Mental & Emotional Health

Thyroid Activity & Depression in Seniors

Older people with thyroid gland activity that is in the normal range but more active than average may be at increased risk for depression, according to research done at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands and published online ahead of print in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

A release from the Endocrine Society, which published the journal, explains that beyond its role in regulating the body's metabolism, the thyroid gland can also influence mental health. Past research has found links between an increased risk of depression and both over- and underactive thyroid glands. This study is the first to find an association between depression and thyroid activity variations within the normal range.

To determine how active the thyroid gland was, researchers measured levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is the body's signal to the thyroid gland to release more hormones. When TSH levels are low, this suggests the thyroid gland is active and producing plenty of thyroid hormones. Researchers also measured levels of the actual thyroid hormones at a later point in time and confirmed these subjects had increased thyroid activity.

The release quotes author Marco Medici,  as saying, "We found that older individuals with thyroid activity at the high end of the normal range had a substantially increased risk of developing depression over the course of an eight-year period compared to individuals who had less thyroid activity within the normal range. This suggests that people with even minor changes in thyroid function may experience similar mental health effects as those with overt thyroid disorders, including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism."

The population-based cohort study analyzed data from a group of 1,503 people with an average age of 70. At the outset of the study, researchers measured participants' TSH levels and gauged their depression symptoms using a questionnaire. Participants included in the study displayed no depression symptoms at the first visit. During follow-up visits over the course of eight years, on average, researchers assessed participants for the development of depression symptoms.

The study divided participants into three groups based on their TSH levels. Study participants with TSH levels at the low end of the normal range – signaling they had more active thyroid glands – were more likely to have depression symptoms emerge during the course of the study.

"These results provide insight into the powerful effects thyroid activity can have on emotions and mental health," Medici said. "This information could influence the process of diagnosing and treating depression, as well as treatments for individuals with thyroid conditions."

Other authors of the study include: N. Direk, W.E. Visser, T.I.M. Korevaar, A. Hofman, T.J. Visser, H. Tiemeier and R.P. Peeters of the Erasmus Medical Center.

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