Researchers at the University of California-San Diego found that people with PTSD may also be at risk for accelerated aging or premature senescence. PTSD is associated with number of psychological maladies, among them chronic depression, anger, insomnia, eating disorders and substance abuse.
“This is the first study of its type to link PTSD, a psychological disorder with no established genetic basis, which is caused by external, traumatic stress, with long-term, systemic effects on a basic biological process such as aging,” Dilip V. Jeste, senior author of this study, said in a statement.
Previous studies had noted a potential association between psychiatric conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and acceleration of the aging process. For the study, researchers determined to see if PTSD might show a similar association by conducting a comprehensive review of published empirical studies relevant to early aging in PTSD, covering multiple databases going back to 2000.
They identified 64 relevant studies; 22 were suitable for calculating overall effect sizes for biomarkers, 10 for mortality.
Studies looking at leukocyte telomere length found reduced telomere length in persons with PTSD. Leukocytes are white blood cells. Telomeres are stretches of protective, repetitive nucleotide sequences at the ends of chromosomes. These sequences shorten with every cell replication and are considered a strong measure of the aging process in cells.
“These findings do not speak to whether accelerated aging is specific to PTSD, but they do argue the need to re-conceptualize PTSD as something more than a mental illness,” said first author James B. Lohr. “Early senescence, increased medical morbidity and premature mortality in PTSD have implications in health care beyond simply treating PTSD symptoms. Our findings warrant a deeper look at this phenomenon and a more integrated medical-psychiatric approach to their care.”
The findings are detailed in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.