In brief: Stress takes the edge off

In brief

Stress takes the edge off

Stress may not turn hair white overnight, but a study published in late 2004 shows that when prolonged, it can accelerate the aging of body cells, with obvious implications for health and longevity.

The chromosomes in the nuclei of our cells are capped and stabilized by structures called telomeres. The telomeres are maintained by an enzyme called telomerase, which declines in activity with age. Every time a cell divides, its chromosomes shred a little at the ends and its chance of survival is lowered. People with shortened telomeres are more likely to die.

In the study, scientists examined the leukocytes (infection-fighting white blood cells) of 58 healthy young women, 19 with healthy children and 39 who were under long-term stress because they were caring for a chronically ill child. After controlling for age and height–weight ratio, the longer a woman had been caring for a sick child, the shorter her telomeres and the less active her telomerase.

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