Depressed Mood Is Related to High-Frequency Heart Rate Variability During Stressors

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Abstract

Objective

The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between depressed mood and parasympathetic control of the heart in healthy men and women at rest and during two stressors.

Methods

Fifty-three healthy college students completed a laboratory stress protocol that included a baseline resting period, a challenging speech task, and a forehead cold pressor task. Depressed mood was assessed using the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). Parasympathetic cardiac control was measured as the high-frequency (0.12–0.40 Hz) component (HF) of heart rate variability using power spectrum analysis. Blood pressure, respiration rate, and respiration amplitude were measured simultaneously.

Results

Participants were categorized as having a high or low depressed mood on the basis of median splits of their BDI scores. Those in the high depressed mood group had significantly greater reductions in HF during the speech task and significantly smaller increases in HF during the forehead cold pressor task than those in the low depressed mood group. Women had significantly greater reductions in HF during the speech task and smaller increases in HF during the forehead cold pressor task than men. However, gender and depressed mood did not interact to predict changes in HF.

Conclusions

Depressed mood is related to the magnitude of decrease in parasympathetic cardiac control during stressors in healthy men and women. These findings extend those of previous studies, in which a similar phenomenon was observed among patients with cardiac disease. Because the participants in this study were healthy, the relationship between depressed mood and parasympathetic cardiac control does not seem to be secondary to cardiovascular disease.

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