You may remember a study I posted late last year about the “double-dip” stress and depression can do to rewire your brain’s emotional circuitry, altering its connections to the rest of your body so that it affects the way the brain functions. A new study by Duke University researchers — measuring the long-term risks of depression — has found a strong link between depression and a higher long-term risk of death for patients with chronic heart failure. So much so, even a mild bout of the blues can shorten their lives.

Scientists followed some 1,000 heart failure patients admitted to Duke University Hospital for various cardiac events. During their hospitalization, patients were given the Beck’s Depression Inventory (BDI), the commonly used depression screening test. Then, patients were monitored for seven years to determine if BDI scores could predict death. Generally, a patient with a score of 10 is considered mildly depressed. (A score ranging from 12-19, by comparison, varied from mild to moderate depression.)

Interestingly enough, patients who scored 10 or higher were 44 percent more likely to die. But, patients scoring above 7 had a 51 percent greater mortality risk. The greatest risk researchers recorded was in patients who scored above 8. Moreover, this adverse association of depression and increased long-term mortality was independent of other factors, including age, marriage, cardiac function and the root cause of the heart failure, the lead researcher said.

In fact, researchers recommended cardiologists or primary care physicians who work with heart failure patients should include some sort of psychological assessment in their treatment.

Just more proof, conventional medicine is really picking up on the strong link between physical and emotional health. You know how much I believe the spirit within us works in concert with our bodies to strengthen the whole person. And that negative thoughts and emotions eventually do hurt your body in some way, as this study demonstrates so well.

I believe you can work to provide your body with tools to compensate for the bioelectrical short-circuiting that can cause serious disruption in many of your body’s important systems. The key is not the stress itself but your body’s ability to tolerate it. Here’s a short list of some of my healthful strategies for fighting depression:

Science Blog March 9, 2005