Do You Have Sad Telomeres?
One thing you don’t want is sad telomeres. Telomeres are repetitive strands of DNA at the end of our chromosomes. Shortening of telomeres is both a marker and cause of aging. As we age and our cells divide telomeres get shorter and shorter like a wick burning in a candle. Once telomeres reach a critical short length cells no longer divide and either die or become nonfunctional. Individuals suffering from depression have telomeres that shorten faster – so much faster in fact that this accelerated shortening is the equivalent of four to six years of life.
Those findings come from this study published in Molecular Psychiatry in November 2013. This was a large study that included 1095 subjects with active major depressive disorder, 802 subjects with remitted major depressive disorder, and 510 subjects that served as controls. Now at the moment it is not known if depression leads to short telomeres or short telomeres lead to depression. But, it is known that depression alters many physiologic processes including hormone balance and function of the immune system. Most likely the effect of depression on the body causes damage leading to accelerated shortening of the telomeres. In other words, it’s most probable that depression leads to short telomeres and not the other way around.
Depression, Telomeres and Aging
Individuals that suffer from depression are at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia – all of which are age-related diseases. These findings are consistent with other studies that have show chronic stress in women to be associated with shorter telomeres the equivalent of 10 years. And, stress and depression many times go hand in hand. A recent study showed that lifestyle changes can lead to lengthening of telomeres. If making these lifestyle changes can offset the shortening of telomeres seen in individuals with major depressive disorder isn’t known. For more on the science of telomeres and longevity see this article and consider this book.