Cardiovascular risk factors may increase risk of depression in older adults, study finds

Photo (c) SEAN GLADWELL - Getty Images

Experts say diet and other health markers can identify those who carry the most risk

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Granada explored the link between heart health and depression. According to their findings, consumers who struggle with cardiovascular risk factors may have a higher risk of developing depression in later life. 

“Cardiovascular disease and depression are thought to be closely related, due to shared risk factors,” the researchers wrote. “Improving cardiovascular health could prevent the onset of depression in the elderly.” 

How heart health affects mental health

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from over 6,500 older participants with obesity who spent an average of two years following the Mediterranean diet. The participants completed questionnaires to assess their depression at the start of the study and two years into the study. The researchers then measured their heart disease risk with the Framingham-based REGICOR scale, which assessed participants' risk as low, medium, or high/very high. 

Ultimately, the team identified a link between cardiovascular disease risks and the risk of depression-related symptoms. Participants with the highest risk of cardiovascular disease also showed the highest risk of depression compared to those who had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Overall, the team found that women were more likely than men to develop depression and that the Mediterranean diet was associated with fewer depression-related symptoms; those who had higher REGICOR scores and stayed consistent with the Mediterranean diet saw the biggest improvements in their depression symptoms. 

Cholesterol was another important factor related to depression risk. The study found that participants in the medium and high risk cardiovascular groups with cholesterol levels under 160 mg/mL at the start of the study had a higher risk of developing depression. On the other hand, these participants had a lower risk of depression when they started the study with cholesterol levels of 280 mg/mL or higher. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope more work is done in this area to better understand how factors like diet and cholesterol can affect consumers’ mental health as they go into older age. 

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