If you’re one of the millions of Americans living with a mental disorder, your body may be older than you think.
A new study, presented this weekend at the European Congress of Psychiatry in Paris, shows that people with long-standing mental disorders like depression, anxietyand bipolar disorder are biologically older than their actual chronological age.
Researchers Dr Julian Mutz and Cathryn Lewis, both of King’s College London, examined blood metabolites – small molecules produced during the process of metabolism such as lipids, cholesterol and amino acids – of more than 110,000 residents British. They found that people with mental illness had a “metabolite profile” that indicated they were older than they actually were.
“For example, people with bipolar disorder had blood markers indicating that they were about two years older than their chronological age,” Mutz explains in a communicated before the presentation.
The findings complement previous research by Mutz and others that found people with mental health conditions tend to live shorter lives and have more health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease. A 2002 study by Mutz found that people with anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder were more likely to be medically frail, a condition associated with a higher risk of death.
People with serious mental health problems can die up to two decades earlier due to “preventable physical conditions”. according to the World Health Organization.
The research highlights the potential for physicians to track the metabolite profiles of patients with mental disorders and use changes in those profiles to assess the effectiveness of health interventions, Mutz says.
How to slow biological aging
Fortunately, patients can take steps to slow their biological aging, says Mutz Fortune. Elements that contribute to faster biological aging in people with mental illness include:
- Physical inactivity
- Overreaction of the autonomic nervous system
- Low-grade chronic inflammation
- Social isolation/loneliness
“These factors are known to negatively impact health, and addressing these risk factors would be beneficial,” he says. Some actions that people with mental disorders could take to slow their biological aging include:
- Increase physical activity, perhaps with regular strength and resistance training
- Stop smoking, if applicable
- Establishing and maintaining positive relationships
Such lifestyle changes are also likely to reduce mental health symptoms. However, they will be “difficult to reach for seriously ill people”, he adds. “Treatment of their mental health symptoms, whether through psychological, pharmacological or other treatments, should always be considered with their doctor.”