Background: African Americans (AA) experience higher levels of psychological distress. Adverse psychological conditions and mental stress could be associated with accelerated cellular aging, evidenced by shortened leukocyte telomere length (TL), which could underlie this association.
Hypothesis: In this study, we hypothesized that depressive symptoms and higher stress level would be associated with shorter telomere length in AA. We also hypothesized that the associations would be attenuated after adjusting for individual-level sociodemographic variable, various disease conditions, and lifestyle factors.
Methods: The analysis included 225 women and 142 men aged 30-55 years from the Minority Health Genomics and Translational Research Bio-Repository Database Study. Relative TL (T/S ratio) was measured using quantitative polymerase chain reaction. The 20-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale and 14-item Perceived Stress Scale were used to assess the presence of depressive symptoms and perceived stress respectively. Summation of the scores and the Principal Component Analysis were performed for both the scales. Multivariable linear regression models were used to estimate mean differences in log T/S associated with depressive symptoms and perceived stress after adjusting for sociodemographic variable, various disease conditions, and lifestyle factors.
Results: No evidence of association between stress and TL was observed. We found effect modification by hypertension affecting the association between depressive symptoms and log T/S. Depressive symptom, especially higher psychosomatic symptoms, was associated with increased TL in normotensive participants (β= 0.11 for mid-level psychosomatic symptoms and β= 0.12 for high-level psychosomatic symptoms; p value <0.05 for both). No association was observed in hypertensive participants.
Conclusions: We found a positive association between psychosomatic depressive symptoms and TL, which do not support the hypothesis that depression is associated with shorter TL and aging in AA. Longitudinal studies with larger samples are needed to better understand and confirm this relationship.