Anxiety and depression can lead to obesity, diabetes and other metabolic disorders, which can worsen mental health symptoms. Many commonly prescribed psychiatric medications used to treat anxiety and depression cause weight gain, making matters worse.
A new study
A recent French study explored the relationship between metabolism and emotionality in mice. A group of mice were fed a high-fat diet until they developed metabolic disorders and were compared to mice that were not. The mice were also given a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant medication.
Metabolism was measured by body weight, blood sugar level and sugar tolerance. Emotionality was measured through behavioral observations for signs and symptoms of anxiety and/or depression.
The results were compelling. First, metabolic measures did indeed correlate with behavior. The mice that were heavier, and had high blood sugar and impaired sugar tolerance (symptoms of Type 2 diabetes) also had impaired neurochemical transmission in the brain.
The mice that gained weight and metabolic problems from the high-fat diet stopped benefiting from the SSRI drug. Metabolic parameters returned to normal and symptoms of anxiety improved when the high-fat diet was discontinued, but some other behavioral symptoms did persist.
The senior author of the study published in the October 2015 issue of the British Journal of Pharmacology, Bruno Guiard, Ph.D., pointed out: “When treating depression, in general there is no predictor of treatment resistance. So if we consider metabolic disorders as a putative treatment resistance predictor, this should encourage psychiatrists to put in place a personalized treatment with antidepressant drugs that do not further destabilize metabolism.”
The authors concluded that more research was needed “to optimize current antidepressant treatment.” They stressed that metabolic and emotional disorders are extremely common and severely impact morbidity, mortality and quality of life.
If these findings prove to apply to humans, diet and exercise may become first-line treatments for anxiety and depression. Psychiatric medications that cause weight gain may not be appropriate to treat patients with metabolic disorders, such as diabetes. Medical therapy might need to be re-evaluated over time and metabolic parameters carefully monitored.
In the meantime, breaking the vicious cycle of anxiety, depression and weight gain is best done as promptly as possible. Some ways to start would be to eat well-balanced nutritional meals, exercise daily and get adequate sleep. Also, avoiding alcohol lowers caloric intake and lessens feelings of anxiety and depression. When symptoms negatively impact daily life, or efforts to make necessary changes fail, consider seeking professional treatment.
Sovereign Health of California treats individuals with substance abuse, mental health problems (including depression and anxiety disorder) and dual diagnosis. We use state-of-the-art diagnostic assessment and treatment to provide optimal long-term outcomes. Comprehensive treatment and ongoing aftercare provide the support patients need to recover from addiction and all of its consequences. To find out more about specialized programs at Sovereign Health, please call us at our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.