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What causes aging? According to some experts, it can be linked to telomeres, which are protective caps that can be found at the end of your chromosomes. Telomeres not only protect your chromosomes from damage, but they’ve also seen as a “biological clock.”  

According to research, telomeres shorten each time a cell copies itself and once they become too short to function, this triggers the cells to age before being disposed of. 

Now, while telomeres do shorten as the years go by, their shortening at an accelerated pace can cause a host of issues, and per a recent study, these issues include depression and cognitive decline.

Telomere Length, Depression, and Cognitive Decline

Previous research has associated shortened telomeres with a host of age-related issues. Now, researchers from South Korea have set out to determine an association between telomere length, depression, and cognitive impairment in the elderly. As early detection is particularly important when it comes to delaying the progression of these two conditions, the researchers wanted to see if telecom length was associated with early symptoms of depression and cognitive impairment. 

Per the study, which was published in the journal Aging, the researchers recruited 137 relatively healthy individuals between the ages of 60 and 79 years old. The researchers then measured telomere length and blood biomarkers at baseline and six months of follow-up. 

Are shorter telomeres aging us and making us sadder?

“Based on our findings, we believe that telomere length shortening in elderly is not only associated with advanced depression but also with early depressive symptoms,” Myung-Hoon Han, study author and neurosurgeon. 

According to the study’s findings, the participants who had experienced depression symptoms and had complained of cognitive issues were more likely to have shorter telomeres. Additionally, the researchers noted that the shorter telomeres were linked to increased levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) – an inflammatory marker that has previously been linked to dementia.  

Now, while the study’s findings still need to be verified on a larger scale, the authors do believe that the results will play a vital role in the prevention and treatment of depression and cognitive impairment in the healthy elderly. 

How can I protect telomere length?

As mentioned, the length of telomeres does shorten with age, but it can shorten prematurely and may cause the issues mentioned in the study. Therefore, the important thing to do is ensure that your telomeres shorten at a healthy rate. To do so, try adopting a few of these habits:

  • Following a plant-based diet: A 2019 study found that adhering to a plant-based diet was linked to longer telomeres. 
  • Exercise: A review published last year found that exercising for more than six months was associated with positive changes in telomere length.
  • Sleep well: Longer sleep duration has been associated with longer telomere length. 
  • Get some vitamin D: Higher levels of vitamin D have been associated with longer telomere length. While you can get vitamin D from the sun, you can also increase your dose with supplements, or by eating oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and liver and fortified foods. 

Want to know more?

Telomeres shortening at an accelerated pace is not the only thing that may be prematurely aging us. With researchers looking for answers to premature aging on a deeper cellular level, they are now examining cellular senescence to determine if targeting senescent cells could reverse the aging process and promote lifespan. 

MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Alex Ivashenko on Unsplash


Crous-Bou, M., Molinuevo, J. L., & Sala-Vila, A. (2019). Plant-Rich Dietary Patterns, Plant Foods and Nutrients, and Telomere Length. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.)10(Suppl_4), S296–S303.

Grieshober, L., Wactawski-Wende, J., Hageman Blair, R., Mu, L., et al. (2019). A Cross-Sectional Analysis of Telomere Length and Sleep in the Women’s Health Initiative. American journal of epidemiology188(9), 1616–1626.

Han M, Lee E, Park H, Choi SH, Koh S. (2023). Relationship between telomere shortening and early subjective depressive symptoms and cognitive complaints in older adults. Aging (Albany NY).15:914-931 .

Metti, A. L., & Cauley, J. A. (2012). How predictive of dementia are peripheral inflammatory markers in the elderly?. Neurodegenerative disease management2(6), 609–622.

Song, S., Lee, E., & Kim, H. (2022). Does Exercise Affect Telomere Length? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania)58(2), 242.

Zarei, M., Zarezadeh, M., Hamedi Kalajahi, F. et al. (2021). The Relationship Between Vitamin D and Telomere/Telomerase: A Comprehensive Review. J Frailty Aging 10, 2–9.

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a beauty and wellness writer who has a passion for poetry, equality, natural hair, and skin-care. With a journalism degree from Pearson's Institute of Higher Education, and identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to continuously provide the latest information, be it beauty or wellness, on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle on a day-to-day basis.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

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