New King’s College London research suggests that people with a family history of bipolar disorder may ‘age’ more rapidly than those without a history of the disease.
The study, published in Neuropsychopharmacology, also shows that bipolar patients treated with lithium — the main medication for the illness — have longer telomeres (a sign of slower biological aging) compared to bipolar disorder patients not treated with lithium. This suggests that the drug may mask the aging effects associated with bipolar disorder, or even help to reverse it.
Faster aging at the biological level could explain why rates of aging-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and obesity are higher amongst bipolar disorder patients. However, more research is needed in the relatives of bipolar disorder patients to better understand if they are also at a higher risk for aging-related diseases.
Unaffected first-degree relatives represent a group of individuals at risk for bipolar disorder who have not been treated with medications, so studying them may represent a truer reflection of the relationship between aging and bipolar disorder. To measure biological aging, the researchers studied a feature of chromosomes called telomeres in 63 patients with bipolar disorder, 74 first-degree relatives and 80 unrelated healthy people.