Depression not only affects mental health, it also increases the risk of many chronic diseases.
Depression can trigger premature aging of immune cells, which increases the risk of chronic illness, say University of California-San Francisco researchers.
Lead author Owen Wolkowitz, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at UCSF, said, "There's a lot more to depression than feeling blue. As if feeling depressed is not bad enough, we are finding that long-term depression may be associated with damage to cells in the body, and this may predispose patients to certain physical diseases."
This does not mean that accelerated cell aging happens in all depressed individuals. Here, it is important to know how long a person has been depressed.
Major depressive disorder causes shortening of telomeres, which are repetitive DNA at the ends of chromosomes in immune cells. Shortening of telomeres can trigger premature aging, which further enhances the risk of stroke, osteoporosis, dementia, diabetes and heart disease.
"While this finding itself might seem depressing, there is yet good news: Many lifestyle factors like exercise and aspects of diet have been linked to longer telomeres. So, while our personal history matters, it is possible that what we do today may matter even more, in terms of protecting our telomeres", Elissa Epel, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UCSF Department of Psychiatry said.