Addiction, Nutrition, and Depression

Depression is a pervasive and debilitating mental health disorder that affects more than 300 million people, making it the leading cause of disability worldwide. But why exactly are so many suffering, and why does the problem only seem to be getting worse? While it is commonly thought that depression stems from a chemical imbalance in the brain, the truth is that this disease most often arises from a multifaceted interaction of social, psychological, and biological risk factors, including major life events, poor nutrition habits, and substance abuse. Over the next few weeks, join us as we delve into eight of the most significant risk factors for depression. See last week’s post here.


Substance Abuse & Addiction

Substance abuse has a bi-directional relationship with depression, and the impact of one on the other is great. People suffering from depression may turn to alcohol, prescription drugs, and/or non-prescription drugs to lift their mood or escape from feelings of guilt or despair. Conversely, people often experience depressive symptoms once the effects of a substance wear off, or as they struggle to cope with how addiction has negatively impacted their life. This myriad of unpleasant thoughts and feelings paired with a dangerous coping mechanism ultimately feeds a very vicious cycle. 

According to a study done by St. Louis University, out of a sample of 107,755 patients that were prescribed opioids for ailments such as back pain, headaches, and arthritis, 11.4% developed depression after a month of using the medications — none of whom had received a diagnosis of depression prior to treatment. Researchers believe this result was due to the ways in which opioids essentially rewire the brain’s reward and pleasure systems, as well as changes they cause in hormone levels. Researchers also suggest that opioids are less effective if a person suffers from depression, which can lead a depressed patient to use more to achieve the desired effect.

Another recent trend in opioid abuse is its prevalence in older populations. Older adults are at higher risk of accidental misuse or abuse of these drugs, as they typically have multiple prescriptions for various medical conditions all needing to be managed at once. The number of elderly patients receiving opioid prescriptions increased nine times between 1996 to 2010, and recent estimates suggest that the prevalence of opioid misuse among adults aged 50 years and older is expected to double — from 1.2% to 2.4% — between 2004 and 2020.

In 2017, the U.S. saw 70,237 drug overdose deaths — a significant, age-adjusted increase of 9.6% from 2016 — with a concerning trend in the rising prevalence of opioid abuse. Of those 70,237 deaths, opioids acted as the main driver, claiming responsibility for 47,600 of them.


Nutrition Habits 

Nutrition habits play a key role in the onset, severity, and length of a depressive episode. Health professionals often find that patients exhibit similar eating patterns preceding and during the duration of the disease, such as a loss of appetite, skipping meals, and strong cravings for sugary foods.

The still-emerging field of nutritional neuroscience has uncovered multiple nutritional risk factors that directly affect cognition, behavior, and emotions, and that can potentially complicate issues related to depression. Some of these include: 

Low complex carbohydrate intake. Serotonin and tryptophan promote feelings of well-being, and the production of both is triggered by foods rich in carbohydrates. However, the type of carbohydrate matters. Low glycemic index (GI) foods — including some fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — are more likely to provide balance when it comes to brain chemistry, mood, and energy level versus high GI foods, like sweets, that provide a rapid spike followed by a rapid crash. These fluctuations and intense “lows” induced by high GI foods can lead to depressive feelings such as sadness and lethargy.

Not consuming enough high-quality protein. A diet rich in high-quality protein — i.e., meats, dairy, and eggs — is one that is rich in essential amino acids. Many of the brain’s neurotransmitters, including those that play a role in depression, are made from amino acids. For example, dopamine is made from tyrosine and serotonin is made from tryptophan. If a person is lacking either of these, the brain will struggle to synthesize the respective neurotransmitters, which may lead to low/depressed moods and heightened aggression in patients. 

A lack of folate. The critical role of folate — which can be found in broccoli, spinach, and eggs — in maintaining the health of the brain’s metabolic pathways has been well-documented by researchers, and depressive symptoms have been widely recognized as a common side effect of folate deficiency. Studies show that depressed patients often have blood folate levels that are an average of 25% lower than healthy controls.


Join us over the next few weeks as we continue to examine the top 8 factors contributing to the depression epidemic (and don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter to stay up to date with all the latest news in biotech, mental health innovation, and much more). See last week’s post here.



Christian Angermayer

Founder

Strategy and investor relations

Lars Wilde

Co-Founder

Advising on drug discovery and compound sourcing

The Eight Most Significant Factors Contributing to Today’s Depression Epidemic (sources)

  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28027366
  3. https://www.who.int/mental_health/in_the_workplace
  4. https://ada.com/signs-of-depression
  5. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml
  6. https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
  7. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml
  8. https://www.bcbs.com/the-health-of-america/reports/major-depression-the-impact-overall-health
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26651008
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15271581
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24269030
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3889685
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4006295
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11691695
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10431682
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19434623
  18. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/6/e20161878
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337
  20. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/statedeaths.html
  21. http://www.annfammed.org/content/14/1/54
  22. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-opioids
  23. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/special-reports/opioid-use-elderly
  24. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2682878
  25. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2684607
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841310
  27. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2008-07755-000
  28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4021390
  29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4225959
  30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5775138
  31. https://jech.bmj.com/content/68/2/110.abstract
  32. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml
  33. https://adaa.org/serious-chronic-or-terminal-illnesses
  34. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30844397
  35. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4308579/
  36. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5017546/
  37. http://www.pointinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/standard_v_9.2_hpa_axis.pdf
  38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860380/
  39. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563216302552?via%3Dihub
  40. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5633215/

Florian Brand

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Executing drug development and operations

Simon Seibold

Associate

Investments and business development

Philipp Schreiber

Associate

Drug discovery and compound sourcing

ATAI is supporting the revival of treatments with prior evidence in humans, such as psilocybin and ketamine, in fighting mental health disorders

Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions are increasingly becoming a burden for patients, families and societies.

We believe that

ATAI is leveraging the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analytics to optimize and accelerate the drug development process

Technological innovation will enable us to consolidate and make sense of vast amounts of previously inaccessible data.

We believe that

Matthias Luz, MD

Chief Medical Officer

Developing clinical strategy for lead compounds

Srinivas Rao, MD, PhD

Chief Scientific Officer

Advance the science into clinical evaluation

Danny Talati

Lead, Business Development

Compound sourcing and evaluating

Allan Malievsky

Associate

Communications and Business Development

Greg Bates

Lead, Regulatory Affairs

Successful product approval

Aaron Weaver

Senior Legal Counsel

Ana Zarzosa

Team and Research Assistant

Supporting smooth communication and a high-performance team environment

Ali Mahomed

Global Venture Development

Operationally growing portfolio companies

SourcesThe Eight Most Significant Factors Contributing to Today’s Depression Epidemic (full series)

  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28027366
  3. https://www.who.int/mental_health/in_the_workplace
  4. https://ada.com/signs-of-depression
  5. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml
  6. https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
  7. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml
  8. https://www.bcbs.com/the-health-of-america/reports/major-depression-the-impact-overall-health
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26651008
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15271581
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24269030
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3889685
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4006295
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11691695
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10431682
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19434623
  18. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/6/e20161878
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337
  20. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/statedeaths.html
  21. http://www.annfammed.org/content/14/1/54
  22. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-opioids
  23. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/special-reports/opioid-use-elderly
  24. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2682878
  25. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2684607
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841310
  27. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2008-07755-000
  28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4021390
  29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4225959
  30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5775138
  31. https://jech.bmj.com/content/68/2/110.abstract
  32. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml
  33. https://adaa.org/serious-chronic-or-terminal-illnesses
  34. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30844397
  35. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4308579/
  36. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5017546/
  37. http://www.pointinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/standard_v_9.2_hpa_axis.pdf
  38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860380/
  39. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563216302552?via%3Dihub
  40. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5633215/

Ali Mahomed

Global Venture Development Junior Associate

Operationally growing portfolio companies