A recently discovered hormone may play a role in both depression and anorexia nervosa, and the two disorders may be more closely related than previously believed, researchers report. The discovery that high levels of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) accompany both disorders may help unravel their biochemical basis and possibly lead to better treatments, they said.
In an experiment reported in the current New England Journal of Medicine, scientists contrasted a group of healthy people with 30 patients suffering from depression, nine anorexic patients, 10 patients with the related eating disorder bulimia and 29 patients suffering from a rare brain disorder known as Cushings. They found that anorexic and depressed patient-subjects had significantly higher levels of CRH than healthy subjects, and that the healthy people could be differentiated from patients with other disorders by hormone levels.
"We have gotten one step closer to figuring out some of the biochemical changes that occur in these illnesses," said Dr. Philip Gold of the National Institutes of Health.
An estimated 5% to 15% of Americans at some point in their lives experience severe clinical depression. And about 500,000 people, primarily women ages 15 to 30, suffer from anorexia nervosa, which is marked by an obsessive preoccupation with weight and dieting that often leads to severe, sometimes life-threatening, weight loss.