Science | Depression accelerates aging

Depression has repeatedly been linked with increasing risk for age-related diseases, such as dementia, cancer and type-II diabetes. Now researchers have found supporting evidence that depression explicitly ages your cells.

The study, conducted in the Netherlands, comprised of 1,900 individuals who had experienced major depressive disorders, as well as 500 ‘control’ subjects that had not been depressed. Researchers investigated the significance of depression in regards to cellular aging, by measuring the lengths of telomeres, cell components which are capped at the end of chromosomes and protect DNA during cell division. In normal cells, telomeres are regarded as a marker of a cell’s aging, since they will shorten each time a cell divides.

The researchers discovered that people who had suffered from depression had shorter telomeres, when compared to the control group. As a result, researchers are suggesting that cellular aging accelerates by around seven years for those with depression. The findings demonstrated that, on average, telomeres shortened by 14 base pairs with each birthday. Furthermore, it is with greater severity in depression, when combined with an elongated symptomatic duration, that cuts telomere length even more. These findings, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, involved 2,000 subjects and incorporated results that stayed true beside controls on potential aging factors, such as weight, smoking and drinking.

Regardless, the researchers speculated that “an important question remains whether this aging process can be reversed.” Dr Verhoeven, who led the study, theorizes that possible lifestyle changes could positively increase the activity of telomerase, an enzyme that elongates telomeres through addition of nucleotides to the end of chromosomes. Re-iterating findings by a team from the University of California, whose work showed that a strict regime of exercise, diet and meditation may reverse cellular aging, Verhoeven added that “a healthy lifestyle, such as enough physical exercise, not smoking and a healthy diet, might be of even greater importance in depressed individuals than it is in the non-depressed.”

The Californian study, which looked at 35 men with prostate cancer, found that those who changed their lifestyle genetically rejuvenated their cells. The group of 10 men who adopted a vegetarian diet, exercise regime and stress soothing yoga, were able to increase the length of their telomeres by a significant 10 per cent. This success is further demonstrated when compared to the other 25 men, who made no lifestyle alterations and whose telomeres, subsequently, decreased by an average of three per cent.

Previous work has illustrated that a sedentary lifestyle can accelerate aging by shortening telomeres, showing the connection between environmental factors and the onset of disease. Nonetheless, all this research ultimately depicts connections between aging and external inputs: cellular division as we age shortens our telomeres, weakening structural integrity. Yet, there is no explicit establishment of causation, so the space remains for youthful declarations of certainty.


Sofia Popov

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