Your DNA 'Ages' Faster from High Stress Levels, Study Finds

·1-min read
Photo credit: Luis Alvarez - Getty Images
Photo credit: Luis Alvarez - Getty Images

If you find yourself perpetually overwhelmed, let fresh research be your wake-up call: the more stress you experience in life, the faster your DNA ages, according to the American National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences – and the effects snowball as you age.

Scientists measured the telomere length of 647 participants aged between 35-years-old and 74-years-old and gave out questionnaires to determine how much stress each experienced in their life. Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of the strands of DNA. The longer your telomeres are, the more your cells can divide, and the longer your life expectancy is. (continued below)

The scientists also recorded participants' levels of adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol – three key hormones associated with the stress response – and published their findings in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. There's no question that stress causes molecular damage, most likely due to increased inflammatory reactions in the body.

Interestingly, the shortest telomeres were found in the group that reported the highest levels of stress and had a low concentration of cortisol. This is potentially because chronic stress – the long-term kind caused by debt worries, for example – damages the cortisol production system, known as the HPA-axis, which lowers levels over the long term.

That's not all. There's good or bad news, depending on your age. The genetic toll of high stress levels accelerate as you mature, intensifying the life-shortening effect from the age of 55 onwards. If you're young, your body can still repair the damage, researchers infer. Once you're heading towards your golden years, it's not possible to reverse the effects.

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