Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for patients with social anxiety not only helps lower anxiety levels but also seems to protect against accelerated cellular aging, according to a new study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
“This is the first step towards better understanding the link between cellular ageing and the treatment of psychiatric issues,” says lead author Dr. Kristoffer Månsson, researcher at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
People with psychiatric disorders are at greater risk of developing somatic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, earlier in life than unaffected individuals. While the reasons for this are unclear, one possible contributing factor is that mental health disorders are associated with shorter telomeres and accelerated cellular aging.
Telomeres are short sequences of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes and protect cells, not unlike the hard tips of shoelaces. The length of the telomeres decreases with every cell division, meaning that they grow shorter with age. The telomeres are in turn protected by the enzymes telomerase (the job of which is to rebuild them) and glutathione peroxidase (which protects the cells against oxidative stress).
In the new study, the researchers observed the effect of CBT on these cell markers in 46 patients with social anxiety disorder. The participants received nine weeks of CBT treatment via the Internet, having first provided two blood samples with a nine-week interval. Fresh blood samples were then taken as soon as their treatment program ended in order to measure cell markers.
The researchers also controlled for factors such as smoking, body mass index (BMI) and current medications.
The findings reveal that CBT greatly reduced anxiety levels in the patients while increasing the activity in the two protective enzymes telomerase and glutathione peroxidase, in direct relation to how much the patients improved.
“In our interpretation, it means that effective psychological treatment for anxiety can protect the cells against oxidative stress and cellular ageing,” Månsson said. “This is an exciting result that can eventually allow patients to be given effective treatment based on their biological profile. But more studies are needed before we can draw any real conclusions about causality.”
Source: Karolinska Institutet