English writer Thomas Hobbes described life as “nasty, brutish, and short” in his early 1600s social philosophical treatise Leviathan. For someone with depression, that description might sound spot on, especially in the coming months, as the days grow shorter and colder weather begins to reach most parts of the country.
Born in 1588 — the year the Spanish Armada first attempted to invade England — Hobbes lived his entire early life dominated by the constant fear of another invasion. That stressful, early experience probably influenced his bleak philosophy. In fact, in his dedication to his book he writes about himself: “Born in 1588/Armada year/Twins came forth/Myself and fear.”
But Hobbes may have been onto something about the depressed life being brutish and short…
New evidence shows depression and stress may indeed shorten lifespan.
In a recent article published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, researchers reported their discovery of a link between stress, depression and gene expression associated with aging.
They conducted their experiments on our old friend the C. elegans roundworm. Before you turn up and wiggle your nose at this simple worm, remember – many aging researchers study it extensively throughout its short lifespan for various influences that accelerate or slow aging.
For this study, researchers identified 231 genes in the worm that correlated with 347 similar genes in humans. Then, using genome analysis of 3,577 older humans, researchers found a link between depression and 134 of these genes. They found an especially strong link with the gene known as ANK3.
Expression of the ANK3 gene increases with age both in worms and in humans. Blood samples from suicide fatalities and people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders also show an increase in expression of ANK3.
So let me put this finding another way….
When researchers observe changes in expression in these genes, we know it signals premature aging and reduced longevity. So when we see the same changes in people who suffer significant stress and/or mood disorders, it means they too could suffer from premature aging and reduced longevity.
Not all is doom and gloom…
Researchers also found natural compounds activate genes that counteract the aging process. These natural “anti-aging” compounds included omega-3 essential fatty acids, vitamin D, the bioflavonoid quercetin, the Type II diabetes drug metformin, and estrogen compounds.
This is excellent news. Because even if you struggle with depression (seasonal or otherwise), you can take natural compounds to thwart the accelerated aging associated with your condition. Indeed, they are many of the very same compounds shown in previous studies to thwart depression itself.
So how about some practical advice?
For one, in addition to eating fish and seafood regularly, strive to take 1,000 to 2,000 mg per day of fish oil.
I also recommend 10,000 IU vitamin D daily — especially now, with the days growing shorter and the sun getting lower in the sky.
Third, strive to eat plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables filled with bioflavonoids. I always recommend you buy organic and make sure to consume the edible peels and pulp.
Fourth, the Type II diabetes drug metformin appears to directly affect the expression of aging genes as well. Of course, metformin is the only drug I ever recommend to people to manage diabetes and blood sugar. It derives from the ancient European folk remedy known as French lilac. In addition to controlling blood sugar and now affecting the expression of aging genes, metformin lowers the risk of cancer and obesity.
Estrogen was the last natural compound associated with increased longevity. But there isn’t much you can (or should) do to change your body’s natural hormone production. Women simply have a natural advantage with estrogen production.
Of course, women have long been observed to live longer, on average, than men. Although that gap has been shortening over recent generations, now that women have “equal rights” — and equal stress — when it comes to engaging in a frequently toxic workplace, and supporting themselves and their families financially. But the effects of estrogen compounds on aging genes may help explain why women historically live longer.
I have one more piece of advice to help fight depression and promote longevity, even though it wasn’t included in the new report: Enjoy the outdoors. As fall approaches, soak up those last strong rays of sun by going outside for a nice brisk walk in Nature. It will lift your mood naturally and give you an added boost of vitamin D.
“Researchers identify genes linked to the effects of mood and stress on longevity,” EurekAlert! (www.eurekalert.org) 5/24/2016