In any given year, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the US experiences mental illness, and 1 in 4 diabetics suffer from depression.1-3 These are staggering numbers, but is there a relationship between the two conditions, and if so, how are they related?

Those questions are receiving increasingly more attention as researchers dig into the root causes of both depression and diabetes. It is tempting to assume that one causes the other, but instead, they may manifest from the same origins. In fact, in 2005, researchers studied a group of people that reported symptoms of depression but were not diagnosed with diabetes.

The Link Between Diabetes and Depression
They found that more severe depressive symptoms were linked to higher rates of insulin resistance and glucose intolerance prior to a diagnosis of diabetes.4

Researchers concluded that depression and impaired glucose and insulin control may bloom from the same seed, and if that seed is allowed to grow, diabetes and depression will develop. Identifying the seed and targeting it through prevention and treatment will help reduce the soaring rates of both depression and diabetes.

Root Causes of Depression and Diabetes

The Link Between Diabetes and Depression

Often, mental health and chronic illness are the manifestation of imbalances throughout the body that may seem unrelated. For instance, chronically imbalanced blood sugar or hormone imbalances can result in symptoms of anxiety, depression, or insomnia. Severe thyroid dysfunction can mirror bipolar disorder or prompt uncontrollable anxiety. Overgrowth of certain bacteria within the digestive tract can reduce the production of neurotransmitters leading to depression or anxiety symptoms. Some research suggests that insulin resistance could be the result of an increased release of counter-regulatory hormones linked to depression.4 Even common vitamin and mineral deficiencies can provoke symptoms of mental illness. In fact, a deficiency in vitamin B3 is a well-known cause of severe anxiety, while a magnesium deficiency is a known cause of insomnia.5 These are just a few examples of how the web-like connections throughout the body may connect many unseemingly related conditions.

Depression and diabetes share a common root in inflammation. In fact, studies have found that certain lifestyle factors can lead to exaggerated or long-lasting inflammatory responses.6 These factors can include

  1. childhood adversity
  2. obesity
  3. chronic stress
  4. toxic exposures
  5. trauma
  6. poor diet
  7. pathogens

When inflammation is prolonged, there is a higher risk of depression and insulin resistance leading to diabetes. Both insulin resistance and depression are also found to increase inflammatory chemicals in the body, which perpetuates and exacerbates symptoms as well as allows for disease progression.6 It is a vicious cycle of inflammation, imbalance, and disease.


If inflammation is a root cause of both diabetes and depression, then reducing inflammation is a good place to start prevention and treatment.

While conventional medicine practitioners approach these conditions through pharmaceutical means, research has shown that there are many more effective ways to reduce or reverse symptoms without drugs.
The Link Between Diabetes and Depression

In fact, most scientific research that has reviewed the effectiveness of prescription antidepressants has concluded that they are no more beneficial than a placebo.7 To be clear, people taking a sugar pill reported the same benefits as those taking the actual pharmaceutical. For diabetes management, pharmaceuticals can help reduce some symptoms, but they do little, if anything, to prevent the destructive progression of the disease or prevent complications. Additionally, drugs cause harmful side effects in many people. While there may be a place for pharmaceuticals in some cases, effective and long-term treatment should aim to identify the root cause of the symptoms and support the body’s ability to heal and function optimally.

A Functional Medicine Approach

The Link Between Diabetes and Depression

The functional medicine approach aims to identify the root cause of imbalances that are manifesting symptoms by using innovative testing and the most current research available. For inflammatory diseases, it is critical to identify the source of inflammation. The sources may be

  1. diet
  2. infection
  3. stress
  4. toxic exposures

Once imbalances are detected, a skilled functional medicine provider will create an individualized treatment plan that restores balance to the body, healing and promoting optimal wellness. Unlike the conventional approach, functional medicine treatments involve pharmaceuticals only in the most necessary situations. Instead, nutrition, lifestyle, supplementation, and noninvasive procedures are utilized to promote healing.

3. Semenkovich K, Brown ME, Svrakic DM, et al. Drugs.75:577.
4. Timonen M, Laakso M, Jokelainen J, et al. Insulin resistance and depression: cross sectional study. BMJ. 2004;330:17
5. Gaby A. Nutritional Medicine. Concord, NH: Fritz Perlberg Publishing, 2017.
6. Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Derry HM, Fagundes CP. Inflammation: depression fans the flames and feasts on the heat. 2015.
7. Pigott H, Leventhal A, Alter G, Boren, J. (2010). Efficacy and effectiveness of antidepressants: current status of research. Psychother Psychosom; 79:267-279

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