Can depression speed up the ageing process?

It’s a well known fact that depression can have a devastating impact on a variety of emotional, physical, social and mental processes of life! Now a new study finds the prevalence of a depressive disorder can also make us age by several years.

According to experts, depression can make us physically older by accelerating the ageing process in cells. The study found people who were prone to severe depression or had suffered from the mental condition appeared biologically older than those who had not experienced it.

Study author Josine Verhoeven, a researcher at the Free University in Amsterdam, stated, “Psychological distress, as experienced by depressed persons, has a large, detrimental impact on the ‘wear and tear’ of a person’s body, resulting in accelerated biological aging. The findings might help explain the variety of health complaints often experienced by people with major depression.”

Impact of depression on cellular ageing assessed
In order to get some insight into whether major depressive disorder (MDD) has an adverse impact on cellular ageing, the researchers conducted a study. They recruited 2,407 people (1,100 people currently diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) or clinical depression, 802 had felt severely depressed in the past and 510 who never had the psychological issue).

For the purpose of the study, participants’ blood samples were taken to compare changes related to protective caps at the end of our chromosomes, called telomeres. Telomeres are believed to be the most reliable and accurate indicator of the speed of aging in a person. As we age and our cells divide, our telomeres get shorter – their structural integrity weakens, which can tell cells to stop dividing and die.

Outcome of the study
According to experts people naturally lose 14 to 20 base pairs of DNA in the telomeres due to ageing each year. The analysis revealed depressed people had shorter telomeres than those not afflicted by the condition. The findings persisted even after factoring harmful lifestyle aspects like smoking and drinking. Moreover, subjects given to severe and chronic depression exhibited the shortest telomeres.

The researchers concluded, “This large-scale study provides convincing evidence that depression is associated with several years of biological ageing, especially among those with the most severe and chronic symptoms.”

The findings of the research are published in Molecular Psychiatry.

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