HEALTHY HEART BLOG

Mental health, depression and heart health

Mental health, depression and heart health

Depression is a mental health condition experienced by one in ten American adults. While the symptoms of depression can be debilitating on their own, recent studies have found it can also increase the risk of heart disease. Rather than a direct cause and effect relationship depression and heart health can be a two-way street.

Heart disease and the worry associated with managing poor heart health can prompt feelings of depression. Something that is hardly surprising. What is surprising is that depression may cause heart disease in a similar way to that of high cholesterol, smoking or hypertension. Below we explore the relationship between depression and heart health in more depth.

How depression changes the body

Depression is more than feeling down or persistent feelings of hopelessness, sadness and emptiness. A host of physical symptoms often accompany depression, including headaches, fatigue and insomnia, changes in weight, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, and inflammation. An imbalance in our biochemistry is often part of the cause of depression. The chemicals and hormones our bodies produce work in a number of ways, being deficient in one or more can cause a range of effects that can be physical, mental and emotional.

Decreased levels of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine contribute to depression. These same neurotransmitters also play a part in the vigour of other bodily functions. Low levels of norepinephrine can also cause hypotension (very low blood pressure), hypoglycemia and restless leg syndrome. Dopamine deficiency can result in muscle cramps, spasms or tremors, trouble sleeping and finally, decreased serotonin can cause difficulty with sleep and inhibit blood from clotting in response to injury.

The two-way relationship between heart health and depression

Many of the activities we are encouraged to partake in for our heart’s health are also great for managing depression and other mental health problems. Exercise, diet and sleep are all integral to the correct functioning of our bodies. Poor nutrition results in increased stress, tiredness and risk of depression in the short term and more serious health consequences in the longer term. Regular exercise is good for our hearts, the rest of our bodies and our minds too. The boost to endorphins and reduction in the activity of adrenaline and cortisol are only partly responsible for this. The break from repetitive thoughts, a chance to work out stress and tension, and the increased muscle tone that instigates positive feelings about our bodies also play a role.

Finally, sleep completes the trifecta. While we slumber our body produces a number of different chemicals and hormones that restore us from the day’s activities and prepare us for the following day. A lack of quality sleep can exacerbate depression and depression can make sleep difficult (remember the roles of dopamine and serotonin for sleep?). What’s more, sleep disorders jeopardize your physical health too – not least of all by increasing the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

The exact link between depression and the health of our heart is still being worked upon by scientists. However, the many correlations between the biochemistry involved in depression and how these also impact heart health along with the natural remedies that can reduce the risk of both mental and physical illness make this seemingly unusual link not quite so odd at all.

Guest Post by Elise Morgan
Elise is a freelance writer located in the mountains of North Carolina. Since studying exercise science in college, Elise has found a passion for learning and writing about health and wellness related topics. When she is not writing, you can find her practising yoga, hiking the trails, or attempting a new recipe in the kitchen.

Last updated: July 17, 2019