Feb 9, 2004 — The saying “sound mind, sound body” reflects the long-held belief that mental health and physical health are interrelated. Now, findings from the Federally-funded Women’s Health Initiative demonstrate the premise. The study, led by Dr. Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, professor of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, found that post-menopausal women who are depressed have a 50 percent greater risk of developing or dying from cardiovascular disease than their counterparts who are not depressed.
As part of the nationwide study, comprising 40 centers from throughout the United States, the investigators followed 93,676 post-menopausal women and their cardiovascular health in relation to depression over a four-year period. The study appears in the February 9 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
“Our study represents the largest cohort of post-menopausal women followed over a period of years,” says Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller. “And we found that mild (subclinical) depression is significantly related to risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Among those women who had no prior cardiovascular disease, depression proved to be a predictor for both developing and dying from cardiovascular disease.” Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller notes that women with severe (clinical) depression or other forms of diagnosed mental illness were not included in the study.
The researchers note that compared to women who reported their health to be excellent, women who reported their health as being fair or poor were nearly five times as likely to report depression.
“While various biological mechanisms have been suggested to link depression and depressive symptoms to coronary heart disease, what is most striking about our findings is that depression was found to be an independent risk-factor for subsequent cardiovascular death, particularly in those who had no prior history of cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller.
“Coupled with evidence from other studies examining the role of subclinical depression as an increased risk factor for disease and death, our findings raise the possibility that treating depression may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Whether the use of antidepressants by depressed but otherwise healthy women will lower the risk of developing and dying from heart disease remains to be determined in a randomized clinical trial,” Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller adds. The Women’s Health Initiative, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is the largest study of women’s health ever undertaken. Albert Einstein College of Medicine is the only WHI study center in New York City.
Co-authors with Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller included researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical Center at Worcester, San Diego State University, The Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of California/Davis, and University of Pittsburgh.