The bodies of people with mental illness could be biologically older than their actual age, according to a new study.
The new research suggests people with a lifetime history of conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorders have signals in their blood that indicate they are older than their years.
For example, people with bipolar disorder had blood markers indicating they were around two years older than their chronological age, the study found.
According to the researchers, their findings may go some way to explaining why people with mental health problems tend to have shorter lifespans and more age-related diseases than the general population.
Lead researcher Dr Julian Mutz, King’s College London, said: “It is now possible to predict people’s age from blood metabolites.
“We found that, on average, those who had a lifetime history of mental illness had a metabolite profile which implied they were older than their actual age.
“For example, people with bipolar disorder had blood markers indicating that they were around two years older than their chronological age.”
The researchers looked at data on 168 different blood metabolites (products of metabolism) from 110,780 participants in the UK Biobank study.
They linked these data to information on whether people had a history of mental illness and found that those with a mental illness had a metabolite profile older than would have been expected for their age.
Dr Mutz added: “Our findings indicate that the bodies of people with mental health problems tend to be older than would be expected for an individual their age.
“This may not explain all the difference in health and life expectancy between those with mental health problems and the general population, but it does mean that accelerated biological ageing may be an important factor.
“If we can use these markers to track biological ageing, this may change how we monitor the physical health of people with mental illness and how we evaluate the effectiveness of interventions aimed at improving physical health.”
The study was presented at the European Congress of Psychiatry in Paris, France.