According to an April 9th article written by Shirley Wang in The Wall Street Journal, “people with long-term psychological stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder tend to develop earlier and more serious forms of physical illnesses.”
Recent research suggests that disorders commonly associated with aging appear earlier and in more serious forms in in people with depression and other mental disorders and it appears to be happening at the CELLULAR LEVEL!
Why is this such good news? Because there seems to be this myth – which really ticks me off – that mental illnesses are not physical illnesses. Mental illnesses, such as depression, are chalked up to character defects, a lack of discipline, self-absorption and weakness.
We easily accept Alzheimer’s as a physical disease of the brain but Lordy look out if you suggest depression is also a disease. And don’t even think of alcoholism as an illness, even though the American Medical Association accepted it as an illness more than 50 years ago. It’s like our brain is not part of our physical body, which is why I am so delighted with this article, New View of Depression: An Ailment of the Entire Body.
Let me say that again: An Ailment of the entire body. E-N-T-I-R-E body.
“Scientists are finding that the same changes to chromosomes that happen as people age can also be found in people experiencing major stress and depression,” according to the article.
Research is focusing on telomeres, a protective covering at the ends of chromosomes that play an important role in aging. Telomeres get shorter as people age and are related to increased risk of age related illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Shortened telomere length is also associated with depression, according to several studies at the University of California, San Francisco. Researchers in Sweden have reached similar findings. No one knows how much or severe an psychological experience is needed to affect telomere length. Some research has found as few as two episodes of major depression may be enough to shorten telomeres. Other studies found the more bouts of depression, the more impact on telomere length. The article also delves into anti-inflammatory proteins, antioxidant levels and antidepressants.
The good news is that heightened levels of the enzyme telomerase have been found in some people with depression who take antidepressants – which is a really good reason to stay on my antidepressants.
The research continues. However, I have not been able to find anything about telomeres and crows feet and whether increasing the length of my telomeres will get rid of those nasty wrinkles on my forehead. But there is one study I find particularly intriguing; researchers in this study are telling patients their telomere length compares with that of the average person of the same age. Then they track whether that information motivates them to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
What if you knew your depression was making you old? Would you change?
Depressed senior photo available from Shutterstock.