The Depression Cascade
Cascading IllnessDepression isn’t all in your head—it has major physiological effects on all of your body’s major systems and increases the likelihood of developing many major diseases. Having a depressive disorder unleashes a cascade of harmful effects on your body.
Depression and the “Stress Hormone”Being depressed alters your normal levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by your adrenal gland.
Cortisol is sometimes called the “stress hormone.” When your body is under stress or a threat is perceived, cortisol helps you to mobilize for action—the “fight or flight” reaction. One of cortisol’s functions is to suppress your immune system (healing is not a big priority when facing an immediate danger). Cortisol also increases blood sugar for quick energy, raises blood pressure, and decreases bone formation. READ MORE
All these effects are normal, and necessary, when you are in a perilous situation. Problems start when the effects of cortisol become chronic instead of temporary. Cortisol levels tend to be erratic, but normally they peak in the morning and decrease as the day progresses. However, in people with depression, cortisol levels peak earlier in the morning and don’t level off or decrease in the afternoon or evening. LESS
The Damage Cortisol DoesResearchers think that altered cortisol levels may have many damaging effects. Chronically high cortisol levels may affect levels of serotonin, bringing on or worsening depression. Suppression of bone formation may lead to osteoporosis. Hypertension (chronically heightened blood pressure) and high blood glucose levels can lead to abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels, diabetes, atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
Depression and Heart DiseaseREAD MORE
It’s not clear exactly what the connection between depression and heart disease is, but Dr. Philip Gold, chief of clinical neuroendocrinology at the National Institute of Mental Health, thinks he has a clue. One effect of having chronically high blood glucose levels is craving carbohydrates and starches. According to Gold, these high-glycemic-index foods are key players in altering normal blood lipid levels, creating inflammation, damaging arteries and capillaries, and leading to heart disease. LESS