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Can Lifestyle Factors Modify Risk of Psychiatric Disorders? (2024 Study)

Psychiatric disorders have increasingly become a significant public health concern, affecting a growing number of people globally.

A study in focus utilized MR (Mendelian randomization), a method that leverages genetic data to explore causal relationships, to analyze the impact of 45 lifestyle factors on 13 psychiatric disorders.

This extensive research involved GWAS summary statistics from sources like the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium and UK Biobank, encompassing a massive sample size range of 10,000 to 1,200,000 individuals.


  • Exercise & Tourette’s Syndrome: Engaging in strenuous sports or exercises is causally linked to a lower risk of Tourette’s syndrome.
  • Smoking & Mental Health: A lifelong smoking habit is associated with a higher risk of several psychiatric disorders, including ADHD, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder.
  • Education & Mental Health: Higher educational attainment correlates with an increased risk of anorexia nervosa but a lower risk of major depressive disorder.
  • Protein STOM’s Role: The membrane protein STOM may mediate the effect of educational attainment on anorexia nervosa.

Source: Journal of Affective Disorders (2024)

Lifestyle Factors & Effects in Psychiatric Disorders (Overview)

Lifestyle factors encompass a wide range of behaviors and environmental influences that can profoundly impact mental health.

These factors, ranging from diet and exercise to stress management and substance use, can modify the risk of developing psychiatric disorders through various biological, psychological, and social mechanisms.

Understanding these mechanisms is crucial in both the prevention and management of mental health conditions.

Diet & Nutrition

  • Nutrient-Brain Connection: The brain requires a range of nutrients for optimal functioning. Deficiencies in essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals can disrupt neurotransmitter production and brain plasticity, potentially leading to mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
  • Gut-Brain Axis: Emerging research highlights the role of the gut microbiome in mental health. A healthy diet fostering a diverse gut microbiota can positively influence mood and cognitive function, while an unhealthy diet can contribute to inflammation, a known risk factor for several psychiatric conditions.

Physical Activity (Exercise)

  • Exercise & Neurotransmitters: Regular physical activity increases the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which play a crucial role in mood regulation and can protect against disorders like depression and anxiety.
  • Stress Reduction: Exercise is a natural stress reliever. By reducing the body’s stress hormones, such as cortisol, it can mitigate the effects of chronic stress, a risk factor for many mental health issues.

Sleep Patterns & Circadian Rhythms

  • Sleep & Mental Health: Quality and quantity of sleep have a direct impact on mental health. Poor sleep can disrupt emotional regulation and cognitive processes, increasing the risk of conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
  • Circadian Rhythms: Disruption of circadian rhythms, which can be caused by irregular sleep patterns, has been linked to various psychiatric conditions. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule helps regulate these rhythms, supporting better mental health.

Substance Use

  • Alcohol & Drugs: Substance abuse can lead to changes in brain chemistry, affecting mood and cognition. Over time, this can increase the risk of psychiatric disorders, including addiction, depression, and anxiety.
  • Smoking: Nicotine affects neurotransmitter activity, and smoking has been linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, withdrawal from nicotine can exacerbate symptoms of existing mental health conditions.

Social Interaction & Support

  • Social Connectivity: Strong social connections are vital for mental health. Social isolation and loneliness can increase the risk of disorders like depression and anxiety, while supportive relationships can provide resilience against mental health challenges.
  • Stress and Coping: Effective coping mechanisms and stress management strategies are crucial in mitigating the impact of life stressors on mental health. Poor coping strategies, such as avoidance or substance use, can exacerbate psychiatric symptoms.

Modifiable Lifestyle Factors & Psychiatric Disorders (2024 Study)

Zhuohui Chen et al. explored the causal relationships between various lifestyle factors and psychiatric disorders.

It sought to identify which specific lifestyle traits could potentially influence the risk of developing mental health conditions and to understand the role of certain plasma proteins as mediators in these associations.

The study aimed to provide a comprehensive overview of how modifiable aspects of daily life impact psychiatric disorders, offering insights that could inform prevention and treatment strategies.


  • Data & Sample: The study utilized genome-wide association studies (GWAS) summary statistics primarily from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium and UK Biobank. The sample sizes for these studies ranged from 10,000 to 1,200,000 individuals.
  • Approach: A two-sample Mendelian randomization (MR) method was employed. This approach uses genetic variants as instruments to examine the causal impact of various lifestyle factors on psychiatric disorders.
  • Lifestyle Factors & Psychiatric Disorders: The study considered 45 different lifestyle traits, including factors such as education, smoking, physical activity, and sleep, as the main exposures. It investigated their impact on 13 different psychiatric disorders.
  • Proteomic Data: In addition to lifestyle factors, the study also included 2992 candidate plasma proteins from proteomic GWAS as potential mediators in the causal chain between lifestyle traits and psychiatric disorders.
  • Analysis: The research employed a four-step framework incorporating two-sample MR, univariable MR, and multivariable MR for a comprehensive analysis.


Causal Associations: The study found significant causal associations between certain lifestyle traits and psychiatric disorders. Notably:

  • Strenuous sports or exercise was associated with a lower risk of Tourette’s syndrome.
  • Lifelong smoking index showed a strong causal link to a higher risk of ADHD, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder.
  • Higher educational attainment was linked to a higher risk of anorexia nervosa but a lower risk of major depressive disorder.

Plasma Proteins: Five plasma proteins – ADH1B, GHDC, STOM, CD226, and TP63 – were identified to have causal associations with various psychiatric disorders.

  • STOM, in particular, was suggested to mediate the effect of educational attainment on anorexia nervosa.


  • Mechanisms Unclear: One of the primary limitations of the study is that the mechanisms underlying the effects of lifestyle factors on psychiatric disorders are not fully understood. While the study provides evidence of causal links, the exact pathways and processes involved remain to be elucidated.
  • Mediation Analysis: Although STOM was identified as a potential mediator in the relationship between education and anorexia nervosa, the indirect effect in the mediation analysis was not statistically significant. This indicates a need for further research to confirm and clarify the mediating role of STOM and other proteins.
  • Generalizability: The generalizability of the findings may be limited due to the ancestry of the study sample, which was predominantly European. This limitation suggests the need for more diverse studies to understand these associations across different populations.
  • Complex Interactions: The study acknowledges the complexity of interactions between multiple lifestyle factors and psychiatric disorders, indicating that the observed associations might be influenced by a myriad of other unmeasured factors.

Detailed Results: Lifestyle & Psychiatric Disorders (2024)

The study provided several key findings related to the causal relationship between lifestyle factors and psychiatric disorders:

Strenuous Sports or Other Exercise & Tourette’s Syndrome

A significant inverse causal relationship was identified between strenuous sports or other exercises (SSOE) and the risk of developing Tourette’s syndrome (TS).

The odds ratio (OR) was calculated at 0.0047, with a 95% confidence interval (CI) ranging from 5.24E-04 to 0.042, indicating a substantial decrease in TS risk with increased physical activity.

Smoking Habits & Various Psychiatric Disorders

The lifelong smoking index was positively correlated with an increased risk of several psychiatric disorders.

Notably, the OR for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was 10.53 (95%CI: 6.96–15.93), anxiety disorders (ANX) 3.44 (95%CI: 1.95–6.05), bipolar disorder (BD) 2.25 (95%CI: 1.64–3.09), BD II 2.89 (95%CI: 1.81–4.62), and major depressive disorder (MDD) 2.47 (95%CI: 1.90–3.20).

These findings underscore the strong association between smoking and an increased risk of various mental health conditions.

Educational Attainment & Its Dual Role in Psychiatric Disorders

A higher number of educational years was causally associated with an increased risk of anorexia nervosa (AN) (OR: 1.47, 95%CI: 1.22–1.76) but a decreased risk of major depressive disorder (MDD) (OR: 0.74, 95%CI: 0.66–0.83).

This dual effect highlights the complex relationship between education and mental health.

Plasma Proteins & Association with Psychiatric Disorders

Five proteins – ADH1B, GHDC, STOM, CD226, and TP63 – were found to have significant causal associations with psychiatric disorders.

STOM was particularly noted for its potential mediating role in the effect of educational attainment on anorexia nervosa.

What are the potential implications of the study?

The study’s findings have far-reaching implications in the field of psychiatric research and practice:

Prevention & Treatment Strategies

The identification of specific lifestyle factors associated with psychiatric disorders could lead to more targeted prevention strategies.

For instance, promoting physical activity could be a potential preventive measure against Tourette’s syndrome.

Smoking cessation programs could be emphasized in mental health settings, given the strong association between smoking and various psychiatric disorders.

Educational Policy & Mental Health

The complex relationship between education and mental health suggests that educational policies should consider mental health impacts.

Interventions targeting stress management and body image could be crucial in educational settings to prevent disorders like anorexia nervosa.

Biomarker Research & Personalized Medicine

The identification of plasma proteins as potential mediators opens new avenues for biomarker research.

This could lead to more personalized approaches in treating psychiatric disorders based on individual biomarker profiles.

Further Research into Mediating Mechanisms

Understanding the role of proteins like STOM in mediating the effects of lifestyle factors on psychiatric disorders could lead to novel therapeutic interventions targeting these proteins.

Specific Plasma Proteins & Lifestyle Changes (Study Results)

The study highlighted several key proteins that have causal associations with psychiatric disorders, offering insights into potential lifestyle modifications:

Alcohol Dehydrogenase 1 B (ADH1B)

Associated with a lower risk of anorexia nervosa (AN).

Lifestyle Change: Since ADH1B is involved in alcohol metabolism, reducing alcohol consumption or maintaining moderate drinking habits could potentially influence ADH1B levels, thereby impacting the risk of AN.

GH3 Domain-Containing Protein (GHDC)

Linked to a higher risk of bipolar disorder II (BD II).

Lifestyle Change: Although the specific lifestyle changes to modify GHDC levels are not clearly defined, maintaining a balanced lifestyle with stress management and regular mental health check-ups could be beneficial, especially for individuals at risk of bipolar disorder.

Erythrocyte Band 7 Integral Membrane Protein, or Stomatin (STOM)

Found to potentially mediate the effect of educational attainment on AN.

Lifestyle Change: Given the association with education, focusing on stress management and healthy coping strategies in educational or high-pressure environments could indirectly influence STOM levels, thus affecting the risk of AN.

CD226 Antigen (CD226) & Tumor Protein 63 (TP63)

These proteins were associated with major depressive disorder (MDD) and Tourette’s syndrome (TS), respectively.

Lifestyle Change: While the direct lifestyle changes for modifying these proteins are not specified, general mental wellness practices like mindfulness, regular physical activity, and social support could be beneficial in managing risks related to these conditions.

Lifestyle Recommendations to Potentially Modify Risk of Mental Health Disorders

Beyond the specific findings of the study, general consensus in the field of mental health suggests several lifestyle recommendations to reduce the overall risk of psychiatric disorders.

  • Regular Physical Exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity, such as aerobic exercises, yoga, or even brisk walking, has been consistently linked to lower rates of depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline.
  • Balanced and Nutritious Diet: A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, and omega-3 fatty acids can support brain health and reduce the risk of mood disorders.
  • Adequate Sleep: Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and ensuring quality sleep are critical for mental health. Poor sleep patterns are strongly linked with a range of psychiatric conditions.
  • Stress Reduction Techniques: Practices such as mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation techniques can be effective in managing stress, a known risk factor for many mental health issues.
  • Social Connections: Fostering strong social ties and seeking supportive relationships can provide a buffer against stress and contribute to better overall mental health.
  • Avoiding Substance Abuse: Limiting or avoiding the use of substances like alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs is crucial, as substance abuse can exacerbate or trigger psychiatric disorders.
  • Regular Mental Health Check-Ups: Just as regular physical check-ups are important, periodic mental health assessments can help in early detection and management of potential issues.

Genetic Predispositions to Behaviors & Psychiatric Disorders?

The intricate relationship between lifestyle factors and psychiatric disorders, as revealed in various studies, raises an important question:

Are these associations purely causal, or could there be underlying correlations driven by genetics and the nature of the disorders themselves?

Genetic Predispositions & Lifestyle

Genetic makeup can predispose individuals to certain behaviors or lifestyle choices.

For instance, genetic variants may influence traits like impulsivity or risk-taking, which in turn could lead to behaviors like smoking or substance use.

It’s possible that the same genetic factors influencing these behaviors also contribute to the risk of psychiatric disorders, creating an overlap where lifestyle choices and mental health issues appear linked, but are actually parallel outcomes of genetic predispositions.

Overlapping Genetic Pathways

Certain genetic pathways might simultaneously influence the propensity for specific lifestyle habits and the risk of psychiatric conditions.

For example, genes that affect neurotransmitter systems could impact both an individual’s tendency towards physical activity and their susceptibility to conditions like depression or anxiety.

Psychiatric Disorders as a Cause of Certain Lifestyles?

Disorders Influencing Behavior

Psychiatric disorders themselves can lead to changes in behavior and lifestyle.

For instance, individuals with depression might experience changes in appetite or sleep patterns, or may turn to smoking or alcohol as coping mechanisms.

This reverse causality suggests that rather than lifestyle factors causing psychiatric disorders, the onset of these disorders might lead to the adoption of certain lifestyles or behaviors.

Symptom-Driven Behaviors

Symptoms of psychiatric disorders, such as decreased energy levels, social withdrawal, or increased anxiety, might drive individuals towards specific behaviors.

Those experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety might engage in behaviors like smoking as a form of self-medication.

Longitudinal Studies & Bidirectional Analyses

To disentangle these complex relationships, longitudinal studies and bidirectional analyses are essential.

Longitudinal studies can track the sequence of events, helping to clarify whether lifestyle changes precede the development of psychiatric disorders or vice versa.

Bidirectional analyses, on the other hand, can assess the influence of psychiatric disorders on lifestyle choices and the impact of lifestyle choices on the development of these disorders.

Takeaway: Lifestyle & Psychiatric Disorder Risk

This comprehensive study sheds new light on the complex interplay between lifestyle factors and psychiatric disorders, emphasizing the importance of physical activity, smoking habits, and educational attainment in influencing mental health outcomes.

The identification of key plasma proteins as potential mediators in these relationships opens new paths for research and treatment.

While the findings highlight the significant impact of lifestyle on mental health, they also underscore the need for further exploration into the underlying mechanisms and broader applicability of these results.

This study represents a pivotal step towards a more nuanced understanding of mental health, offering valuable insights for both prevention and intervention strategies in psychiatric care.


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