Background. Telomere length is considered an emerging marker of biological aging. Depression and anxiety are associated with excess mortality risk but the mechanisms remain obscure. Telomere length might be involved because it is associated with psychological distress and mortality. The aim of this study was to test whether anxiety and depressive disorders predict telomere length over time in a large population-based sample.
Method. All analyses were performed in a longitudinal study in a general population cohort of 974 participants. The Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) was used to measure the presence of anxiety and depressive disorders. Telomere length was measured using monochrome multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) at approximately 2 years of follow-up. We used linear multivariable regression models to evaluate the association between anxiety and depressive disorders and telomere length, adjusting for adverse life events, lifestyle factors, educational level and antidepressant use.
Results. The presence of anxiety disorders predicted shorter telomeres at follow-up (beta=-0.073, t=-2.302, p=0.022). This association was similar after controlling for adverse life events, lifestyle factors, educational level and antidepressant use (beta=-0.077, t=-2.144, p=0.032). No association was found between depressive disorders and shorter telomeres at follow-up (beta=0.010, t=0.315, p=0.753).
Conclusions. This study found that anxiety disorders predicted shorter telomere length at follow-up in a general population cohort. The association was not explained by adverse life events, lifestyle factors, educational level and antidepressant use. How anxiety disorders might lead to accelerated telomere shortening and whether this might be a mediator explaining the excess mortality risk associated with anxiety deserve further investigation.