Stress Makes You Age Faster

Depression and stress linked with biological markers of aging

(RxWiki News) Stress has many effects on the human body. Some are immediate, other effects are hidden and have lasting implications. But just how unhealthy is stress? A new study suggests that it can actually make you age faster.

According to new research, telomere length is predictable by a persons levels of stress and depression. A telomere is a protective ‘cap’ on the ends of chromosomes and an indicator of the aging process. While telomeres shorten naturally over time - stress and depression can make them shorten faster.

"Talk to your therapist about healthy ways to deal with stress."

The article is part of dissertation work for Mikael Wikgren, who is earning his doctorate in psychiatry from Umeå University.

The human body’s stress response is regulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which controls the body’s level of the hormone cortisol. The HPA axis is known to perform improperly in patients suffering from depression or stress-related illnesses.

"Our findings suggest that stress plays an important role in depression, as telomere length was especially shortened in patients exhibiting an overly sensitive HPA axis. This HPA axis response is something which has been linked to chronic stress and with poor ability to cope with stress," says Wikgren.

The study measured telomere length of 451 healthy patients as well as 91 patients with major depressive disorder. They found that depressed patients have shorter telomeres - which confirms earlier findings.

Importantly, they also found that a shorter telomere length was associated with an overly sensitive HPA axis in both the depressed patients and the healthy ones. Patients self-assessment results from the questionnaire backed up these findings.

The researchers have confirmed telomere length can be a successful marker of cumulative stress levels. However, more research is needed to find the exact implications of these shorter telomeres.

According to John Krystal, Ph.D., editor of Biological Psychiatry, "The link between stress and telomere shortening is growing stronger. The current findings suggest that cortisol levels may be a contributor to this process, but it is not yet clear whether telomere length has significance beyond that of a biomarker."

The study was published in the February 2012 edition of Biological Psychiatry.