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How Sadnesss Leads to Disease

How Sadnesss Leads to Disease

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Being sad is not only a bad feeling, it also negatively impacts your health. As you probably know, suffering from addiction can be a very traumatizing experience. Even recovery can be a difficult journey that leads to moments of intense sadness. However, did you know that feeling sad can negatively impact and alter your brain?

Turns out feeling sad can actually alter levels of stress-related opioids in your brain and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and metabolic syndrome. Sadness increases inflammatory proteins in the blood that result in an overall increased risk of diseases.

Of course, sadness is a normal part of life but when it becomes a daily pattern, it can really impact your health. Previous studies have shown link between depression and other medical diseases. Furthermore, researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) set out to discover why sadness had this effect.

The research discovered that a person is under stress releases brain neurotransmitters called opioids that work to reduce the impact of stress. However, overtime, this entire stress response system is deregulated. Opioid addiction is another way that the opioid transmitters in the brain can be deregulated. When this happens, your brain is not able to cope with sadness anymore. You become completely reliant on medication, or end up with even more intense feelings of sadness. It really is a debilitating cycle.

This study is not entirely new. Previous research already saw a link between cardiovascular disease and depression. However, this new study really helps us understand it all more. The study discovered that a specific inflammatory protein called interleukin-18 (IL-18) was directly associated with these symptoms.

As I read this, I began to wonder how researchers were able study sadness in the first place. Well, believe it or not, researchers were able to analyze the health effects of sadness through comparing depressed individuals with healthy individuals (control group).  Both subjects underwent positron emission tomography (PET) scans during the study, starting with a baseline scan. The results were intriguing.

Depressed patients actually had more opioid activity than healthy patients. They also had greater levels of the inflammatory cytokine, interleukin-18. When patients were asked to think of something neutral, the opioid activity decreased in the brains of both groups.  When asked to focus on sadness, increased amounts of opioids were released.

“These effects were observed during sadness in both groups, but were much greater in people with major depression as compared to non-depressed, otherwise healthy people,” said Alan Prossin, M.B.B.S., the study’s principal investigator.

Both healthy and sad individuals had an increase in opioid activity due to sadness however sad individuals had a more dramatic shift in their brains. This reveals that overtime, sadness changes how we respond to emotional pain. We release more opioids which overtime completely deregulates the way the brain releases opioids.

Addiction plays a negative role in our emotions because we feel a false sense of comfort from the drugs we take to mask our brain. However, when using drugs, the pain does not truly go away. Drugs just release chemicals in our brains like serotonin and dopamine that make us feel a false sense of happiness.

Overtime, the effects of drugs decreases and the sadness is either faced or the drugs are taken to the point of an overdose. Treatment programs work to address the emotional pain so that the drugs are no longer the solution. Seeking help for your addiction allows you to be free from your emotional barriers. 

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Author: Shernide Delva