Depression could be a cause of 20 major diseases

In a new study, researchers found major depressive disorder—referred to colloquially as the ‘black dog’ – has been identified as a genetic cause for 20 distinct diseases.

The finding provides vital information to help detect and manage high rates of physical illnesses in people diagnosed with depression.

The research was conducted by a team from the Australian Centre for Precision Health at the University of South Australia.

Previously, scientists have found people living with serious mental diseases, like depression, have much higher rates of physical illness than those in the general population.

But until now, these studies have been complicated by the possibility of other confounding factors, or even reverse causation where the physical condition is assumed to cause depression.

In the study, the team examined the link between depression and 925 diseases. They assessed data from 337,536 UK Biobank participants to confirm the range of diseases affected by depression.

They found a causal relationship between depression and a range of respiratory, heart and digestive diseases including asthma, coronary heart disease, high cholesterol, oesophagitis, gastroenteritis, E. coli infections, and urinary system disorders.

The researchers say understanding the relationship between depression and other diseases can reduce the incidence of comorbidities and improve the lives of millions of people worldwide.

They suggest that a person diagnosed with depression should now also be screened for a defined set of possible diseases, enabling much better clinical management and significantly improved outcomes.

It’s also important to focus on diet and have healthy lifestyles.

The team says it was concerning to see that depression was associated with multiple inflammatory gastro-intestinal complications, which may be due to side effects from medications used to treat depression, or even due to the greater occurrence of e-coli infections, both of which could be prevented.

The study is published in Molecular Psychiatry.

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