As we age and our cells divide, caps at the ends of our chromosomes called telomeres shorten. When a telomere grows too short, it will die or lose its ability to divide, which causes our skin to wrinkle or sag, as well as damage to our organs. Previous research has shown that depression, chronic stress and inflammation can accelerate this process, causing premature aging and making our bodies more susceptible to infections and disease.
In an effort to better understand the connection between stress, depression and changes in the body, Stanford psychologist Ian Gotlib, PhD, and colleagues studied healthy girls with a family history of depression and compared them to a group of their peers without that medical background. During the experiment, researchers measured participants' stress response through a series of tests and analyzed their DNA samples for telomere length. According to a Stanford Report story:
Before this study, "No one had examined telomere length in young children who are at risk for developing depression," Gotlib said.
Healthy but high-risk 12-year-old girls had significantly shorter telomeres, a sign of premature aging.
"It's the equivalent in adults of six years of biological aging," Gotlib said, but "it's not at all clear that that makes them 18, because no one has done this measurement in children."
The researchers are continuing to monitor the girls from the original study. "It's looking like telomere length is predicting who's going to become depressed and who's not," Gotlib said.
Based on these findings, researchers recommended that girls at high-risk for depression learn stress reduction techniques.
Previously: How meditation can influence gene activity, Shrinking chromosome caps spell aging cells, sniffles, sneezes... and cognitive decline?, Study finds phobias may speed biological aging and Study suggests anticipation of stress may accelerate cellular aging