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The stress, depression and telomere connection: aging us prematurely


Stress has obvious and not so obvious side effects. Headaches and sleeplessness are common, but so are unseen effects like shortened telomere length.

Telomeres are the protective end caps on chromosomes and their diminishing size is an indication of age. Telomeres are highly susceptible to stress and depression.

When the human body experiences stress, its response starts in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis of the brain, also called the HPA axis. This axis controls the cortisol levels of the body. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone and it does appear in normal amounts in people suffering from depression and stress related conditions.

Researchers decided to take a closer look at how all these components worked together. They measured telomere length in patients with major depressive disorder and in healthy people. They measured stress, by measuring cortisol and by surveying the participants. They found that telomere length was shorter in depressed patients and they also discovered that shorter telomere length was associated with a low cortisol state in both depressed and healthy group.

“Our findings suggest that stress plays an important role in depression, as telomere length was especially shortened in patients exhibiting an overly sensitive HPA axis. This HPA axis response is something which has been linked to chronic stress and with poor ability to cope with stress,” stated first author Dr. Mikael Wikgren.

“The link between stress and telomere shortening is growing stronger. The current findings suggest that cortisol levels may be a contributor to this process, but it is not yet clear whether telomere length has significance beyond that of a biomarker,” explained Dr. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry.

Source: Biological Psychiatry, MedicalNewsToday

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