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Previous research has linked PTSD with mental health disorders such as depression, insomnia, anger, eating disorders and substance abuse. But, this is the first time PTSD has been potentially linked to a number of biological processes that could lead to faster aging, the University of California, San Diego investigators said.
The researchers reviewed 64 studies. Six of the studies found that people with PTSD had reduced telomere length. Telomeres -- which are protective caps on the end of DNA strands on chromosomes -- become shorter as people age.
Other studies reviewed found a link between PTSD and higher levels of signs of inflammation, and that people with PTSD have higher rates of aging-related conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and ulcers.
Several studies also suggested a mild-to-moderate association between PTSD and premature death.
Although the studies reviewed point to associations between PTSD and factors related to accelerated aging, the new review wasn't designed to prove that PTSD was the cause of the faster aging.
The findings were published online May 7 in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
"These findings do not speak to whether accelerated aging is specific to PTSD, but they do argue the need to re-conceptualize PTSD as something more than a mental illness," first author Dr. James Lohr, professor of psychiatry at University of California, San Diego, said in a university news release.
The findings show the need for further research into the possible links between PTSD and accelerated aging and how it might affect treatment of people with PTSD, Lohr added.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCES: University of California, San Diego, news release, May 8, 2015