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Depression is a Serious Illness Linked to Poor Physical Health

Depression is a serious illness that gets a bad rap most of the time.  Unfortunately depression is commonly written off as merely in someone’s head, and not a serious and debilitating health problem.  It’s true, depression is “all in someone’s head” but it also affects an individual’s other bodily systems.  For example, depression is linked to coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.  Consequently, it’s important to identify depression and treat it promptly.  Now researchers may have their opportunity to do just that with a quick and cost-effective saliva test.

Depression Detected With Saliva Test

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have identified that the stress hormone, cortisol, is linked to 14 times greater a risk of developing clinical depression, at least in teenage boys in their study sample.  The researchers collected saliva from hundreds of teenagers and measured the amount of cortisol, in addition to the teenagers’ self-reported symptoms of depression.  After tracking the teens for 12 to 36 months, the researchers were able to determine which group was the most likely to develop clinical depression or other psychiatric disorders.  They also found that teenage girls with elevated cortisol were 4 times as likely to develop clinical depression compared to those with normal cortisol levels, suggesting possible gender differences in how depression develops.

Early Interventions Stem Long-Term Problems Related to Clinical Depression

According to a survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, 11.2% of teens ages 13-18 suffer from severe depression at some point in their lives.  Furthermore, teenage boys are more likely to die from suicide than teenage girls.  The researchers noted that this is the first biomarker in detecting depression, and that it may allow for a more “personalized” approach to treating depression.  There are likely other biomarkers that could be identified as contributing to depression in future studies, but in the meantime cortisol could potentially serve as a target at which doctors and psychiatrists can aim treatment.  Overall, this research is a first major step in strategically targeting preventions and treatments to reduce the risk of serious depressive episodes in teens and their life-long effects.

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