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Major depressive disorder is recognized as one of the most serious problems facing the modern society. It affects about 15 million people in the US alone, and is observed more commonly among women. In combination with sustained stress, depressions are even more dangerous. It is an empiric knowledge that stress and depression can lead to faster aging, probably via affecting the general quality of life. Major depressive disorder is characterized by persistently low mood that is associated with loss of interest in the surrounding world and low self-esteem. Major depressive disorder affects the life of a person both at home and work place. About 3.4% of people with major depression commit suicide.
To prove it conclusively, many researchers attempted various methods to correlate depression and evidence of faster aging in people exposed to prolonged depression.
Depression leads to the shortening of telomere
Researchers from the VU University Medical Centre in the Netherlands conducted a study on 1095 people with major depression and 802 people who had recovered from major depression. The age group ranged from 18 to 65 years and 66% of the participants were women. They compared the findings with another set of 510 people who never suffered from depression. They found that people suffering from depression may age at a faster pace. This conclusion comes from the analysis of telomere length in these individuals. Telomeres are specific structures located at each end of chromosomes. They protect the chromosomal ends from degeneration or from combining with adjacent chromosomes. With each cell division the telomeres shorten. As a result, the length of telomeres indicates the age of individuals and their cells. After a critical number of divisions is reached, the cell dies. Researchers found that the telomeres in people with depression were shorter than in the control group, thereby substantiating the assumption that depression hastens the aging process. The investigators concluded that the observed difference was substantial even after taking into account the other lifestyle factors that affect aging.
The length of telomere is measured by the number of DNA building blocks that are called base pairs. On average, about 14 base pairs are removed from telomeres every year during cell divisions. Researchers found that healthy people had about 5540 telomere base pairs whereas depressed people had 5460 base pair per telomere. Although the researchers have demonstrated this association, a cause and effect relationship between short telomeres and depression could not be proven solely on the basis of these data. It can’t be excluded that some form of genetic vulnerability may be related to such effect.
Depression-linked problems accelerate the aging further
Scientists have also detected that the severity of depression and longer duration of symptoms were associated with shorter telomere length. Other factors that contribute to aging, like weight, smoking and alcohol consumption, were also taken into consideration. These findings were published in the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry. The author stated that psychological distress experienced by depressed persons has a detrimental effect on a person’s body and results in acceleration of biological aging. This may also be a contributing factor for many health problems in people with depression. Certain diseases associated with the old age such as dementia, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancers are more commonly seen in these people.