People who suffer from severe depression may age more quickly. A group of researchers from the Netherlands and California found that depressed people tend to have shorter telomeres compared to healthy individuals. Telomeres are chromosome caps strands and they shorten naturally as we age. The finding was published on November this year in the Molecular Psychiatry journal. Researchers noticed that those who have been depressed clinically for at least two years may abnormally aged up to ten years older. Consequently, those with the most severe depression have the shortest telomeres.
Depression may also induce unhealthy or even harmful lifestyle habits. Depressed people are more susceptible to drug addictions, smoking and drinking. Although researchers can’t still confirm direct correlation between aging and depression, mental distress may take a toll on our physical well being.
The answer of why severe depression could cause cells in our body to age faster could also have something to do with inflammation and stress. Psychological distress increases the “wear and tear” process in our body, pushing the biological aging faster. Depression may also dysregulate our immune responses, which cause inflammation much more likely to happen. All of this could cause the telomere to get shorter. Depression symptoms have long been associated with increased risks of common health problems, including cancer, dementia, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Depressed pregnant women could also more likely to have complications with their delivery.
Another lingering question is whether we can reverse the aging process and whether this would also affect the depression itself. Speculatively, the answer could be “yes”, since improved physical conditions may contribute positively to our mental health. As an example, exercises could counteract some of the aging effects at the cellular level. Supervised exercises have been proven to assist people with mild or moderate depression. However, there’s no study on whether antidepressants could change the length of telomere.
At the moment, there are still no entirely effective treatments for depression and it’s important to get some form of help from professionals. Positive lifestyle changes, medication and group therapy have been proven to be especially effective for treating depressed individuals. However, because each case could be unique, it may require a bit of trial and error. Milder forms of depressions are still not addressed adequately and they could escalate into more serious forms. Teenagers at schools and workers at offices are more susceptible to mild depression; so it could be necessary to regularly provide psychiatric services to any of them.