Depression is still a subject people are not wont to discuss and trauma is still little understood, but living with both conditions can make you age faster, a study has found.
A shorter lifespan and increased risk of cardiovascular problems have been linked to depression, and now experts have shown it may also mean premature aging.
Scientists led by Laura Han — from the Amsterdam University Medical Center in the Netherlands — studied the DNA structure of people with depression and found that the DNA of people with major depression is older by 8 months, on average, than that of people who do not have the condition.
The researchers presented their findings at the European College of Neuro-psycho-pharmacology conference, held in Barcelona, Spain, and they published their study in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
This effect of premature aging was more significant in people who had had adverse childhood experiences, such as violence, trauma, neglect, or abuse.
Han and colleagues examined the DNA of 811 people with depression and 319 people without, all enrolled in the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety.
Using blood samples, the researchers examined how the participants’ DNA changed with age. The study revealed that epigenetic changes took place more quickly in people with depression.
Epigenetics is the study of the changes in gene expression that do not affect the DNA sequence. Such changes can occur as a result of many factors, including environment and lifestyle.
One of the mechanisms through which epigenetic change occurs is called DNA methylation — that is, when a methyl group is transferred and added to the DNA.
Overall, the scientists saw that people with major depressive disorder had a degree of methylation and epigenetic change that was indicative of an older age. More specifically, this means that those with depression were biologically older, by 8 months, than people without depression.
In some severe depression cases, this biological age was 10–15 years older than the chronological age.
The study also found that those who had had childhood trauma were biologically 1.06 years older, on average, than people who had not experienced trauma.