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People with Depression May Age Faster

Mar 26, 2010
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People suffering from depression may be aging
faster than other people, according to a new
study from the Netherlands.
In the study of about 1,900 people who had major
depressive disorders at some point during their
lives, along with 500 people who had not had
depression, researchers measured the length of
cell structures called telomeres, which are "caps"
at the end of chromosomes that protect the DNA
during cell division. Normally, telomeres shorten
slightly each time cells divide, and their length is
thought to be an index of a cell's aging .
The researchers found telomeres were shorter in
people who had experienced depression compared
with people in the control group. This suggests
cellular aging in people with depression is
accelerated by several years, the researchers
The severity of a person's depression, as well as
a longer duration of symptoms were linked with
shorter telomere length, and the results held after
controlling for weight, smoking, drinking and
several other factors that may contribute to
aging, according to the study published today
(Nov. 12) in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
"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, a researcher at
the Free University in Amsterdam.
"The findings might help explain the variety of
health complaints often experienced by people
with major depression," Verhoeven said. [8 Tips
for Healthy Aging ]
Studies have shown that people with depression
are at increased risk for diseases that tend to
come with aging — for example, dementia, cancer
and type 2 diabetes — even when health and
lifestyle factors are taken into account. This has
raised the question whether depression
accelerates aging.
The length of telomeres is measured in terms of
their number of DNA building blocks, called base
pairs (bp). In the study, the telomeres in healthy
people were about 5,540 bp long on average,
whereas people with depression had telomeres
about 5,460 bp long.
The study participants ranged in age from 18 to
65. In line with previous studies, the researchers
found that with each year of age, telomeres
shortened by 14 bp, on average.
The researchers showed an association, but not a
cause-and-effect relationship between depression
and shorter telomeres. It is possible that some
other factor, such as a genetic vulnerability,
underlies both, the researchers said.
It is also possible that telomere shortening is a
consequence of impairment in the body's stress
"An important question remains whether this
aging process can be reversed," the researchers
said in their study. An enzyme called telomerase
elongates telomeres by adding nucleotides to the
end of chromosomes, and its possible that
lifestyle changes could increase the activity of
telomerase , thereby lengthening telomeres,
Verhoeven said.
"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," she