an hour) can work wonders on one's mood and sense of well-being. Researchers recently tested that claim and published their findings in the journal Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise, according to the Pulse Wire Report.

What did the study show? A single, moderate-intensity exercise period elevates important mood markers associated with depression. The wire report goes on to explain that lead researcher, John Bartholomew of the University of Texas at Austin, credits "perceived accomplishment" for the psychological improvements detected by the study.

The subjects of this investigation were 40 persons (ages 18 - 55) with major depressive disorder, which is a serious clinical diagnosis. However, scientists think that the mood enhancement resulting from single-session exercise also extends to people who are simply feeling down or grumpy.

As reported by the Associated Press, Bartholomew notes that his study supports earlier findings that regular exercise, combined with professional counseling and drug therapy, can help to ameliorate depression. The big difference with this new study is that it shows that physical activity can lift someone's spirits right away.

What wonderful implications this has, not only for persons with severe depression, but also for anyone simply slogging through a bad day. It seems clear that further research involving higher numbers of subjects should be conducted in this topic area.

Myth Bustin'

Myth:  Happiness declines with age.
Fact:  Not!

A recent study of 273 young adults and 269 olders ones showed that most people persist in believing that age ushers in unhappiness -- when the facts actually show otherwise. According to a Reuters Health account of the study, which was conducted by the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, the subjects in both age groups assumed that younger persons must enjoy greater levels of personal happiness. But when the final results were analyzed, the older participants (average age 68) were found to be happier than their young counterparts (average age 31).

Interviewed for the Reuters report, lead researcher Dr. Heather Pond Lacey discussed possible explanations for the finding that people tend to grow happier as they get older. She noted humankind's resilient capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Also, older people may dwell less on personal achievements and more on meaningful relationships and simply enjoying life. Then, too, age may bring with it the additional experience and maturity needed to better manage one's moods. The end result? Happiness increases with age!

What, Me Worry?

Sometimes when dealing with weighty matters,
it can help to keep a lighthearted attitude. Today's quipster seems to be a true believer in the maxim "laughter is the best medicine":

"They talk about the economy this year. Hey, my hairline is in recession, my waistline is in inflation. Altogether, I'm in a depression."
                                                                            -- Rick Majerus

Experience! readers: Thank you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest to our members.

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