According to experts, depression not only affects mental health but also has serious impacts on the brain and body. Therefore, if this mental disorder is not detected and intervened properly, there is a risk of developing other dangerous illnesses.
Depression and its Effects on the Brain
Depression is a common mental illness that is currently affecting a wide range of people, from young children to the elderly. This disease does not discriminate based on gender, age, social status, or profession. Currently, according to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is affecting over 16 million adults in the United States.
Experts have found that each of us is at risk of experiencing at least one episode of depression at varying degrees throughout our lives. This illness not only makes patients feel sad, hopeless, and tired, but can also directly affect the brain’s functions.
Prolonged depression and anxiety can lead to memory loss in many patients. The main cause of this condition is that the brains of depressed individuals tend to age faster than normal. In addition, depression can increase the risk of developing a range of brain-related issues if not controlled in a timely manner. Specifically, the effects of depression on the brain include:
Changes in brain size
There have been many studies and debates on determining the specific brain areas affected by depression and the degree of impact on those who suffer from the illness. Thanks to the attention of professionals, there is now a wealth of information and evidence showing that a part of the human brain shrinks when they fall into prolonged depressive states.
To explain this phenomenon more clearly, scientists have stated that this area loses a significant amount of gray matter volume (GMV), which is the tissue that contains many brain cells. Depressed individuals seem to lose a considerable amount of gray matter, and the more severe the illness, the more likely they are to experience gray matter depletion.
The effects of depression on the brain have been studied extensively. Research has shown that the following areas of the brain may experience a reduction in gray matter volume during depression:
- The prefrontal cortex: This area plays a crucial role in thinking and planning. Additionally, regions such as the amygdala, insula, and cingulate gyrus may also shrink in individuals with depression.
- The hippocampus: This part of the brain is important for memory and learning. It also has close connections to other parts of the brain that regulate emotions and respond to stress hormones.
Other studies have looked at the impact of depression on the amygdala, the brain’s fear center. They found that stress and depression can lead to a loss of gray matter in the brain, with greater loss in cases of severe depression.
When these areas of the brain cannot function properly, individuals may experience difficulties in clear thinking, memory problems, lack of motivation, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, anxiety, increased appetite, sleep disturbances, difficulty with movement and communication, heightened emotional responses.
In reality, it is difficult to determine whether brain inflammation precedes or follows depression. However, through testing of individuals with depression, researchers have found that their levels of the displacement protein are always higher than normal, especially in cases of severe depression. This protein is also linked to brain inflammation.
In most studies, it has been found that people with untreated severe depression for a long period of time, specifically 10 years or more, have significantly higher levels of certain proteins. If inflammation in the brain is not controlled early, there is a risk of causing many dangerous consequences, such as:
- Accelerating the aging process of the brain
- Causing problems related to thinking
- Preventing the development of brain cells
- Causing damage or even death of brain cells
Reduced ability to remember
In a study published in the journal Psychological Medicine involving 71,000 people, including some with depression, researchers observed and examined their changes in information processing, decision making, and memory. The results showed that people with depression showed signs of reduced memory and cognitive function in adulthood.
If the body is in a prolonged state of stress, sadness, or depression, negative thoughts will gradually take over a part of the brain. This will cause poor blood flow in the brain, leading to fatigue and irritability. In addition, the hormones produced by the brain to cope with stress can not only affect its function, but also change the structure of the brain.
A hormone called cortisol can shrink the brain and limit the production of new nerve neurons. This is why depression can directly affect a person’s ability to remember, control emotions, and learn.
The impact of depression on the body
In addition to affecting mood and the brain, depression can also have physical effects on the body. It can increase the complications of physical illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and obesity.
Some specific effects that depression can have on the body include:
Depression and overall health
Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and disinterest in activities that were once enjoyable. This condition can last for days, weeks, months, or even years, and can seriously disrupt a person’s life.
Depending on the severity of depression, a person may experience changes in their eating habits, including loss of appetite or uncontrollable cravings. Unhealthy eating habits can lead to deficiencies or excesses in nutrients, causing the body to weaken.
Additionally, more than 80% of depression cases are accompanied by sleep disorders, with insomnia being the most common. A person may have difficulty falling asleep, have shallow sleep, or have nightmares, or they may sleep too much. When sleep is not restful, it can exacerbate feelings of fatigue, weakness, and lack of energy.
If these conditions persist for a long time, the body’s immune system will be severely weakened. The person will gradually lose their ability to protect themselves and fight against negative external influences, making them more susceptible to infections and making illnesses more serious and dangerous.
Depression and obesity
As shared above, people with depression often fall into a state of boredom, sadness, despair, accompanied by eating disorder symptoms. Some may experience loss of appetite, have unappetizing meals, and often skip meals. However, many patients tend to overeat and lose control of their eating habits in an attempt to improve their emotions.
Moreover, due to their fatigue and frustration, most depressed patients do not want to prepare a healthy, nutritious meal for themselves. Instead, they tend to use many processed foods, canned foods, fast food, or any kind of carbonated drink, ready-made cakes available in the house, or convenience stores.
Although they may increase the level of serotonin hormone – a type of hormone that helps improve mood and prevent stress, these foods contain many preservatives, fatty substances, and sugar. Overuse of these foods can quickly cause weight gain. In addition, depressed people are often inactive and do not like to exercise, which increases the risk of obesity and overweight.
Depression and diabetes
According to experts, the symptoms of depression make it difficult for patients to control their calorie intake. In particular, sweet cakes and candies can stimulate the mood and easily become addictive to patients.
Depression affects the body’s response to stress and inflammation, which is seen as a major barrier to the process of converting glucose into energy, thereby increasing the risk of developing diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes.
Professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins – Sherita Golden shared: “Depression increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in a person, and treating type 2 diabetes increases the risk of developing depression in a person.”
For cases of patients who have diabetes and then develop depression, there is a high likelihood of an increase in blood sugar levels, making it difficult to control the amount of sugar in the blood. At the same time, depression also hinders the maintenance of the treatment regimen, causing the disease to become more complicated.
Depression and migraine
Depression and migraine are related to each other, as individuals with depression are more likely to experience migraines than those with normal health. Currently, scientists have not been able to explain this phenomenon specifically. However, they have observed that one of the main causes is the sleep disorder that depression causes, which leads to many patients experiencing migraine attacks.
Additionally, if you already have migraines, depression is a factor that can make them worse. The brain uses many types of chemicals, including serotonin and norepinephrine, to regulate pain. However, when in a state of depression, the levels of these chemicals can be altered, significantly reducing your pain tolerance and making your migraine attacks more severe than usual.
If the condition of migraine persists continuously, it can impede the daily activities of the patient. It also makes the patient always feel tense, tired, irritable, and prone to conflicts in relationships with friends, colleagues, and family.
Depression and rheumatoid arthritis
In the results of many studies, it has been found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis are at higher risk of developing depression than usual. At the same time, depression can also make the condition of inflammation and the likelihood of a flare-up of the disease more dangerous and severe.
In addition, depression can also worsen the emotions of the patient when facing intense pain. Furthermore, the symptoms of depression also limit the daily activities of the patient, increasing negative thoughts. In reality, there have been many cases where patients with depression have lost hope in the treatment process and gradually abandoned healthy habits while suffering from low back pain.
Depression and the Digestive System
Emotions and the digestive system have a reciprocal effect on each other. If you constantly feel sad, anxious, uneasy, or depressed, the activity of the digestive system will also not be ensured. That is why most people with depression often encounter problems such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, abdominal pain, dyspepsia, indigestion, nausea, and vomiting.
The negative emotions of depression accompanied by eating disorders, which do not ensure the body’s nutrition, will quickly deteriorate health. Therefore, many patients may face the risk of developing pathologies such as gastric ulcers, stomach pain, or gastroesophageal reflux.
Depression and the Central Nervous System
Long-lasting cases of depression are likely to lead to functional disorders, decreased attention, and difficulty controlling one’s own thoughts, regulating emotions and moods. When depressed or excessively stressed, the cortisol hormone will be released. After a while, it can harm the health of the brain and directly affect the brain, causing memory loss in patients.
Usually, the conditions of depression in the elderly are difficult to detect because the decline in memory may also be due to the natural aging process of the body, so the depression factor is easily overlooked.
Moreover, some depressed patients cannot escape from their own negative, pessimistic emotions, so they tend to turn to alcohol, tobacco, or stimulants to improve their mood. However, most of these substances only have a temporary effect and then cause many dangerous effects on the nervous system, making the function of this system severely weakened.
Depression and Heart Disease
People with depression are more likely to experience problems with their cardiovascular health. Experts explain that because depressed individuals often feel anxious, sad, and hopeless, their bodies are more likely to enter a state of emergency, with their heart rate increasing and blood vessels constricting. When this condition persists, patients may experience discomfort, chest tightness, chest pain, and a higher risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease.
In addition, the unhealthy lifestyle habits of people with depression may also contribute to the onset of heart disease. These individuals often smoke, drink alcohol, and have poor dietary habits, including staying up late at night, which can affect heart function. Moreover, for those who have a history of heart disease, depression can increase the risk of developing coronary artery disease and potentially fatal strokes.
Depression and Osteoporosis
Scientific studies have shown that depression can affect the muscles and bones, contributing to a decrease in bone mass due to the loss of calcium and other minerals that occur as the body ages. Intense and unidentifiable pain can make it uncomfortable to exercise.
Furthermore, the lack of appetite associated with depression can lead to a deficiency of necessary nutrients, especially calcium and vitamin D, which can impair bone protection.
Depression and Sexual Function
Sexual function is also one of the factors affected by depression. The brain is the organ that controls sexual desire through the release of stimulating hormones and nerve impulses. Therefore, when suffering from depression, the balance of chemicals in the brain gradually deteriorates, reducing the patient’s desire and interest in sex.
In addition, the process of treating depression with some antidepressant medications can also cause many patients to experience sexual dysfunction. Many cases experience inhibited sexual arousal and erectile dysfunction.
The above are some pieces of information that help readers understand the impact of depression on the brain and body’s health. Depression is a dangerous condition, but it can be treatable if detected early and the appropriate interventions are applied.