The Link Between Depression, Metabolism, and Mortality

by | Dec 3, 2023 | Research

Medical Review by Chris Palmer, MD

Metabolic Health

Depression is a common and often debilitating mental health condition. It has long been recognized for its profound impact on individuals’ well-being. Rates of depression have been increasing for years and in 2023 reached new highs. Recent research has unveiled a deeper connection between depression and physical health, shedding light on how metabolic impairment might play a role.

A study just published in JAMA Network Open, titled “Depressive Symptoms and Mortality Among US Adults,” has illuminated a critical aspect of depression that warrants our attention. This study, which examined a diverse and nationally representative sample of over 23,000 U.S. adults, revealed a striking association between depressive symptoms and mortality, particularly in the realms of cardiovascular disease and ischemic heart disease.

So, what does this study teach us about the relationship between depression and our metabolism?

First, it’s essential to understand that our brain is an energy-hungry organ. To function optimally, it requires a constant and stable supply of energy. When this energy supply is disrupted, the brain struggles to perform its functions effectively, and this can manifest as cognitive and emotional disturbances, including depression.

The study found that individuals with moderate to severe depressive symptoms faced a higher risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, and ischemic heart disease mortality. The numbers are compelling—people with moderate to severe depressive symptoms were 62% more likely to die early deaths. But what’s even more intriguing is how lifestyle factors come into play.

The study revealed that lifestyle factors may play a role in 11% to 16% of the association between depression and mortality. This opens a door to a vital conversation about how our daily choices, including our diets and physical activity levels, influence both our mental health and our physical well-being.

Depressive symptoms can be a sign that our brain’s metabolic processes are disrupted. For example, feelings of tiredness, low energy, changes in appetite, and loss of interest in activities are not just psychological markers of depression; they can also be indicators of underlying metabolic changes. These alterations may, in turn, affect our cardiovascular and overall health.

Metabolic impairment can lead to systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, and dysregulation of hormones like cortisol, all of which can contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions. In essence, depression may serve as a sentinel, alerting us to potential metabolic disruptions that could increase our vulnerability to mortality risk.

Metabolism is much more complicated than just diet and exercise. Many factors play a role, as I discussed in the post, “Brain Energy: The Metabolic Theory of Mental Illness.”

Understanding this link between depression, metabolism, and mortality opens up new avenues for intervention and prevention. It emphasizes the need for a comprehensive strategy to reduce the burden of depression. This strategy should not only focus on mental health treatment but also prioritize interventions, like lifestyle modifications, that support optimal brain energy metabolism.



Zhang Z, Jackson SL, Gillespie C, Merritt R, Yang Q. Depressive Symptoms and Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(10):e2337011. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.37011

Author’s Note: This post was originally featured on Psychology Today.

Stress, Psychiatric Disorders, and Mitochondria

In the realm of mental health, understanding the biological underpinnings that contribute to psychiatric disorders is crucial. The research paper "Stress and Psychiatric Disorders: The Role of Mitochondria" by Teresa E. Daniels, Elizabeth M. Olsen, and Audrey R. Tyrka...

PTSD and Mitochondria

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a complex mental health condition that can develop after exposure to a traumatic event. This disorder is characterized by symptoms such as flashbacks, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Recent research...

Cat Ownership and Schizophrenia: A New Perspective

A new study published in the Schizophrenia Bulletin found an intriguing connection between cat ownership and the risk of developing schizophrenia-related disorders and psychotic-like experiences. This systematic review and meta-analysis offers a new understanding of a...

Exciting news from the UK: The Hub for Metabolic Psychiatry!

The launch of the Hub for Metabolic Psychiatry represents a groundbreaking stride in the integration of mental and physical health research, echoing the principles of the Brain Energy theory. Funded by UKRI as part of the Mental Health Platform, with additional...

The Brain on Opioids: Metabolic Disruptions in Addiction

In recent years, the opioid epidemic has surged to alarming proportions, casting a shadow over communities worldwide. This crisis, fueled by an increase in the prescription of opioid medications and the illicit use of drugs like heroin, has led to a staggering rise...