Atopy and depression: results from the Northern Finland 1966 Birth Cohort Study

Mol Psychiatry. 2003 Aug;8(8):738-44. doi: 10.1038/


Several studies have suggested an association between IgE-mediated atopic allergies and depression. The present study extends our understanding about putative gender differences of this association and provides further epidemiological evidence for our previous finding that the association between atopy and depression may be characteristic for females only. In order to clearly determine the presence of atopic disorders and depression, we used more valid tools than had been employed earlier and we had access to a database (the Northern Finland 1966 Birth Cohort), in which individuals were followed up prospectively until the age of 31 years. The information on allergic symptoms, verified by skin-prick tests and comprising data of 5518 individuals, was used to ascertain the presence of atopy. Depression was assessed with the help of Hopkins' Symptom Checklist-25 and self-reported doctor-diagnosed depression. After adjusting for a father's social class, mother's parity, and place of residence, logistic regression analyses showed that the risk of developing depression increased in parallel with the increasing severity of depression and, when compared with nonatopic subjects, was 3.0 to 4.7-fold up in atopic females and statistically significant. In atopic males, the association between atopy and depression was statistically significant only in the highest depression scores, the odds ratio being 6.3-fold. The results indicate that females suffering from atopic diseases might possess an elevated risk of developing depression already during early adulthood. In males, the association between these two disorders is evident only among the most severe manifestations of depression. Possible background theories, that is, genetic abnormalities in serotonin metabolism, HPA-axis dysfunction, and histamine theory are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / immunology*
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Socioeconomic Factors