Depression can accelerate aging at the cellular level and lead to premature death, according to a new study.
It has been previously established that major depressive disorder (MDD) is a risk factor for many different age-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and osteoporosis; it is also associated with early death. So the researchers assumed that depression can stimulate a biological process in the body that accelerates aging, according to a study published April 6 in the journal Translational psychiatry.
“One of the things that is remarkable about depression is that sufferers have an unexpectedly higher rate of physical illness associated with aging and early mortality, even after considering things like suicide and lifestyle habits,” co-author Dr. Owen Wolkowitz, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), said in a statement. “It’s always been a mystery and it has led us to look for signs of aging at the cellular level.”
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To understand this, a group of researchers turned to so-called epigenetic clocks, which measure specific chemical changes in human DNA to assess their biological or cellular age. As a person ages, individual atoms in DNA begin to be replaced by methyl groups (one carbon atom attached to three hydrogen atoms), in a natural process known as methylation. These chemical changes alter the function of genes in cells.
By following these chemical changes, scientists can also better understand whether a condition, such as depression, can be linked to accelerating cellular aging.
In a new study, researchers looked for specific patterns of methylation that had previously been linked to mortality, a measure known as “GrimAge,” using blood samples from 49 people with major depressive disorder who were not treated with drugs and 60 healthy controls of the same age. They controlled gender, current smoking status, and body mass index. Although people with major depression had no physical signs of accelerated aging, they had a higher GrimAge compared to their chronological age. In other words, they accelerated cellular aging by an average of two years compared to healthy control.
“This shifts the way we understand depression, from a purely mental or psychiatric illness, limited to processes in brain, “a disease of the whole body,” said lead author Katerina Protsenko, a medical student at UCSF. This should fundamentally change the way we approach depression and how we think about it – as part of our overall health. “
But it is not yet clear whether depression causes changes in methylation in some people or whether depression and methylation are related to some other basic factors in the body, the statement said. For example, it is possible that some people are prone to certain patterns of methylation when exposed to stressors. Moreover, the sample size was “modest”, and these findings must be mapped to a larger and more diverse sample, the authors wrote.
Researchers now hope to determine if treatments or therapies can prevent methylation changes that accelerate cell aging.
Originally posted on Live Science.