Depression and Urban Deprivation: Unseen Accelerators of Biological Aging


Summary: A new study reveals a possible link between depressive symptoms, living in deprived urban neighborhoods, and accelerated aging. The research utilized DNA methylation-based epigenetic clocks to estimate biological age and found premature aging in individuals facing these circumstances.The study also found a connection between higher neighborhood deprivation and an increased risk of death. The influence of depression on premature aging seemed unrelated to neighborhood deprivation, suggesting different underlying mechanisms.

Key Facts:

  1. The study used DNA methylation-based epigenetic clocks, which helped estimate the difference between chronological age and biological age.
  2. Depressive symptoms and living in a deprived urban neighborhood were found to be independently associated with accelerated biological aging.
  3. The study found that for every point increase in the depressive symptom score, the risk of death accelerates by one month.

“Our study used two DNA methylation-based estimators, known as epigenetic clocks, to examine aging at the cellular level and estimate the difference between chronological age and biological age,” said Divya Joshi, the study’s first author and a research associate in the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact at McMaster.

“Our findings showed that neighbourhood deprivation and depressive symptoms were positively associated with acceleration of the epigenetic age estimated using the DNAm GrimAge clock.

“This adds to the growing body of evidence that living in urban areas with higher levels of neighbourhood deprivation and having depression symptoms are both associated with premature biological aging.”

Depressive symptoms in the study were measured using a 10-item standardized depression scale. The researchers found an acceleration in the risk of death by one month for every point increase on the depressive symptom score.

They theorized that emotional distress caused by depression may result in more biological wear and tear and dysregulation of physiological systems, which in turn could lead to premature aging.

The researchers assessed neighbourhood material and social deprivation using two indices that were developed by the Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium (CANUE) based on 2011 census.

Social deprivation reflects the presence of fewer social resources in the family and community, and material deprivation is an indicator of people’s inability to access goods and conveniences of modern life, such as adequate housing, nutritious food, a car, high-speed internet, or a neighbourhood with recreational facilities.

The researchers found an increase in the risk of death by almost one year for those exposed to greater neighbourhood deprivation compared to lower neighbourhood deprivation.

The study did not find that neighbourhood deprivation amplified the effect of depressive symptoms on epigenetic age acceleration.

“Our results showed that the effect of neighbourhood deprivation on epigenetic age acceleration was similar regardless of depression symptoms, suggesting that depression influences epigenetic age acceleration through mechanisms unrelated to neighbourhood deprivation,” Joshi said.

The research examined epigenetic data from 1,445 participants enrolled in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), a research platform following more than 50,000 participants who were between the ages of 45 to 85 when recruited.

“Longitudinal studies, like the CLSA, are important to confirm associations like those found in this study,” said Raina, the study’s senior author and lead principal investigator of the CLSA.

“By following the same group of participants for 20 years, we will be able to determine whether epigenetic changes are stable or reversible over time. We will also gain insight into the mechanisms that are leading to accelerated epigenetic aging.”

Funding: Support for the CLSA is provided by the Government of Canada through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Additional support for this study was provided by the European Union Horizon 2020 Programme.

Author: Veronica McGuire
Source: McMaster University
Contact: Veronica McGuire – McMaster University

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