Does Stress Really Shorten Your Telomeres?

It is commonly believed that a stressful lifestyle leads to an early grave, but does stress really leave a mark on your DNA?

An active. challenging lifestyle is probably better for your wellbeing than lazing on the sofa every day, but a life heavy with concerns and stresses can take its toll - or at least that's what we're told.

Telomeres again

Telomere length isn't a perfect biomarker of age, but shorter telomeres have been associated with age-related disease and mortality. We all start off with different lengths which makes comparison tricky, but your telomere length remain one of the best aging biomarkers to date.

Stress has been implicated in a number of studies as a strong marker of disease risk and premature aging, and previous research on mice has uncovered that the stress hormone catecholamine can damage chromosome, so many scientists theorised that stress might also affect telomere integrity too. This is what the latest, large meta-analysis attempted to find out.

Every time a cell divides, a section of the telomere caps is eroded. Stem cells can repair some of this damage, but not perfectly

What did the meta-analysis discover?

The analysis included data from 22 early studies and over 8,700 people, all of which measured telomere length in comparison to answers to a stress questionnaire. The data included many different subjects from varied backgrounds and situations, ranging from those dealing with domestic abuse to affluent high fliers.

Surprisingly, they failed to find a significant correlation

There was a small relationship between the two, but it was not statistically significant, which suggests there is little to no influence. While the analysis included studies based on questions and many people may have answered untruthfully, it goes against the traditional dogma surrounding stress.

Not the whole story

This is an intriguing finding, but it doesn't reveal the greater picture. The meta-analysis focused on short term stress and did not clearly test the effect of long-term exposure. While some studies included people who had been exposed to adversity for a long period, the set up did not differentiate between short and long term stressors. This raises the question of whether long term stress could still result in telomeric loss.

The other point here is that while telomere loss is certainly an aspect of aging, there are many other important factors at play. It could well be that stress wreaks damage in other ways that result in accelerated aging, so the debate is far from settled.

Read more at MedicalXpress