By Kelley Herring
Depression has become an epidemic in our modern world.
In fact, one out of every five Americans will experience major depressive disorder at some point during their lives. The most obvious symptoms include despair, lack of energy, apathy, agitation, loss of appetite and sleep disturbances. But depression can also take a toll on your physical health and increase your risk of chronic disease.
Of course, there are specific and conditional life circumstances that can cause depression. It is perfectly natural to become depressed as a result of emotional and physical trauma, the loss of a loved one, job loss, prolonged stress, financial concerns and major life changes.
But there are also biochemical factors that can cause or worsen the symptoms of depression. And when the twin forces difficult life circumstances and biochemical factors unite, the effects of depression are worsened and can feel truly overwhelming.
The great news is that the hormonal and biological factors that can cause or worsen depression can be dramatically improved – giving you a fighting chance to defeat the unrelenting sadness and see the world in a brand-new light.
And one of the most powerful biological factors in depression is insulin resistance…
The Silent Condition Affecting Your Mental Health
Over one-third of the population suffers from insulin resistance – a condition where the body has a decreased ability to respond to the hormonal messages from insulin.
As you might know, the job of insulin is to instruct your cells to process glucose in your bloodstream. Every cell in your body has insulin receptors. And when these receptors bind to insulin, the cells ingest the energy source.
However, these receptors can become “deaf” to insulin. This can be caused by excessive calorie intake from carbohydrates, lack of exercise, sleep deprivation, stress and other factors. The result is chronically-high blood sugar that can lead to Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurological disease, kidney disease, cancer, and more.
The great news is that your blood sugar is the most important controllable factor in your health!
It’s well established in the medical literature that that insulin resistance and mood disorders are closely linked. But previous studies have been cross-sectional. That means they look at snapshots of populations at a single point in time. And while insulin resistance and mood disorders are clearly related to one another, correlation does not equate to causation.
However, a recent study has shown cause and clearly connected these two conditions…
Your Metabolic Health Shapes Your Mental Health
Using data from an ongoing longitudinal study with more than 3,000 participants, a team from Stanford analyzed data from 601 men and women who served as control subjects. At the time of their enrollment, the participants had never reported depression or anxiety.
The researchers measured three factors of insulin resistance:
- Fasting blood glucose
- Waist circumference, and the
- Ratio of circulating triglycerides to high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
Then they probed the data to see if the insulin-resistant subjects had an elevated nine-year risk of developing major depressive disorder. The answer was a resounding YES.
The researchers discovered:
- A moderate increase in insulin resistance was linked to a whopping 89% increase in new cases of major depressive disorder
- Every 5-centimeter increase in abdominal fat correlated with an 11% higher rate of depression
- An increase in fasting plasma glucose of 18 milligrams per deciliter of blood was associated with a 37% higher rate of depression
- Those who developed prediabetes within the first two years of the study had 2.66 times the risk for major depression by the nine-year follow-up compared with those who had normal fasting-glucose at the two-year point.1
Lead researcher Natalie Rasgon says:
“It’s time for providers to consider the metabolic status of those suffering from mood disorders and vice versa, by assessing mood in patients with metabolic diseases such as obesity and hypertension. To prevent depression, physicians should be checking their patients’ insulin sensitivity […] In the end, we can mitigate the development of lifelong debilitating diseases.”
A Metabolism-Mending Lifestyle
If you’ve been suffering from depression, anxiety or other mood issues, ask your doctor to test for insulin resistance. To improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin, there are many things you can do, starting today:
- Reduce visceral fat – This is the deep belly fat linked to inflammation, insulin resistance and chronic disease.2 Strength training, high intensity interval training (HIIT), fasting and a low-carbohydrate diet can reduce stores of this dangerous, deep fat.
- Include strength training – Lifting weights or engaging in bodyweight exercise a couple times per week for one hour was found to significantly improve insulin resistance in obese teenagers.3
- Do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) – Postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes who did HIIT twice a week for 16 weeks significantly reduced visceral fat, abdominal fat and A1C levels.4 In animal studies, HIIT has been found to improve insulin sensitivity in fat tissues and in the liver.5
- Take magnesium – This critical nutrient could be called the mineral to master your metabolism. Unfortunately, most people are deficient. Various forms of magnesium are proven to improve insulin sensitivity, including among those with prediabetes.6,7,8
- Optimize Vitamin D levels – This hormone-like vitamin is essential for healthy blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity.9 Your best source of vitamin D is from unprotected sun exposure. Aim to spend up to an hour a day with your unprotected skin exposed to the sun (of course, be sure to avoid burning). During the months when this is not possible or optimal, consider taking a Vitamin D3 supplement.
- Start intermittent fasting (IF) – Intermittent fasting is a great way to improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin, reduce body fat and improve overall health.10
- Reduce carbohydrates. Focus on fat and protein – A low-carb diet reduces visceral fat (especially in the liver). This leads to improved insulin sensitivity.11,12 To get a healthy balance of fats, be sure include omega-3-rich wild fish, grass-fed beef, pastured pork and poultry.
You do not need to turn to dangerous prescriptions with a laundry list of side effects to defeat depression. By optimizing your lifestyle with the simple tips above, you can improve your insulin sensitivity, reduce your risk for chronic disease… and develop a sunnier disposition, to boot!
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1 Kathleen T. Watson, Julia F. Simard, Victor W. Henderson, Lexi Nutkiewicz, Femke Lamers, Carla Nasca, Natalie Rasgon, Brenda W.J.H. Penninx. Incident Major Depressive Disorder Predicted by Three Measures of Insulin Resistance: A Dutch Cohort Study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2021; appi.ajp.2021.2 DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2021.20101479
2 Arner P, Rydén M. Human white adipose tissue-a highly dynamic metabolic organ. J Intern Med. 2021 Dec 16. doi: 10.1111/joim.13435. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34914848.
3 Van Der Heijden GJ, Wang ZJ, Chu Z, Toffolo G, Manesso E, Sauer PJ, Sunehag AL. Strength exercise improves muscle mass and hepatic insulin sensitivity in obese youth. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Nov;42(11):1973-80. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181df16d9. PMID: 20351587; PMCID: PMC2944907.
4 Maillard F, Rousset S, Pereira B, Traore A, de Pradel Del Amaze P, Boirie Y, Duclos M, Boisseau N. High-intensity interval training reduces abdominal fat mass in postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Metab. 2016 Dec;42(6):433-441. doi: 10.1016/j.diabet.2016.07.031. Epub 2016 Aug 24. PMID: 27567125.
5 Marcinko K, Sikkema SR, Samaan MC, Kemp BE, Fullerton MD, Steinberg GR. High intensity interval training improves liver and adipose tissue insulin sensitivity. Mol Metab. 2015 Oct 9;4(12):903-15. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2015.09.006. PMID: 26909307; PMCID: PMC4731736.
6 Akyüz O, Gücün M, Demirci R, Celik M. Relationship Between Serum Magnesium Level and Insulin Resistance in Turkey Non-obese Adult Population. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2021 Sep 19. doi: 10.1007/s12011-021-02922-9. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34537919.
7 Veronese N, Dominguez LJ, Pizzol D, Demurtas J, Smith L, Barbagallo M. Oral Magnesium Supplementation for Treating Glucose Metabolism Parameters in People with or at Risk of Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2021 Nov 15;13(11):4074. doi: 10.3390/nu13114074. PMID: 34836329; PMCID: PMC8619199.
8 Bavani NG, Saneei P, Hassanzadeh Keshteli A, Yazdannik A, Falahi E, Sadeghi O, Esmaillzadeh A. Magnesium intake, insulin resistance and markers of endothelial function among women. Public Health Nutr. 2021 Dec;24(17):5777-5785. doi: 10.1017/S1368980021001063. Epub 2021 Mar 15. PMID: 33719988.
9 Mitri J, Muraru MD, Pittas AG. Vitamin D and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;65(9):1005-15. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2011.118. Epub 2011 Jul 6. PMID: 21731035; PMCID: PMC4066381.
10 Halberg N, Henriksen M, Söderhamn N, Stallknecht B, Ploug T, Schjerling P, Dela F. Effect of intermittent fasting and refeeding on insulin action in healthy men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2005 Dec;99(6):2128-36. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00683.2005. Epub 2005 Jul 28. PMID: 16051710.
11 Skytte MJ, Samkani A, Petersen AD, Thomsen MN, Astrup A, Chabanova E, Frystyk J, Holst JJ, Thomsen HS, Madsbad S, Larsen TM, Haugaard SB, Krarup T. A carbohydrate-reduced high-protein diet improves HbA1c and liver fat content in weight stable participants with type 2 diabetes: a randomised controlled trial. Diabetologia. 2019 Nov;62(11):2066-2078. doi: 10.1007/s00125-019-4956-4. Epub 2019 Jul 23. PMID: 31338545.
12 Foley PJ. Effect of low carbohydrate diets on insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2021 Oct 1;28(5):463-468. doi: 10.1097/MED.0000000000000659. PMID: 34468401; PMCID: PMC8500369.