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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 59 (2017) 6, 350 - 359

Review article

Associations between depression, anxiety and telomere length in a large Dutch psychiatric cohort study

J.E. Verhoeven, P. van Oppen, B.W.J.H. Penninx

background Not only do depressive and anxiety disorders have psychological consequenses, they can also lead to impaired physical health. Persons with depressieve and anxiety disorders have increased risk of developing several ageing-related somatic ilnesses. This raises the question whether persons with depressive or anxiety disorder are subject to accelerated cellular ageing.
aim To test the cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between depressive and anxiety disorders and telomere length, an indicator of cellular ageing.
method We measured telomere length in participants of the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety with and without psychopathology at baseline (N=2936) and we also studied a large number of these participants (N=1883) at 6-year follow-up.
results Telomere length of participants with a lifetime depressive or anxiety disorder was, on average, shorter than the telomere length in the control group. This association was attributed to dysregulations in physiological stress systems and an unhealthy lifestyle. Over time, however, telomere length was shown to have a stable, non-dynamic association with depressive and anxiety disorders.
conclusion Our results suggest that psychological stress, as experienced by persons with depressive or anxiety disorders, might indeed be associated with increased ‘wear and tear’ of the human body. The challenge for future research is to determine whether short telomere length is in fact a long-term consequence or an underlying vulnerability factor for depressive or anxiety disorders.

keywords depression, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, cellular ageing, telomere length