How Insulin Resistance Can Increase Your Risk Of Depression

Sometimes, it can feel like taking care of our mental health is a full-time job. Unfortunately, there are plenty of factors that can increase our risk of mental illness, making caring for ourselves even more important. Researchers have discovered another factor that just made the list for increasing your risk of depression: insulin resistance.

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that's necessary for regulating blood sugar levels (via Cleveland Clinic). When you have insulin resistance, cells in your liver, muscles, and fat don't respond to insulin properly, meaning they don't take up sugar from the bloodstream or store it. As blood sugar levels increase, the pancreas makes more insulin in an attempt to overcome it. Sometimes, the cells become too resistant to insulin, which can lead to type 2 diabetes over time. Insulin resistance is also associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Symptoms of high blood sugar, which happens in the case of insulin resistance, include increased thirst and hunger, frequent urination, blurred vision, headaches, and skin infections (via Cleveland Clinic). Insulin resistance can be treated with lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, getting physical activity, and losing excess weight.

The connection between insulin resistance and mood

A 2021 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry has linked insulin resistance with an increased risk of developing major depressive disorder (via Stanford Medicine). The study, which analyzed data from 601 adults, found that even if you've never experienced depression before, you're twice as likely to develop serious depression if you experience insulin resistance. Since one in three U.S. adults experiences insulin resistance, these findings point to the importance of recognizing the severity of the condition.

Dr. Natalie Rasgon, the co-senior author of the study, suggested that doctors need to consider the metabolic status of patients with mood disorders, and patients with the metabolic disease need their mood to be assessed. While more long-term studies are needed to determine whether insulin resistance causes depression or is just associated with it, Dr. Rasgon recommends physicians work to prevent depression by checking their patients' insulin sensitivity, which is a readily available and inexpensive test.