New research, conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and the Institute for Health Care Research and by EMGO, University Medical Center in Amsterdam, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in February, suggests that anxiety disorders can help to decrease the length of telomeres, which are known indicators of aging.
However, a specific therapy, may help to reverse this process.
Telomeres are specialized DNA complexes and covering the ends of chromosomes and shorten with age.
Some recent studies have shown an association between depression and telomere length shorter, but it is unclear if there is a similar association for anxiety disorders.
The analysis included 1,283 adults with current anxiety disorder, 459 with an anxiety disorder in remission, and 582 control subjects without a psychiatric disorder. The average age of the entire cohort was 41.7 years, and 66% were women.
Anxiety disorders included generalized anxiety, social phobia, the agoraphobia and panic disorder with or without agoraphobia. Leukocyte telomere length (LTL) was evaluated using quantitative polymerase chain reaction and transformed in base pairs (bp).
The LTL showed a significant negative correlation with age corresponding to an average rate of shortening of 14 bp / year. The women had an LTL more than men.
In addition to age and sex, the LTL was also correlated with various factors of lifestyle, including weight (the LTL is shorter in subjects underweight, overweight or obese), smoking, and the state of alcoholism (former and current smokers and heavy drinkers have a shorter LTL), and the number of somatic diseases (most diseases, a shorter LTL).
In the fully adjusted model, the LTL was shorter, on average, by 75 bp in patients with recurrent anxiety disorder compared with control patients and 68 bp shorter than the group of remission.
Differences in LTL for subgroups of anxiety corresponded to an estimated 3.5-5 years (social phobia), 4 to 6 years (panic disorder with agoraphobia), and 5,5-8 years (generalized anxiety disorder ) accelerated aging compared to control psychiatric group.
The LTL may be a consequence of disturbances in the systems of the body’s stress, as in people with anxiety disorders is more accentuated the increase in cortisol, oxidative stress and pro-inflammatory cytokines that are associated to the shortening of telomeres.
It was noted that interventions on lifestyle, such as increased physical activity and healthy eating natural medicines have been shown to have a favourable impact on telomere length in a healthy population.