High insulin levels during childhood are a risk for mental health problems


Researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK, have shown that the link between physical and mental illness is closer than previously thought, since certain changes in physical health, which are detectable in childhood, are related to development of mental illness in adulthood. Specifically, they have shown that high insulin levels during childhood are a risk of mental health problems in adulthood.

As published in the journal ‘JAMA Psychiatry’, the researchers used a sample of more than 10,000 people to study how insulin levels and body mass index (BMI) in childhood may be related to depression and psychosis in childhood. young adulthood.

They found that persistently high insulin levels from mid-childhood were linked to an increased chance of developing psychosis in adulthood. Furthermore, they found that an increase in BMI around the onset of puberty was related to a greater likelihood of developing depression in adulthood, particularly in girls. The results were consistent after adjusting for a variety of other possible factors.

The findings suggest that the first signs of the development of physical health problems could be present long before the development of symptoms of psychosis or depression and show that the link between physical and mental illness is more complex than previously thought.

However, the researchers caution that these risk factors are among many, both genetic and environmental, and that their results do not suggest that one can predict the likelihood of developing mental disorders in adults from these measures of physical health alone.

Researchers recommend that health professionals conduct robust physical evaluations of youth with symptoms of psychosis or depression so that the first signs of physical illness can be diagnosed and treated early.

It is well established that people with depression and psychosis can have a life expectancy of up to 20 years less than the general population, mainly because physical health problems such as diabetes and obesity are more common in adults with these mental disorders.

While psychosis and depression in adulthood are already known to be associated with significantly higher rates of diabetes and obesity than the general population, these links are often attributed to the symptoms of the mental disorder itself.

“The general assumption in the past has been that some people with psychosis and depression may be more likely to have a poor diet and lower levels of physical exercise, so that any adverse physical health problems are the result of the mental disorder, or the treatment for it, “explains first author Dr Benjamin Perry of the Cambridge Department of Psychiatry.

“In essence, the received wisdom is that mental disorder comes first,” he continues. “But we have found that this is not necessarily the case, and for some individuals, it may be the other way around, suggesting that physical health problems detectable from the childhood can be risk factors for psychosis and depression in adulthood. “

Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a long-term population-representative birth cohort study conducted in the west of England, Perry and colleagues found that altered insulin levels can be detect in childhood, long before the onset of psychosis, suggesting that some people with psychosis may have an inherent susceptibility to developing diabetes.

They used a statistical method to group individuals based on similar trajectories of change in insulin levels and BMI from one to 24 years, and examined how the different groups were related to the risks of depression and psychosis in adulthood .

About 75% of the study participants had normal insulin levels, between 15% and 18% had insulin levels that gradually increased during adolescence, and about 3% had relatively high insulin levels. This third group was more likely to develop psychosis in adulthood compared to the average group.

The researchers did not find that the group that had a persistently high BMI during childhood and adolescence had a significantly increased risk of depression in adulthood and instead suggested that their findings mean that certain factors around puberty that could cause An increase in BMI could be important risk factors for depression in adulthood.

The researchers were unable to determine in their study what those factors might be, and future research will be required to find them. These factors can be important targets for reducing the risk of depression in adulthood.

“These findings are an important reminder that all youth with mental health problems should be offered a complete and comprehensive assessment of their physical health along with their mental health,” Perry says. “Intervening early is the best way. to reduce the mortality gap faced by people with mental disorders such as depression and psychosis.

“The next step will be to find out exactly why high insulin levels in childhood increase the risk of psychosis in adulthood and why increases in BMI around puberty increase the risk of depression in adulthood. Doing so could pave the way better preventive measures and the possibility of new treatment goals “.

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