Stress and rapid changes in mood are common conditions causing an increasing burden on individuals and their families. They are assumed to be the result of a complex constellation of vulnerability and risk factors. These include familial genetic (de Jong et al., 2018; Dulubova et al., 2002; Musliner et al., 2019; Sawyer et al., 2019) and environmental factors, individual neurobiological aspects (e.g., brain circuitry/networks, stress reactivity, inflammation, metabolic and hormonal factors (Enache et al., 2019; Hibar et al., 2016, 2018; Iob et al., 2020; Lombardo et al., 2019; McClung, 2013; Murri et al., 2016; Pariante, 2017; Yunjong et al., 2015), cognitive-emotional dysregulation (Kanske et al., 2011), and social-behavioral factors (e.g. physical activity (Bailey et al., 2018)).
As part of the International Research Training Group (IRTG), our research focuses on the relationship between metabolic and inflammatory markers, and lifestyle in people affected by changes in mood. In our current project, we study this relationship through questionnaires, an experimental psychology paradigm, blood samples, and a smartphone study on mood and physical activity.
Hormones such as ghrelin and leptin regulate appetite and the metabolic state and, as a result, mood. They also modulate the brain’s reward system and our cognitive control (Bernardoni et al., 2020; Mückschel et al., 2017; Ouyang et al., 2015). Moreover, there are known associations between these hormones and/or the resulting metabolic states and inflammatory markers (Fürtjes et al., 2018) which are also severely impaired at both ends of the weight spectrum and in conditions such as the metabolic syndrome (Arora & Anubhuti, 2006; Dalton et al., 2020; Ehrlich et al., 2009; Jaganathan et al., 2018; Zhao & Liu, 2019). At the same time, the risk for affective dysregulation and/or mood changes is increased in individuals with these conditions. These alterations can be partially remedied by physical activity. However, the underlying mechanisms are still unclear (Tam et al., 2021).
For this purpose, we also employ a lifestyle intervention for light movement. Using a smartphone-app, we aim to increase physical activity in everyday life. In addition to initiating light physical activity, the smartphone is also used to conduct regular mood assessments over a longer period of time. This method of research is known as Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA).
By combining these versatile research methods, we aim to examine the extent to which the relationship between biological parameters and markers of changing moods is influenced by a change in metabolic and inflammatory markers induced by a lifestyle intervention.