Stress, Depression, and Telomeres: A Brain Health Update

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.

bike riding for brain health

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?

Check out our New Brain Science Webinar series.

Stress can wear down the body and the mind. What are your most effective approaches to reducing stress in yourself and in your patients?




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  1. Keydren says:
  2. Kate says:

    I couldn’t tell from the aatcrbst, but the “chronic” portion of the title may provide some explanation to the telomere shortening in the muscles. Aerobic exercise would provide greater intracelluar ROS, which would damage the telomeres. HIT would have a different effect.

    • Sahil says:

      Well, my dad just had his 81st birthday (and copetmled his first round of Brain Fitness-but hasn’t had the time to go through it again because he is too busy!), so this is encouraging. More importantly, I have been placing my money on Dr. Michael Merzenich receiving a Nobel for HIS work on neuroplasticity and its impact on more than a million people so far .Keep up the great work!!!Ann

  3. Ugas says:

    This makes perfect sense in the light that escxeire has never seemed to increase maximum lifespan in animal models.However, we know that escxeire increases healthspan so no reason to cut it out yet.This also starts to make me think about people who take hormone replacement therapy. My gut feeling is that an increase in growth hormones increases muscle mass which in term might increase ROS damage to DNA. Once again increasing healthspan vs lifespan. The real kicker would be to do a study on hormone replacement vs escxeire in older animals — who would live longer (and at what healthspan).

  4. Robert Ouellet says:

    Can taking cocanut oil taken on a daily bases will help. How much I don’t know

  5. Margaret Main says:

    Thank you Ruth. I am actively using Anti-Aging techniques to enhance my life and help others. Terry Wahls, MD, is a lady who cured herself of MS using the ‘hunter-gatherer’ diet. The green leafy vegetables are key for brain health; the sulphur-rich vegetables are vital for endocrine health; and the brightly coloured vegetables, including sea vegetables, and fruits, especially berries, carry antioxidants to assist the body to get rid of heavy metals, viruses, the bacteria the body cannot use, fungi, and other elements that may not yet be known. The water I drink is the best, unaltered water available to me, and I encourage everyone to source the best water and drink plenty of it to detoxify from the bombardment of the body by heavy metals and chemicals in the environment in which we live.
    Quality sleep is vital to repair and rejuvenate, so I now have a light last meal, usually some berry fruits. I enjoy small amounts of coloured meats and fish, and eggs, but mainly consume as many green leafy vegetables as possible. Sugar, complex carbohydrates, including bread and products made from flour, anything in packets, white potatoes and corn, grains and dairy are off-limits. The best oils, especially coconut oil, olive oil, sesame oil, and nuts, especially walnuts and almonds, satisfy and are very necessary for the body to produce energy. We start life with joyful anticipation. The body is an energy machine, and when we can no longer efficiently make energy, we ‘run out of steam to power the engine’, to be healthy and happy. Exercise is essential, and everyone can do some every day. Dr Norm Shiely [famous for introducing TENS pain control], demonstrates how he does rebounding for 3 minutes twice a day, using only his body – no other equipment needed. Even people with limited mobility can learn this exercise, and may regain strength and energy, and most importantly, circulation of blood and lymph around the body. These are my basic principles, along with sunlight and fresh air, and mixing with people who have a positive outlook, who are willing to ‘look outside the box’, and not confined to public media which can occupy the mind with junk which we do not want. Learning new skills can make a huge difference in someones life. Also, grounding is something we need very badly, as rubber-soled shoes [introduced in 1960s], and more electricity in our environment, rob our bodies of our own energy. There is always a necessity to connect with Mother Earth for vitality in our body and peace of mind.

    I use a few tools to assist the body when it signals something is wrong. These tools helped me when I suffered fatigue from iodine deficiency. In September, 2009, a sample of my live-blood under microscopy, was showing invasion of parasites. Microcurrents were used to kill the adult forms, and herbs were used [and I still use] to kill the eggs. I have also done a liver/gall bladder cleanse [gall-stones were full of heavy metals and parasites]. Parasites, viruses and unwanted bacteria travel anywhere they like in the body, causing havoc and depleting the body’s energy resources. It is no wonder people today are feeling depressed. The other tools I use on myself are non-invasive, non-drug, and easy to use. They work in a gentle, very effective way to detox the body, and remind the body that it can heal itself. We are self-diagnosing, self-healing beings. We have been duped to believe that we need a pill, something artificial to ‘patch-up the body, when actually, all we need is a reminder to do the things we can already do, but do them better. I treat my body-battery with a positive energy and a negative energy device. These small devices signal the body to ‘smarten-up’, and are very effective for me and thousands of others, including helicopter pilots, sub-marine crew members, doctors, nurses, dentists, veterinary doctors, teachers, chiropractors, homeopaths, acupuncturists, and people in all walks of life. These energy devices are light, simple to use and transport around the world. They signal the body to detoxify by using the body’s energy, plus good hydration, to move the harmful substances out, easily and painlessly. I also use other similar devices to signal my body to make Glutathione [tri-peptide] and Carnosine [bi-peptide], and, another to treat stress and inflammation. These three devices are all anti-aging, because they cover the areas which work in our favour, teaching the body how. They have helped me and many, many others I have worked with. Dr Norm Shiely did a clinical trial on people with sleep problems, using devices from the same company, to signal the body to make Melatonin, with excellent results. [This is separate from the formal qualifications I have attained]. In 2012, I was able to purchase AcuGraph Meridian diagnostic technology equipment, and I am able to print the diagnostic results of where the median point[s] are blocked in the body. Continually, I am learning and loving what I do. Personal contact with others is very important to me, and I aim to join community together, to be healthy in mind, body and spirit. Further, I aim to assist the wider community, where the current system has failed. If people feel really well, they will not be depressed. Shifting energy into health and vitality, is so much better than ‘patching up’ a sick body.

    Again, thank you, Ruth, for allowing me to learn from yoursef and your wonderful guest speakers who
    I teach me to become more and more observant of human nature, and this is something I haven’t learnt from any source other than your program.

  6. Lynne Treat says:

    My most effective stress reducers include: taking a walk to enjoy nature, extemporizing at the piano, and deep abdominal breathing with relaxing visualization. I am disabled/retired so I don’t have patients, as such. However, I still work with family and friends when they request assistance with becoming more relaxed. Approaches vary by individual, but the most commonly-used alternatives are: massage, aromatherapy, classical music, or use of guided imagery.

  7. Lynne Treat says:

    1. Does losing 10-20% body weight (in an overweight individual) halt the telomere shortening process, or perhaps even allow telomere regrowth?

    2. Does the successful treatment of depression symptoms mitigate the telomere shortening process?

  8. Stella Avellaneda says:

    Living in the PRESENT each hour, each day, appreciating each moment in acceptation of the fact that you are ALIVE!!

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