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Dr. Gregory Pais, ND
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Home arrow Blog arrow DEPRESSION LEADS TO FAT
December 1 2008 Archives of General Psychiatry
It turns out that older people who are depressed are much more likely to develop a dangerous type of internal body fat than people who are not depressed. People with depression were twice as likely as others to gain visceral fat. Visceral fat surrounds internal organs and often shows up as belly fat. It raises the risk for heart disease and diabetes. The idea is that there is a link between a person's mental state and fat (no surprise to this practitioner) that collects around the internal organs.

Previous research has linked depression with those same health problems. Some researchers believe depression triggers high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which promotes visceral fat. This new research is the first large study to track people over time to see if those with depression were more likely to gain weight. The study used data from 2,088 people in the ongoing Health, Aging and Body Composition study.

This project is following healthy older Americans to find out how changes in bone, fat and lean body mass affect health. The participants, all in their 70s, were from Memphis, Tenn., and Pittsburgh in 1997 and 1998 and were followed for five years. Researchers screened for symptoms of depression at the start of the study and again at four follow-up visits. They measured visceral fat with CT scans. They calculated body mass index, body fat percentage, waist size and the distance between the back and the biggest part of the belly.

There were 84 people with depression symptoms at the start of the study. They gained, on average, 9 square centimeters of visceral fat. In contrast, the 2,004 people who weren't depressed lost visceral fat - on average, 7 square centimeters. Both groups, depressed and non-depressed, were overweight on average at the start of the study, with approximately the same average body mass index. When the researchers took into account other risk factors for obesity, including the depressed group's higher visceral fat levels in the beginning, they still found a connection between depression and visceral fat gain.

There is one positive associated with the idea that depression has a specific tie with fat gained around the organs in the abdomen. This is that visceral fat can be easier to lose than subcutaneous fat. Perhaps there will be more recognition given to using targeted exercise to help lose weight.


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