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The Genetic Factor That Makes Some Girls Age Faster Than Their Friends

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The Genetic Factor That Makes Some Girls Age Faster Than Their Friends

It's no secret that stress makes people age faster than they should. I mean, look at your mom's hair, and how she blames each and every grey strand on you. I mean, it is your fault that she's on the fast track to an early grave.

But a study has discovered that, not only are the stresses and depression a girl experiences on her own aging her, but so is that family history of depression, too.

Your mom may be blaming you for her grey hair, but now you can blame her and your family history for the reason your life is passing before your very eyes, relatively speaking.

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The study, done by professor Ian Gotlib at Stanford University, found that girls with both a history of stress and depression already in their blood have shorter telomeres. Telomeres are "caps on the ends of chromosomes, which get a little shorter every time a cell divides, or as a result of exposure to stress. Telomere length is like a biological clock corresponding to age, getting shorter as adults grow up."

The researchers studied girls who were healthy, but at a high risk for developing depression, due to family history. The girls in the study were already under stress and released much higher amounts of cortisol in response to the stress.

Yikes. It's like you're 15 years old one minute, then all of a sudden you're 62, wondering why you don’t have a retirement fund, and how the heck you totally missed out on all the fun of being 21. Thanks, mom.

Not only are telomeres speeding up the life, but it can also contribute to earlier death rates, as well as more frequent diseases and infections as the girls become women. The shorter telomeres found in 12-year-old girls meant that, biologically, they were about 18.

Gotlib revealed his surprise at the study's findings, saying, "I did not think that these girls would have shorter telomeres than their low-risk counterparts — they're too young." Gotlib also said that this was the first study of its kind.

He also added, "It's looking like telomere length is predicting who's going to become depressed and who's not."

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However, this is just the case in girls and women; boys and men get off scot-free with this one.

So what can these girls do? Exercise both their bodies and their brains.

Research has found, at least in adults, that exercise can delay the shortening of telomeres in those who fall into the high-risk category.

Also, "mindfulness training," in which the practice of managing stress and handling depression is a major focus, can also help, but, of course, not reverse whatever damage has already been done.

The key to a long life, despite what this study is telling us, is keeping yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy. Those who have dealt with depression and stress on a personal level know that it’s never easy, but if it's going to cut your life short by six years (or more), it's definitely something you may want to look into.

It's one thing to grow old gracefully, but it's another thing to grow old way before your time.

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Amanda Chatel is a writer who divides her time between NYC and Paris. She's a regular contributor to Bustle and Glamour, with bylines at Harper's Bazaar, The Atlantic, Forbes, Livingly, Mic, The Bolde, Huffington Post and others. 

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on November 11, 2014 and was updated with the latest information.