Depression isn't just making life miserable for those afflicted, it's actually making life shorter, a new study suggests. Dutch researchers found that people with depression seem to be aging faster, with the upshot being that they lose four to six years, reports CBS News. They reached the conclusion by measuring cell structures called telomeres, and HealthDay News explains the rationale: "Like the plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces, telomeres cap the ends of chromosomes to protect the cell's DNA from damage. Telomeres get a bit shorter each time a cell divides, so they are useful markers for aging."
As it turns out, people who have or had depression also have shorter telomeres. "Results like ours suggest that psychological distress, as experienced by depressed persons, has a large, detrimental impact on the 'wear and tear' of a person's body, resulting in accelerated biological aging," says the study's author. The researchers don't know whether depression causes the shorter telomeres, only that they're associated with the condition, notes LiveScience. It all raises the intriguing possibility that lengthening telomeres could improve health. "It has potential therapeutic importance," says a scientist not affiliated with the study. (Read more depression stories.)