Have Depression? Your Metabolism May Play a Role in Predicting Episodes of It

There are a number of reasons why people experience poor mental health or illness including genetic and family history, biological factors like brain chemistry, as well as life experiences and trauma. New research has identified that metabolism may have a role in predicting one’s experience with depression.

Researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, in collaboration with Dutch scientists, have found that certain metabolites (according to Science Daily, are “small molecules produced by the process of metabolism”) could be used an indicator to identify those at risk of recurrent major depressive disorder.

“This is evidence for a mitochondrial nexus at the heart of depression,” said senior author Robert K. Naviaux, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, pediatrics and pathology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “It’s a small study, but it is the first to show the potential of using metabolic markers as predictive clinical indicators of patients at greatest risk — and lower risk — for recurring bouts of major depressive symptoms.”

Major depressive disorder (MMD), which is also known as clinical depression, is a mood disorder that often includes the following symptoms: feelings of sadness or hopelessness, anger or frustration, sleep disturbances, anxiety, loss of interest and suicidal thoughts. According to Science Daily, this disorder is extremely common, with an estimated one in five Americans predicted to experience at least one episode of MMD in their lives.

To explore MMD further, researchers looked at 68 participants (45 women and 23 men) who had recurrent MMD but who weren’t currently experiencing symptoms of the disorder. The participants were also antidepressant free. After collecting blood samples from these participants, researchers followed their lives for two and a half years.

Using a metabolic signature, researchers were able to predict which patients were most likely to relapse up to two years into the future, with the prediction accuracy sitting at more than 90%. Researchers were able to pinpoint changes in specific metabolites in six metabolic pathways, which included alteration of important cellular activities.

“The findings revealed an underlying biochemical signature in remitted rMDD (recurrent major depressive disorder) that set diagnosed patients apart from healthy controls,” said Naviaux. “These differences are not visible through ordinary clinical assessment, but suggest that the use of metabolomics — the biological study of metabolites — could be a new tool for predicting which patients are most vulnerable to a recurrence of depressive symptoms.”

While this research is indeed interesting and does shine a light on how science can possibly predict future experiences with MMD, the authors noted that further research needs to be done, with at least 198 women and 198 men in a larger study.

If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here.

Read more stories from The Latch and follow us on Facebook.