Researchers working in the Netherlands have found that suffering from a major depressive disorder can cause your cells to age faster. The study, published in Molecular psychiatry, was carried out on 2407 people, nearly half of them currently suffered from major depressive disorder (MDD), a third had suffered from the disorder in the past and the rest had never been depressed. Those taking part in the study submitted blood samples to analyse cellular aging and the results obtained were highly thought provoking.
It was found that participants who suffered from MDD or had suffered from it had shorter telomeres then the group who had never suffered from any sort of depression. Telomeres are areas at the end of your genetic material that stops deterioration of DNA when your cells replicate, they get shorter as your cells age due to DNA loss during the replication process. Scientists involved with the study said that the cells of those who suffered from MDD or who had it in the past appeared to be between 4 and 6 years older than the group who had never been depressed. While lifestyle factors such as smoking and a person’s health can affect telomere length, the study took this into account and found there results were still very significant.
The study also found that people with more severe depression and those who were depressed for a longer duration had even shorter telomeres, and therefore more aged cells.
Various studies have shown that those who suffer from MDD or depression are more likely to suffer from age related illnesses such as diabetes and strokes. This research offers a potential explanation to this fact. However at the moment scientists are still unclear on the mechanism that causes the telomeres to shorten. Telomeres shorten in stressful conditions, so scientists suspect it is the stress that depression causes the body which leads to the shortening of their cells telomeres. Scientists are now keen to find out whether this aging of cells is harmful and interestingly whether it has the possibility to be reversed.
While this work may worry those of you who suffer from the dreaded Seasonal Affective Disorder as we head into the cold winter months, scientists stress that this research only relates to people with major depressive disorders, and not those with mild or moderate symptoms. So wrap up warm and smile because your cells are (probably) okay.