Insulin may be a new treatment for depression, researchers say

Meri Perra

It likely comes as no surprise to people who have both diseases, but there's growing evidence that diabetes and depression are linked.

Having one disease puts one at risk of having the other. It's to the point where about one-half to three-quarters of people who have depression also have diabetes, or are at weight levels which put them at risk.

There are 1.3 million people in Canada over the age of 12 suffering with diabetes. Major depression hits about eight per cent of adults, according to Canada's Public Health Agency. Mood disorders are the number one cause of disability in the country.

New research shows these diseases may benefit from similar treatment.

At a conference aptly titled, 'Your feelings are understandable' in Toronto this week, researchers discussed the connections between emotions and the brain.

University Health Network psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Roger McIntyre presented findings on the links between metabolism and mood disorders - links, he said, which can no longer be ignored.

McIntyre spoke of a recent trial where people with bi-polar disorder were treated with an insulin-filled nasal inhaler. The results of the trial, though yet to be published, are encouraging, he said.

"In future, we are going to see very different drugs for people with mood disorders," McIntyre said.

Other studies include weight-loss surgeries and diet changes, both used for diabetes and for depression treatment.

The studies are based on evidence that indicates insulin levels in the brain may affect mood disorders. Strengthening this is proof that people with depression who are otherwise healthy, also have brain insulin problems, similar to people with diabetes.

Yet despite the prevalence of the disease, treatment is lacking.

An American study from 2006 found that despite Canadian's access to universal health care, teens in the U.S. and Canada have similar suicide rates. Untreated, major depression, is often the cause of suicide. It suggests that adequate treatment for the disease is not accessible.

Worse, treatment for depression is no more effective now than it was in the 1950s, McIntyre told the National Post.

It's likely new treatment for depression will take many years to develop.

(Reuters Photo)