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Stanford Medicine

Mental Health, Research

Can chronic depression increase risk of certain illnesses?

Long-term depression, especially if it goes untreated, may be associated with accelerated immune cell aging and predispose patients to certain types of physical disease, according to findings recently published in PLoS One.

In the study, researchers examined aging of the immune system as measured by the shortening of telomeres, tiny units of DNA-protein complexes important for the long-term health of cells in the body, in immune cells taken from the blood. Blood samples were provided by 18 volunteers with major depressive disorder not currently taking antidepressant medications and by 17 healthy individuals. According to a UCSF release:

…Overall, telomeres of the depressed group did not differ from those of the healthy group; however, individuals with nine or more years of untreated chronic depression showed significant telomere shortening, even after accounting for chronological age. The degree of shortening in this subset of the depressed group corresponded to about seven years of “accelerated cell aging.”

Telomere shortening also was associated with higher levels of inflammation and oxidative stress in patients, both linked to cell damage and premature aging… The authors suggest that telomere shortening in very chronic depression may reflect an individual’s cumulative exposure to biochemical stressors that promote cell death and increase the likelihood of physical disease.

These results are particularly interesting in light of previous research showing major depression is widely undiagnosed in the United States and fewer than half with the condition receive treatment. The American College of Preventive Medicine encourages all physicians to screen adults for depression.

Previously: Ommmmm… Mindfulness therapy helps prevent depression relapse, CDC report shows depression rates higher in the Southeastern United States, Study shows cell health linked to positive mood changes in meditation and Meditation may be able to lessen symptoms of depression

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