Healthy Living

Depression In Married Couples Predisposes Them To Gain Weight Due To Impaired Metabolic Processes

Fighting Couples Gain More Weight When Depressed
Couples with a history of depression will gain more weight when they argue. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Taking out the trash, using up all the hot water, deciding who to vote for in the next election, spending too much money — all top reasons for disrupting marital bliss. Would you think twice if every time you fought with your partner you were putting them at risk for a life-threatening disease? Researchers at Ohio State University found men and women with a history of depression gain more weight after arguing with their partner.

They presented their findings at the New Horizons in Science 2014 Conference.

“These findings not only identify how chronic stressors can lead to obesity, but also point to how important it is to treat mood disorders,” the study’s lead author Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University, said in a press release. “Interventions for mental health clearly could benefit physical health as well.”

Researchers studied 43 healthy couples between the ages of 24 to 61 who had been married for at least three years. They asked them to report their marital satisfaction, past mood disorders, and any depression symptoms they may have experienced. They fed them a 930-calorie breakfast of eggs, turkey sausage, and biscuits with gravy, totaling a staggering 60 grams of fat. Two hours later, couples were asked to discuss or try resolving an issue that created conflict. All arguments were videotaped, and every 20 minutes over a seven-hour period researchers measured how many calories they burned. Blood samples were also taken before and after the experiment to measure their glucose, insulin, and triglyceride levels.

After arguing with their spouse, the person at risk of depression burned 118 fewer calories on average and had higher levels of insulin and spikes of fat in the blood, known as triglycerides. A year of marital problems and a history of depression converts to 12 extra pounds a year in weight gain. Participants with a history of mood disorder and a hostile marriage burned 31 fewer calories.

“Insulin stimulates food intake and the accumulation of fat tissue in the abdomen, and adding that on top of the lower energy expenditure creates a higher likelihood for obesity,” the study’s coauthor Martha Belury, a professor of human nutrition at the university said. “But it doesn’t stop there: Elevated triglycerides lead to heart disease. Along with high insulin, elevated triglycerides indicate metabolism of sugars and fats is impaired. These are hallmarks of increased risk for heart disease and diabetes.”

Triglycerides are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and obesity. Participants’ levels peaked and exceeded everyone else’s levels four hours after eating. The food was supposed to mimic the calorie and fat levels of a meal from McDonald’s or Burger King. It explains why people in lower income brackets, who argue about money more frequently, are also more prone to obesity. It’s an all-encompassing finding that connects many risk factors together to a specific population. Women with higher incomes are less likely to become obese than women with lower incomes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They’re sacrificing their health for the argument, and depression propels the weight gain into dangerously high levels.

“Our results probably underestimate the health risks because the effects of only one meal were analyzed. Most people eat every four to five hours, and often dine with their spouses,” Kiecolt-Glaser said. “Meals provide prime opportunities for ongoing disagreements in a troubled marriage, so there could be a longstanding pattern of metabolic damage stemming from hostility and depression.”

Source: Kiecolt-Glaser J, Belury M, jaremka L, Andridge R, Peng J, and Habash D. Metabolism: A new link between marital stress, depression and health. New Horizons in Science 2014. 2014.

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