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Physical causes of depression

MagazineJune 2007 (Vol. 18 Issue 3)Physical causes of depression

As many as half of all cases of depression have been found to have aphysical, rather than emotional or psychological, cause

As many as half of all cases of depression have been found to have a physical, rather than emotional or psychological, cause. So, check out whether any of the following conditions is present.

Hypothyroidism

One in five cases of chronic depression is thought to be caused by the body producing too little thyroid hormone. An underactive thyroid may not just be a genetic problem, but could also be the result of environmental influences. For example, many countries add iodine to table salt, regardless of whether their soils are already rich in iodine. Diagnosing hypothyroidism isn't easy. The condition is often missed by the standard screening tests, so consider taking one of two specific diagnostic tests: the thyrotrophin-releasing hormone (TRH) stimulation test; or one that measures antithyroid (antithyroglobulin and antimicrosomal) antibodies. If these confirm an underactive thyroid, then taking artificial thyroid hormones (thyroxine) is the standard treatment. Safer alternatives include consuming iodine-rich foods such as Japanese seaweed and kelp. The homeopathic remedy Iodum can also help, as can the herb Lithospermum officinale (European stoneseed). Perhaps curiously, osteopathy and aerobic exercise can also improve thyroid function.

Reactive hypoglycemia

Compulsive snacking or bingeing on sweet or starchy foods may be part of a cycle of reactive hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can cause depression. Once you reduce or remove carbohydrates from your diet, your moods should even out. Not surprisingly, diabetics are prone to depression.

Irritable bowel disease

Anxiety and depression are common in people with gastrointestinal problems. For example, more than a third of those with Crohn's disease suffer from 'neuropsychiatric complications', including headache, eye problems and depression.

Multiple sclerosis (MS)

As much as 50 per cent of MS patients suffer from depression that is unrelated to the psychological impact of the disease.

Stroke

About 50 per cent of people who have a stroke become seriously depressed afterwards-on average, for as much as a whole year. The likelihood and severity of depression depend on where the brain damage is, a previous or family history of depression and personality. However, post-stroke depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Family, friends and even doctors may misinterpret depressive symptoms as an inevitable reaction to the effects of a stroke. But post-stroke depression can be a major clinical illness in its own right.

Celiac disease

Depression is a common symptom of celiac disease, where the inner lining of the small intestine is damaged by eating wheat, rye, oats or barley.

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