Our biological age is the physiological age of our bodies, taking into consideration our lifestyle factors as well as mental health and childhood trauma. It has been shown that advanced transcriptomic ageing which substantially affects our biological age is seen in individuals with a high BMI, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It was also shown that our biological age can be accelerated in the presence of somatic illness (this is when mental disorders manifest themselves as a physical illness – these illnesses cannot be fully explained by a medical condition) or mental disorders.
Though we know some of the factors that affect our biological age, it is still unknown whether the acceleration of our biological age is influenced by an accumulation of these individual factors, or if their influence on each other increases our biological age, and therefore causes a lack in good health. Therefore, the researchers of this study set out to clearly understand the underlying mechanisms of biological ageing. They did this by looking at correlating biological indicators such as telomere length, the way in which somatic illness and mental health affects our biological age and consequently, the role of the biological clock in our biological ageing.
Blood samples of 2981 individuals from an ongoing study from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety were collected. These samples include individuals with current or were in remission with depressive or anxiety disorder and healthy controls.
The researchers discovered that there are strong inter-correlations ‘between three pairs of biological ageing indicators’. They also discovered that the ‘male sex, high BMI, smoking and metabolic syndrome (diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity)’ contributed significantly to advanced levels of biological ageing. Additionally they discovered that having depression was a significant factor in biological ageing. This provided evidence that somatic and mental health are associated with advanced biological ageing. They also recognised that different factors, such as physical disability and childhood trauma exposure, have a significant impact on the rate of biological ageing. More research, however, is required to understand whether: somatic illnesses advance our biological age over time, if an advanced biological age may cause somatic and psychopathology, or if they are not linked but have similar genetic risks and environmental factors.
This study has shown that biological indicators affect our biological age and can, in fact, function together in increasing it. It also displayed that smoking, having a high BMI and metabolic syndrome also significantly affects one’s biological age. It also showed that depression and childhood trauma advances our biological age. Though more research is required, this study may have important implications in future ‘clinical and epidemiological research’.
Featured Image Source: Photo by Basil MK from Pexels.
Original Study Source: Jansen R, Han L, Verhoeven J, Aberg K, van den Oord E, Milaneschi Y et al. An integrative study of five biological clocks in somatic and mental health. eLife. 2021;10.
Edited by Malavika Ramanand