In a new study, researchers have found that clinical depression can lead to a quickening of the aging process. Researchers studied the body’s telomeres, which are “protective caps” found at the end of chromosomes and shorten over time, making them reliable indicators of aging. According to these studies, telomeres are fragile and very vulnerable when it comes to stress and depression, which can lead to premature shortening. This new research provides evidence that depression does not only affect the mind of the patient but can also attack the body at its most basic level, cell structure. This paper, published in November by researchers in California and the Netherlands in the journal Molecular Psychology, establishes a link between major depressive disorder, otherwise known as MDD, and premature aging within the cells of the body. The study focused on examining the white blood cells of more than 2,400 Dutch volunteers and concluded that those with forms of clinical depression showed shorter telomeres than the healthy volunteers. This also showed in the basic structure of the DNA submitted by the participants. After eliminating normal aging effects on DNA, such as diabetes, people who were previously depressed or currently suffering had 83 to 84 fewer base paired DNA in their telomeres than patients who reported that they had never had clinical depression. In the past, telomere shortening was associated with health problems such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity. These health problems are predominately related to age and the body. Now, this new information shows that aging can also be linked to a much more ambiguous health phenomenon, mental health. Mikael Wilkgren, PH.D., explains that “stress plays an important role in depression, as telomere length was especially shortened in patients exhibiting an overly sensitive HPA axis. This HPA axis response is something which has been linked to chronic stress and with poor ability to cope with stress.” However, researchers are still unsure what steps could be taken to prevent telomere shortening brought on by depression. There are already some steps which can help control the shortening of telomeres, but they are unsure at this stage if this course of action would be effective. Still, others remain skeptical of the importance of this research, claiming that clinical depression is just one of many symptoms causing aging and the shortening of telomeres but not its real cause. Currently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 1 in 10 American adults are afflicted with depression at a given time. An earlier study also pointed out that lower-income individuals, bringing in, all told, less than $41,000 were showing shorter telomeres, or telomeres that shortened quicker than their counterparts who were making money. What activities can help lengthen our telomeres or at least influence them to shorten at a normal rate is, as of now, less easy to, say for sure. Etienne Sibellie, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh examined a large group of people, curious to find a lead as to what kinds of behavior were effecting the health of telomeres in a positive way. “It’s just not known whether [there is] an impact on cell function,” he said.
By Nick Manai