At the cellular level, scientists can analyze aging through the body’s white blood cells. Specifically, they look at telomeres, the outermost part of the chromosome, which shortens as the body ages. Oxidative stress and inflammation have been shown to shorten telomeres, and now a study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry by a research team at Umea University has shown that recurrent depression and anxiety can have the same impact on your white blood cells.
According to Science Daily,
The test revealed that cortisol levels indicative of chronic stress stress are associated with shorter telomeres in both depressed and healthy individuals," says Mikael Wikgren, a doctoral candidate in the research group. The fact that depressed patients as a group have shorter telomere lengths compared to healthy individuals can be largely explained by the fact that more depressed people than healthy people have disturbed cortisol regulation, which underscores that cortisol regulation and stress play a major role in depressive disorders.
We already know that cortisol, the hormone that’s released as a stress response, can have a negative impact on the body. Too much cortisol constantly flowing through the body over prolonged periods of time has side effects that include high blood pressure and lowered immunity as well as heart attacks, abdominal fat, and strokes.
The Umea study found that depression and anxiety had a similar impact on chromosomes as did age-related disease and unhealthy lifestyles. Depression and anxiety and the resulting higher cortisol levels seemed to shorten telomeres and cause accelerated aging. Researchers followed 91 patients with recurrent depression and 451 controls. Telomere length, measured in white blood cells, was shorter in those with recurrent depression.
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