CSU researcher to study why depression is linked to insulin sensitivity

Lauren Shomaker, a researcher in CSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, recently received a grant that will allow her to study why depression is linked to insulin sensitivity.

Lauren Shomaker

The grant, called an R01, is from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which is one of the National Institutes of Health.

“In certain people, depression is a risk factor for eating too much, eating the wrong kinds of foods that are not good for health, or not getting as much exercise,” Shomaker explained. “For some people who are more prone to depression, it can be hard to energize and motivate themselves.”

Shomaker’s interest in eating habits and mental health began during her doctoral studies. She received her Ph.D. in child clinical psychology from the University of Denver, before conducting her postdoctoral work with the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. Throughout six years of studying adolescent eating behaviors, especially eating behaviors that are considered to increase the risk of obesity, excess weight gain, and eating disorders, she focused directly on a disorder known as binge eating and its related disorders.

Also known as loss of control eating, binge eating occurs when an individual “feels, subjectively, that they just cannot stop eating and cannot control the urge to eat.” Shomaker explained. “People who report this type of pattern have shown a much higher risk of gaining too much weight.”

Allison Hilkin and Lauren Gulley
Allison Hilkin, senior professional research assistant at the University of Colorado Denver and the Children’s Hospital Colorado, and Lauren Gulley, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow at Colorado State University, are assisting Shomaker with the trial.

Because of this, the traditional approach to treating these individuals is to have them lose weight. “They’re told to exercise more or to eat better, but, unfortunately, these programs can be really hard for people who have a lot of stress,” Shomaker said.

After she came to CSU in 2013, Shomaker was awarded a series of grants that allowed her to delve further into the prevention of the risk factors that she had studied during her postdoctoral work. This most recent grant from the NIH will allow her to look at how depression interacts with obesity and related factors that ultimately increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Shomaker and her team will be conducting a large and targeted therapy trial. Individuals will be selected if they are at risk for continuing to gain too much weight, who have family histories with type 2 diabetes, and are experiencing depression. The trial is designed to test whether participating in a behavioral therapy, called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, will improve depression and lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as measured by insulin sensitivity.

The trials are still in the preparatory phases but will take place over the next five years. Shomaker and her colleagues at the University of Colorado and Children’s Hospital Colorado hope to find why depression is related to insulin sensitivity.

“We tend to think of mental health and physical health separately,” Shomaker explained, “but there has long been an observation that there is actually only one health because all of the systems are interconnected.”

Through the course of this research, Shomaker and her team hope to develop better interventions and inform our country’s health care approach so that the lives of individuals who have type 2 diabetes and related symptoms can be improved.

The Department of Human Development and Family Sciences is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.