Strong connections between depression, anxiety and the thyroid
In a recently published study, German researchers report a newly discovered strong connection between depression, anxiety disorders and a chronic thyroid disease. According to the research results, more than 40 percent of all depression and about 30 percent of all anxiety disorders are said to be related to the thyroid. The scientists propose a special therapy that can help those affected more effectively.
A team of researchers from the Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) discovered a strong connection between depression and anxiety disorders with a chronic thyroid disorder called autoimmune thyroiditis (AIT). About ten percent of people in Germany are affected by this widespread thyroid disease. The FAU researchers also presented a form of therapy that is supposed to help more effectively with these diseases. Her research results were recently published in the specialist journal "JAMA Psychiatry".
Common diseases depression and anxiety
Anxiety and depression are among the widespread mental illnesses. According to the Federal Statistical Office, more than a quarter of a million patients were hospitalized for depression in 2016 in a clinic. According to the FAU, about four million people in Germany show symptoms of depression. Despite effective options, only a few people affected have received adequate therapy so far. Anxiety disorders are also not uncommon. "Around 20 percent of the population will develop an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives," reports the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry.
What does the thyroid have to do with depression and anxiety?
"I have seen many hundreds of people with depression and anxiety during my consultation," explains psychiatrist and study author Dr. Teja Wolfgang Grömer in a press release from the FAU on the study. At the end of 2015, the psychiatrist noticed a strong connection between the thyroid disease AIT and the two psychological disorders. In order to investigate his suspicions, Grömer initiated the current study. 21 independent studies with data from over 36,000 participants formed the basis of the research work.
How does AIT affect the psyche?
"Many patients previously had no explanation for their clinical picture," said Dr. Gromer. AIT (also known as Hashimoto's thyroiditis) causes the thyroid to become inflamed. This can also affect the psyche, since the hormones of the thyroid gland determine the metabolism and the cellular energy balance. Therefore, AIT also leads to specific psychological symptoms such as inner restlessness, tension and exhaustion. Grömer reports that AIT is quickly overlooked because in many cases it does not cause pain, is dismissed as a menopause complaint, or is misinterpreted as depression or anxiety disorder.
AIT is not a marginal phenomenon
AIT is most common in people between the ages of 30 and 50. Women are affected much more often than men. The analysis of the data showed that people with AIT are 3.5 times more likely to develop depression and 2.3 times more likely to get anxiety disorders. This means that over 40 percent of depression and 30 percent of anxiety disorders occur in patients with AIT.
In the study, Grömer and colleagues propose a special form of therapy that is to treat this type of depression or anxiety more effectively. Antidepressants that do not cause weight gain should be used early in this treatment. In addition, the intake of the trace element selenium is advised. In addition, according to Grömer, AIT screening with the determination of antibodies should be introduced in all patients with depression or anxiety.
Is AIT-related depression an independent disease?
In order to shed more light on these new relationships, AIT patients would have to be treated in a separate group in future psychiatric research on depression or anxiety, according to Grömer. (vb)