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How Your Mind Can Make Your Body Age Faster

How Your Mind Can Make Your Body Age Faster

The cliché, “You’re only as old as you think you are,” may actually contain a kernel of truth, according to a group of researchers from the Netherlands who found that people with depression may age more rapidly than their non-depressed peers.

Scientists analyzed the DNA cell structures of over 2,400 women: some currently suffering from depression, some who’d never had depression and some who’d battled the disorder in the past. They found that people whose lives had been touched by depression had far more pronounced signs of cell aging—specifically in the form of shorter telomeres, special sequences of DNA that appear on the end of chromosomes.

Study authors say their findings provide “convincing evidence that depression is associated with several years of biological aging, especially among those with the most severe and chronic symptoms.”

What they don’t know is whether interventions such as talk-therapy and antidepressant medications could potentially reverse or halt this hyper-aging process in depressed individuals.

The wide-ranging health effects of depression

Full-blown depression doesn’t just affect the mind—its impact on a person’s physical health can be dramatic as well. Previous research has linked major depression with an increased risk of cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes and dementia. Some of this increased risk is due to the symptoms of depression: poor eating habits, lack of motivation to engage in activities (both social and physical), and disrupted sleep patterns. The mental condition has also been named as a contributor to immune system dysfunction, as well as a trigger for out-of-control inflammation.

How to find help

Depression is a prevalent problem in the developed world. Around 19 million Americans have some form of the disorder, according to the most current figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Many factors contribute to a person’s risk for developing depression. Genetics, life experiences, chemical imbalances in the brain and lifestyle habits are all thought to play a role, which is why there’s no scientifically-proven way to prevent the condition.

The best thing to do is try to identify and treat depression as soon as possible.

Signs of depression vary from person to person, but commonly include: social withdrawal, trouble concentrating, feeling helpless or worthless and—in extreme cases—thoughts of suicide. Anytime these indicators last for more than a few weeks, it may be time to seek outside help.

If you feel that you, or someone you love, is suffering from depression, the best thing to do is to seek professional medical attention. A licensed mental health practitioner can determine if the symptoms are truly being caused by depression or a different condition, and can recommend a treatment plan based on a person’s individual needs and preferences.

Related
The Link Between Dementia and Depression
16 Common Issues of Aging
The Best and Worst States for Health
11 Ways to Beat Depression
What’s Your Life Expectancy?
10 Things that Make You Feel Old–And What to Do About Them

Read more: Aging, Depression, General Health, Health, Healthy Aging, Mental Wellness, , , ,

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor

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110 comments

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2:23AM PST on Dec 6, 2013

Thank you :)

6:04PM PST on Dec 1, 2013

I am truly lucky never to have been depressed or even sad for long. But I know people who suffer deeply with it, so heartbreaking to see. This is a great article, all the more so since it's the time of year when some feel their spirits drop even more. Thank you!

6:07AM PST on Dec 1, 2013

ty

7:06AM PST on Nov 30, 2013

It is unfair that people who have suffered through trauma or neglect are subject to further pain and suffering through depression. It is unfair that depression causes additional physical suffering. It is unfair that physical pain contributes to additional depression. Fight it all you can.

11:02PM PST on Nov 29, 2013

Depressing to think about.

8:04PM PST on Nov 29, 2013

I was just checking the CBC news feeds sent to me daily and saw this. Note to tourists travelling to the U.S., if you have been hospitalized for depression, you can be denied entry or be required to pay a fee of $500 with a doctor vouching for you should you wish to visit the U.S., if they have you on file. Unbelievable! The big question is, how did the border guards know about this woman's depression?

As an aside, both Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln both suffered from intense depression but they lead nations during times of war. One can wonder if Winston Churchill were alive today, would border guards bar his entry into the United States?

8:03PM PST on Nov 29, 2013

"Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Kay Redfield Jamison, Mike Wallace, William Styron, Art Buchwald, Robin Williams, Patty Duke, and Brooke Shields. They struggled with death thoughts, too, but they survived … and succeeded at so many things. They are missionaries of truth and perseverance.

Abraham Lincoln wanted people to know that his melancholy was a “misfortune, not a fault,” and that his humour, his jokes, were the “vents of [his] moods and gloom.” British Prime Minster Winston Churchill referred to his deep melancholy as his “black dog.” It was his teacher of perseverance...Without Lincoln, Churchill, Jamison, and the others, I’d think I really was going crazy and stand crippled, terrified in my darkness."

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/09/14/6-more-ways-to-manage-clinical-depression/

http://www.sevenvalleyshealth.org/projects/behavioral_2008_06_24.htm

7:03PM PST on Nov 29, 2013

Interesting article. I agree with the findings.

4:15PM PST on Nov 29, 2013

Thanks, Ros G. We still get plenty of bananas imported from those warmer climates, not to mention a variety of fascinating exotic fruits. Warmer countries are only to happy to export their marvellous exotic fruits and veggies to we of the colder climates.

True, a number of people in northern climates can be affected by SAD because the sunlight is not as strong as during the warmer and very hot and humid months that we also get here, sometimes hotter than Cuba in parts of the country. (Out west they have a much drier and less humid climate). Many people in northern climates purchase special SAD lamps which help to nullify the effects of lesser sunlight. Then, there are those living in the more northerly areas where the sunshine does not come out at all for the winter months and that must really be difficult for some people, it is like a continual dusk even at noon.

At the moment, I am eating a tasty banana and thinking of being under the tree from where it came from, that would be wonderful! Winter came a month earlier this year!

3:06PM PST on Nov 29, 2013

So very true, Sonali G and Natasha S. Depression is a mind-numbing illness that is like a leaden blanket being thrown over an individual. It is not simply a case of 'the blues' as it is a very real and often life threatening illness. I have some friends suffering from this and certainly they experienced the fact that since the illness is not seen on the body (such as a broken leg or the scars of recent major surgery) many people can't understand the depths of the darkened abyss that they have dropped into.

The climb back up is slow, labourious, often with falling back downwards into the dark abyss while climbing upwards towards the light. The chasm walls are not smooth and their knees are often scratched and scraped when they finally reach the top of the abyss where the light of hope shines and finally embraces them. They have made it back once again. They can see colours and laugh again where before all they saw was grey, darkness and a bleak existence, where giving up on everything they once knew and loved is so easy.

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