Depression can make us age faster

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Telomeres may contain the secrets to unlocking immortality.

Sometimes, gloomy days can really get the best of us and put us in a funk. According to researchers, however, we should really find a way to boost our moods as quickly as possible, because depression may make us age quicker!

For the study, researchers from Free University in Amsterdam observed three groups of people: those currently diagnosed with major depressive disorder or clinical depression, those who have been diagnosed in the past, and those who have never suffered from either of the psychological disorders.

After drawing samples of blood from all three groups, the scientists analyzed what are known as telomeres – tiny protective caps at the ends of DNA molecules. Every time a cell in our body divides, the telomeres get shorter, which is why they are considered a good sign of our age.

According to the results of the study, participants who either are suffering or have experienced depression had significantly shorter telomeres. The researchers estimate that this could make someone look as much as 4-6 years older! “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,” said study author Josine Verhoeven. “The findings might help explain the variety of health complaints often experienced by people with major depression.”

What the findings don’t explain is what came first: did the short telomeres cause depression or the other way around? “It’s just not known whether it has an impact on cell function,” explains Etienne Sibellie, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. “If that’s the case, it has potential therapeutic importance.” In other words, how doctors treat patients might change based on the answer.

Featured image courtesy of Luis Sarabia on Flickr.