One way to measure how much age has fatigued an individual is to measure the length of their telomeres.
Since telomeres naturally shorten with time many researchers use telomere length to determine cell age, and give a picture of overall brain health
What are telomeres?
They act as protective caps on the end of chromosomes to keep them from deteriorating. When cells replicate (think aging), telomeres are cut and become increasingly shorter. If the telomere becomes too short, it dies or at the very least, becomes dormant.
I reported last year that researchers had found that middle-aged people who were physically active not only had higher aerobic capacities, but also longer telomeres than those who were sedentary. They had telomere lengths that were similar to people much younger than they were.
This is compared to people who were middle-aged and sedentary. Their telomeres were about 40% shorter, on average than those of younger folks.
Now a new study in the journal Biological Psychiatry looked at the role of stress and depression on telomere length.
Karl-Fredrik Norrback, PhD and his colleagues at Umeå University (Sweden) took 91 patients with recurrent depression and 451 healthy controls.
Telomere length and stress levels were measured. They measured stress in two ways: cortisol levels were measured and participants also completed a questionnaire on stress.
The findings? Telomere lengths were shortest for both depressed and healthy participants who were showing chronic stress.
Many of the depressed participants exhibited disturbed cortisol regulation, which may explain why they had a higher overall probability of having shorter telomere lengths.
Stress and depression are frequently linked by researchers, including Norrback and his crew, as are depression and shortened telomeres.
This current research adds to the results of earlier research linking depression and shorter telomere lengths.
Depression and stress are two things that can help derail brain health, and actually, some day soon, researchers will be studying the relationship between depression, telemere length and lifespan.
And when they do, I’ll be here at this blog telling you about it.
But depression and stress certainly aren’t the only factors that hurt the brain. We know now that our brains can change, for better or worse, by what we eat, how we think, and what we do (or don’t do).
Do you want to learn more about what you can do to improve your brain?
We are gearing up for the New Brain Science 2012 teleseminar series, which starts Wednesday with an in-depth interview with Norman Doidge, MD.
In my talk with Dr. Doidge, we will discuss topics like:
- How psychotherapy can change the brain
- Neuroplasticity and the anxious brain
- Two brains in love: A case study in neural reorganization?
- The process of unlearning − an often underutilized approach to change
- How relationships foster changes in the brain
- Why neuroplasticity isn’t always a good thing and what you need to know to prevent unintended consequences
The series is free to watch at the time of broadcast – you just have to sign up.
Stress can wear down the body and the mind. What are your most effective approaches to reducing stress in yourself and in your patients?