Depression affects almost 7% of the US population, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance(1) and the effects of it can be more than just psychological.
Neurological and physical effects of depression can include trouble concentrating, insomnia or hypersomnia, excessive weight loss or weight gain, and even panic attacks(2).
But now researchers are finding that there may be more to the physical effects of depression than previously studied. Specifically, it may affect individuals on a cellular level.
How Depression Affects Your DNA
A major study from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics examined the genomes of more than 11,500 women. They were hoping to find evidence that depression can have a genetic root – that something in our genes may predispose us to developing or not developing the mental illness.
What they found instead was a signature of metabolic changes in the study participants cells that appears to be caused by depression itself.
Specifically, women who had depression relating to external factors – such as childhood abuse or sexual trauma – had more mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, than those who did not.
Mitochondria are organelles which provide energy to cells. Researchers believe that stress and trauma had caused the cells of these women to need increased energy, essentially changing their stress response on a cellular level.
Lead researcher Jonathan Flint said in a recent press release that:
“We were surprised at the observation that there was a difference in mitochondrial DNA. So surprised it took us a long time to convince ourselves it was real, not an artefact.”(3)