A recent study by the University of California, San Francisco, has found that stress causes the same changes in cells that are typically caused by aging:
study involved 39 women ages 20 to 50 who had experienced grinding
stress for years because they were caring for a child with a serious
chronic illness, and 19 other women with healthy children.
researchers examined structures inside cells called telomeres – the
caps at the ends of chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, telomeres
get shorter. In the natural aging process, the telomeres eventually get
so short that cells can no longer divide, and they die.
researchers also measured levels of an enzyme called telomerase, which
helps rebuild telomeres to stave off this process. Telomerase levels
naturally decline with age.
The researchers found that the
longer a woman had been caring for a sick child, the shorter her
telomeres, the lower her levels of telomerase, and the higher her
levels of "oxidative stress," in which so-called free radicals in the
body damage DNA, including telomeres.
Compared to women with
the lowest levels of perceived stress, women with the highest perceived
stress had telomeres equivalent to someone 10 years older, the
This is very interesting — it would also help to explain why meditation, yoga, and other activities that reduce stress may have an effect on slowing the aging process.