Can an Unwell Mind Infect the Body?

Depression, anxiety linked to arthritis, skin diseases in young people, new research found.

What do a scientist and a spiritual guru have in common? They both believe in the power of the mind. New research suggests when the mind is sick, the physical body often pays a price.

According to a press release issued by the University of Basel, a new study found that young people who suffer from depression are more likely to develop arthritis and diseases of the digestive system. They also found that young people who suffer from anxiety are more likely to develop skin diseases.

Their findings support a growing body of evidence that suggests mental disorders and physical diseases often go hand in hand.

Depression and anxiety are both major public health concerns. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression affected 6.7 percent of US adults in the last 12 months, and the lifetime prevalence of any anxiety disorder is over 15 percent.

Both depression and anxiety are more prevalent among women than men.

Researchers said that physical and mental disorders that co-occur at an early age not only greatly affect a person’s quality of life, but also present a huge challenge for the healthcare system.

To conduct the study, researchers from the University of Basel and Ruhr University analyzed data from a representative sample of 6,483 American teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18.

They found that physical diseases occurred more often in children and adolescents who had previously suffered from certain mental disorders. They also found that certain mental disorders occurred more often after the onset of certain physical diseases.

Among other findings, researchers concluded that anxiety disorders were more common in people who had already suffered from heart disease. They also established for the first time a connection between epilepsy and eating disorders.

“For the first time, we have established that epilepsy is followed by an increased risk of eating disorders–a phenomenon, that had previously been described only in single case reports,” lead author Marion Tegethoff said in the press release. “This suggests that approaches to epilepsy treatment could also have potential in the context of eating disorders.”

Researchers concluded that from a health policy perspective, their findings should underscore the importance of treating mental disorders and physical diseases in an interlocking manner from an early age.

The full study was published in PLOS ONE.

It was funded in part by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Korea Research Foundation.

The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

University of Basel, “Depression in young people affects the stomach, anxiety the skin”
https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-11/uob-diy112416.php

PLOS ONE, “Chronology of Onset of Mental Disorders and Physical Diseases in Mental-Physical Comorbidity – A National Representative Survey of Adolescents”
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0165196#ack

CDC, “Burden of Mental Illness”
https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/basics/burden.htm

Written by: Erica Fitzgerald | Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Carlson, M.D.