How depression makes you older

Depression isn't just a recipe for misery. It's a recipe for getting old before your time, with the effects of depression aging you on a cellular level and increasing your risk of chronic disease and an early death.

And if you let depression go unchecked now, you could lose as much as six years later on, according to new research showing how the condition damages your telomeres.

Those are the little caps that sit on the end of your chromosomes.

As you get older, your telomeres shrink. And as they shrink, your risk of disease grows -- especially the diseases we associate with aging: heart disease, cancer, dementia and more.

Shorter telomeres are even a risk factor for death itself.

But time alone isn't the only condition that can cause telomeres to shrink. The effects of depression can do the job, too -- shrinking your telomeres so much that it's equal to six extra years of aging, according to a new study in Molecular Psychiatry.

And the more severe your depression -- or the more chronic-- the faster you can expect those telomeres to shrink.

Now, it's true that depression often comes with other bad habits known to speed aging and shrink telomeres, including poor diet, smoking and heavy boozing. But even after adjusting for these and other risk factors, the study still finds a link between the effects of depression and cellular aging.

In other words, it's not just the bad habits that come with depression. It's the depression itself -- and that's why it's critical to make sure you take control over any battle with the blues before it turns into something that takes control of you.

While there are a number of ways to beat the effects of depression, the best approach for you will depend on the cause.

If your depression is the result of one of life's sad events -- like the loss of a job or the death of a loved one -- than all you may need is time, prayer and the support of friends and loved ones.

But many cases of depression -- especially the severe and chronic depression that will age your cells and shrink your telomeres -- have other causes, such as nutritional problems or hormonal imbalances. And in those cases, time, friends and prayer probably won't be enough to get over the hump.

(But whatever you do, don't fall into the antidepressant drug trap. Not only are they often not effective, they've been linked to diabetes!)

Instead seek the help of an experienced holistic physician who can test for these and other causes and work with you to correct them naturally.

I can run those tests here in my clinic outside San Diego. If you're in Southern California, contact my office to make an appointment.

Not in the area? I'm also available for telephone consultations. Call 855-DOC-MARK to schedule a call.