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Could this new research change how we think about depression?

August 2nd 2016 / Anna Hunter

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A groundbreaking study suggests that your genetic makeup could increase your risk of developing depression. Could it be the key to stamping out the stigma associated with the disease?

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, one in five of us will experience depression during our lifetime, yet little is known about its causes, and many of us won’t seek help or support for fear of being made to feel ashamed, humiliated or discriminated against. The culture of silence and guilt that surrounds mental health problems, and depression in particular, could, however, be dispelled by recent findings associating risk of depression with our genetic profile.

A study of 300,000 people of European descent published yesterday in the journal Nature Genetics has lead to scientists identifying 17 separate genetic variations associated with the development of depression, across 15 regions of the genome. Of the 300,000 participants, 75,607 reported themselves to be clinically depressed, and by comparing the genetic makeup of these subjects to that of healthy partakers, scientists discovered genomic regions linked to depression that have previously been associated with schizophrenia and epilepsy.

The data, collected by consumer genetic testing company 23andme, represents one of the largest sample sizes used in the academic research domain, and while genetic factors in terms of depression risk may be relatively small, the study could nonetheless prove a game changer in terms of how we think about and approach depression, as the report’s co-author Roy Perlis emphasised to The Guardian:

“It is a very small proportion of risk, this is not the sort of finding that can be used to make a diagnostic test or predict depression. The reason this kind of genetics is important is it points us towards a biology of disease. Understanding what the genes do and how they interact, he adds, could lead to better treatments for depression.”

Viewing depression through a biological framework, rather than social or cultural strictures, is certainly constructive in terms of encouraging a global conversation on the topic of mental health, but environmental factors in disease development need to be recognised too, as Bodhigen co-founder and leading nutritional therapist Daniel O’Shaughnessy highlights:

“There are some polymorphisms (SNPs in genomics terminology) in relation with the metabolism of neurotransmittors (dopamin, serotonin), the homocysteine metabolism, serotonin synthesis and transport. These markers are linked to mood disorders including depression and anxiety.”

“Someone with these SNPs may display a heightened response or react differently to an environmental stressor. They may be more or less resilient to stress, anxiety, have impulsive behaviour or depressed.”

“However SNP expression is very much dependant on environment. Just because you are genetically susceptible to depression is not an indicator that you are automatically depressed. This can be influenced by diet, lifestyle or other environmental stressors (the study of these factors is called epigenetics). Results should be interpreted as part of analysis and in consideration of the bigger picture.”

“The genetic test is good to understand the ‘blueprint’ but should be used in conjunction with functional testing (lab work) and also the client’s present health status and family history. Gene testing alone cannot be an accurate diagnosis, just a predisposition. With an understanding of all of this, you can then use therapry nutrition to manipulate the gene. For example, those with a COMT gene mutation may not do well fasting or skipping meals, so the small and frequent meal option is best. They would also do well with more magnesium in their diet. Those also with the MTHFR gene variants should not consume folic acid as they can have problems processing it into its active form. Folic acid is a man-made vitamin and therefore natural folate should be used or L-methyl folate.”

For more information on the link between gut health and conditions such as anxiety and depression, click here. While there’s no quick fix for depression via diet, supplements or indeed gene therapy, a better understanding of the risk factors for mental health problems can only lead to better prospects for sufferers in terms of both treatment development and a more enlightened, less judgemental consideration of diseases such as depression across the board.

Think that you could be depressed? Find advice and information here.

Find out more about Bodhigen here

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