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Depressed to the bone....

Hormonal changes that accompany recurring bouts of severe depression reduce bone density in the lower back and increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disease, a new study finds.

"Depression is by no means only a 'mental' disorder," a team of German psychiatrists concludes in the November AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY. "This study identifies [it as] a new clinical risk factor for osteoporosis."

Many depressed people exhibit high concentrations of cortisol in their blood. Excess amounts of this hormone in other conditions, including anorexia nervosa, have been linked to osteoporosis.

Ulrich Schweiger and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich used a computerized tomography (CT) scanner to measure the density of the three lowest bones in the back. They recruited 53 women and 27 men diagnosed with major depression, as well as 27 women and 30 men free of mental and medical disorders. Participants averaged about 60 years old, and none was younger than 40.

Overall, bone density in depressed volunteers fell about 15 percent below that in the healthy group. Depressed women displayed the lowest average bone density. This pattern held when the researchers controlled statistically for other influences on bone density, such as weight, height, prior medical problems, cigarette smoking, and estrogen treatment in the female volunteers.

"These are intriguing findings that need to be confirmed in further studies," remarks Dan G. Blazer, a psychiatrist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "The results are statistically significant but not dramatic."

Future studies should consider whether major depression fosters poor eating habits, which can undermine bone density, Blazer asserts. The long-term effects of estrogen use on mood, hormones, and bone density in depressed women also require closer examination, he adds.
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Title Annotation:severe depression increases risk of osteoporosis
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 26, 1994
Words:288
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