Stress Ages You: The missing link behind stress, depression & lifespan

20 Dec, 2011

Stress Ages You: The missing link behind stress, depression & lifespanYou will get older, that much is certain. What is less clear is how you will age.

These days “anti-ageing” is big business as we fight to extend our looks, our health and the impending notion of death. The length and quality of your life will be determined by many factors and new research shows that one of those could be how much stress you experience.

The crux of this new Swedish research is the telomere, a part of the cellular material in all of us. The telomere is the outermost part of the chromosome, in scientific circles it is compared to an aglet, the stiff bit at the end of a shoelace that stops it from unravelling. Telomeres prevent chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to each other, which would scramble your genetic information to cause cancer, other diseases, or death.

Yet, each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. When they get too short, the cell no longer can divide and becomes inactive or “senescent” or dies. So telomeres also have been compared with a bomb fuse.

Generally however, Cell division is needed so you can grow new skin, blood, bone and other cells when needed (cells can normally divide up to 50-70 times). Without telomeres, chromosome ends could fuse together leaving broken DNA which is dangerous as a cell has the ability to sense and repair chromosome damage. Without telomeres, the ends of chromosomes would look like broken DNA, and the cell would try to fix something that wasn’t broken. That also would make them stop dividing and eventually die.

While telomere shortening has been linked to the aging process, it is not yet agreed whether shorter telomeres are just a sign of ageing or actually contribute to ageing. Still, there is a lot of research going on into ways to preserve telomeres and also into what causes telomeres to shorten; which is where this latest research has come in.

Previous research has already shown that oxidation and inflammation accelerate telomere shortening. In this study of 550 people, patients with recurring depression were compared to “healthy” people. Telomere length was measured to see if something about depression might be affecting telomeres and therefore shortening life.

The results showed that among depressed people telomere length in white blood cells was significantly shorter than among the healthy group. The researchers also observed that depressed people tend to have disrupted control of cortisol, the stress hormone. It seems that cortisol might be shortening telomeres.

The inference of these findings is that depressed people tend to experience more stress, have higher cortisol levels, have shorter telomeres, and therefore are more likely to die from any cause.

If stress is becoming a problem in your life, it may be causing you more damage than previously thought. We have developed stress management programs to effectively support nervous system functioning, so talk to your Practitioner or click here for more information. And in the meantime, remember to not stress about the small stuff. Because, really, it’s mostly all small stuff.