Genetic Link Between Blood Test Results And Mental Health Disorders

Genetic Link Between Blood Test Results And Mental Health Disorders

A New Study Shows That Some Mental Disorders Are Related To Biomarkers Measured In Blood Tests.

Genetic Link, According to a new study of genetic, biochemical, and psychiatric data from about one million people, mental health disorders including depression, schizophrenia, and anorexia nervosa are associated with biomarkers detected in routine blood tests.

This research enhances our understanding of the factors contributing to mental illness and may help identify new therapies.

Healthy body, healthy mind

People often take mental health apart from the rest of the body, but this is not true: There is clear evidence that many of the biochemicals involved in diseases like diabetes and autoimmune conditions can directly affect brain function. Many studies have tried to address this issue by focusing on substances called biomarkers that can easily measure in the blood.

A biomarker is something inside the body that signifies a specific disease or process. Markers often refer to things reported in routine blood tests, such as cholesterol, sugar, liver enzymes, vitamins, or characteristics of inflammation. Studying biomarkers found in standard blood tests is helpful because they are often influenced by diet and lifestyle or medications.

The complex role of genetics in mental health

It is difficult to assess the role of biomarkers in the blood in mental disorders. Many studies in this field are not large enough to provide definitive conclusions. One solution is to look at genetic effects associated with mental health disorders and measure substances in the blood. Genetic data is helpful because we now have data from millions of people who have volunteered to study.

Both mental illness and biomarkers in the blood are what geneticists call “complex traits.” Many genes are involved in developing complex traits, and environmental factors also play a role.

Extensive access to genetic data has allowed researchers to examine how large numbers of small changes in DNA sequences (or variants) are associated with the risk of mental illness. These variants can also be related to measured levels of biomarkers in the blood.

For example, a variant in a particular gene may increase the risk of schizophrenia and may also be associated with lower levels of a vitamin in the blood.

Many of these variants are individually associated with minimal changes in something like the risk of mental illness, but the effect of all of them can be significant.

A recent study looked at genetics to examine the association between nine mental health disorders and 50 factors measured in routine blood tests, such as cholesterol, vitamins, enzymes, and indicators of inflammation.

The researchers used data from previous extensive studies, including about one million volunteers. For the first time, this study confirmed the existence of what is called a genetic correlation between blood biomarkers and mental illness. The observed correlations were more frequent than previously reported.

Genetic correlation means that the effect of DNA sequence changes on the risk of mental illness and the levels of a particular biomarker is more similar than those that occur by chance. For example, this study showed a positive genetic correlation between white blood cell count and depression.

It could indicate that specific processes in the body affect both depression and white blood cells. Identifying a standard process can lead to a better understanding of the causes of depression and can also be targeted for treatment.

Solidarity versus causality

While a new study shows a correlation between the genetics of mental illness and factors in the blood, it does not determine whether blood biomarkers play a role in what causes mental illness.

The standard approach to diagnosing causation is to conduct a clinical trial in which patients are randomly assigned to receive treatment or a placebo. However, these trials are expensive and challenging to perform.

Therefore, the researchers took the next best step: they considered DNA variants associated with changes in biomarkers in the blood as a typical clinical trial. This process takes advantage of the fact that we inherit DNA variants from our parents at random, in much the same way that randomized clinical trial participants receive treatment or a placebo. Of course, this method is complex and must carefully interpret the results.

Researchers have found evidence that some of the substances measured in the blood may play a role in causing some mental illnesses.

For example, immune-related proteins may be involved in depression, schizophrenia, and anorexia nervosa. More research is now needed to determine what role these blood counts play in these disorders and determine if they can be targeted for treatment.