Researchers at Birmingham University have discovered that people with a history of depression could develop coronary heart disease as a result of naturally occurring steroids in their body.
A small-scale trial of Metyrapone, which inhibits the production of steroid hormone cortisol, significantly improved the function of the blood vessel lining, known as 'endothelium', in people with a history of depression.
The results of the study, led by Professor Michael Frenneaux, revealed cortisol may play a vital role in damaging the endolithium in people with recurrent depression.
A group of 66 people, half of whom had suffered depression in the past, were given Metyrapone or a placebo during the trial, which aimed to discover whether blocking the steroid hormone could improve the blood vessel lining's function.
Prof Frenneaux, a British Heart Foundation professor in cardiology, said: "We already know that people with a history of depression are at greater risk of heart disease.
"Our previous work has also shown that these people have significant problems with the lining of their blood vessels, which increases their risk of vascular problems or coronary heart disease. These results suggest that cortisol plays a role in creating these problems, which increases the risk of heart disease."
Researchers measured each person's endothelial function before, and six hours after, receiving Metyapone which blocks the production of cortisol. People who received the drug showed improvement in their endothelium function, compared to those in the control group.
Prof Frenneaux added: "Those people with a history of depression who received a cortisol inhibitor showed an improvement in blood vessel function compared to the placebo group."
The study was funded by the British Heart Foundation.