New Finding Could Improve Depression Treatment in T1D

WRITTEN BY: Katie Doyle

A new study, recently published in Endocrine Connection, examined the relationship between Type 1 diabetes, depression, and neuroinflammatory responses in the body. The research, titled “Depression in type 1 diabetes was associated with high levels of circulating galectin-3,” was conducted by clinicians at Sweden’s Lund University.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Galectin-3 is a type of protein called a lectin, which binds to cell membranes. Also known as GAL3, this lectin plays a role in the body’s inflammatory processes.

As you may have gathered from the study’s title, the findings indicate for the first time that high levels of this specific physiological component may play a role in depression among people with Type 1, when controlling for other factors (medications, lifestyles, etc.).

Reacting to the New Findings

People with chronic conditions are at higher risk for depression than the general population, but that’s not the only connection between those of us living with conditions like Type 1, said Elizabeth Engler-Chiurazzi, Ph.D., a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience at West Virginia University. Dr. Engler-Chiurazzi, who was not involved with the study, said that in looking across groups of people living with cancer, diabetes, and other conditions, something critical they also share is an immunological component.

“In the field of mood disorders, the dogma has been that depression and other disorders are based in the brain, with neurotransmitters being the root of the problem, and according to this, we should be able to ameliorate depressive tendencies using antidepressive agents, like Prozac,” she said, “The problem is, 30% of the population will not respond to antidepressants. In almost everybody who does respond, it takes weeks of treatment before we see any effect, if we do see an effect at all.”

Dr. Engler-Chiurazzi was excited to read about these new findings and shared her thoughts on their potential.

“The search for non-brain-driven causes for depression has opened up the idea that the immune system may be playing a role — the answer could be that depression isn’t completely a brain disease. If we accept that there is an immune component to depression, I think this provides an opportunity to prove a viable treatment for people using both antidepressants and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).”

Discussing Depression

While researchers continue their work, we can take a look at how we approach depression and diabetes in the meantime. Molly L. Tanenbaum, Ph.D., an instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, shared her expertise in our story about Teens with Type 1 + Depression (Dr. Tanenbaum was also not involved in the Lund University study).

“Depression is something that should be taken seriously, as it is a psychiatric disorder,” Dr. Tanenbaum cautions, “It can have impacts on many areas of someone’s life — school, friends, diabetes — and a person who is feeling depressed may be feeling very alone and may be feeling hopeless.”

Other symptoms of depression include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty focusing and making decisions
  • Thoughts of suicide

The good news, though, is that asking for help can help: “We know that depression can benefit from treatment, and sometimes there is a big hurdle to connecting with mental health resources,” Dr. Tanenbaum said, “I would encourage caregivers to err on the side of seeking help earlier rather than later rather than hoping it is just a phase that will pass, and avoid jumping too quickly to the conclusion that diabetes and someone’s numbers in the moment are to blame for low mood.”


Diabetes U.K.: New discovery could improve depression treatments in type 1 diabetes

Endocrine Connections: Depression in type 1 diabetes was associated with high levels of circulating galectin-3

Mayo Clinic: Mayo Clinical Laboratories: GAL3

National Institute of Mental Health: Chronic Illness and Mental Health

Check out Beyond Type 1’s resources on mental health here.

Katie Doyle

Katie Doyle is a writer and videographer who chronicles her travels and diabetes (mis)adventures from wherever she happens to be, and she’s active in the community as an IDF Young Leader in Diabetes. She’s written about dropping her meter off of a chairlift in the Alps, wearing her pump while teaching swim lessons on Cape Cod, and the many road trips and fishing expeditions in between—she’s up for anything and will tell you the story about it later. Check out for more.