Depression is causing a lot more damage to your body than previously thought, researchers discovered.
Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics have found conclusive evidence which suggests that, apart from wreaking havoc in our brains, depression can also alter our DNA. Moreover, prolonged illness can even badly influence our cells, messing with their ability to generate energy.
The researchers made the discovery after investigating the genomes of more than 11,500 women. Initially, the team had hoped to zero-in on the genes that might contribute to the risk of depression. However, they started noticing peculiar patterns, predominantly a series of metabolic changes in the patients’ cells that seem to have been caused by the onset of depression.
The most critical discovery was that women who had stress-related depression — depression that’s associated with some kind of adversity during childhood, such as sexual abuse — had more mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) than their mentally healthy and emotionally stable peers.
Mitochondria, the cells that have been largely associated with power generation within our bodies and have appeared in multiple other studies, are classified as “powerhouse organelles.” They are responsible for providing energy for the rest of the cell. The researchers noted a remarkable increase in mitochondrial DNA, which led them to summarize that the energy needs of their cells had changed significantly, primarily as a direct response to stress typically observed during depression.
Additionally, the researchers also found that the women with stress-related depression had shorter telomeres than the healthy women. Telomeres are caps at the end of our chromosomes that shorten naturally as we age, but the rapid shortening may have been due to depression-induced stress, think the researchers.
Though circumstantial correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, the researchers were able to prove their hypothesis by putting mice under stress and monitoring any genetic and cellular changes that occurred. As expected, those mice which were under stress not only showed an increase in mtDNA, but they also had shorter telomeres than the normal lab mice.
The researchers strongly believe that that changes our bodies undergo when under stress are a metabolic response. Fortunately for us humans, the research indicated that that the effects of stress are also partially reversible.
Though the researchers admit they have merely been able prove the relationship between the molecular markers and depression, their work is essential to show that emotional turmoil also affects us on a biological level. In other words, depression can herald a lot of physical ailments, too.
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