Monday, July 02, 2007 07/02/07-Stress

In today's excerpt--the consequences of stress. Researchers are identifying an increasing number of ways in which stress causes irreversible physiological damage in people. In the example below, the effect is on DNA itself. The study involved women who were caretaking chronically ill children, though similar results would presumably be found in other instances of long-term stress:

"The toll of relentless stress also seems to strike the very DNA of caretakers, speeding the rate at which cells age and adding years to their biological age. ... [R]esearchers doing genetic studies in mothers caring for a chronically ill child found that the longer they had been so burdened, the more they had aged at the cellular level.

"The rate of aging was determined by measuring the length of telomeres on the mother's white blood cells. Telomeres are a piece of DNA at the end of a cell's chromosome that shrinks a bit each time the cell divides to duplicate itself. Cells reproduce repeatedly throughout their lifespan to repair tissue or, in the case of white blood cells, to fight disease. Somewhere after ten to fifty divisions (depending on the type of cell), the telomere becomes too short to replicate anymore, and the cell 'retires'--a genetic measure of loss of vitality.

"By this measure, the mothers caring for chronically ill children were, on average, ten years older biologically than others of their same chronological age. Among the exceptions were those women who, despite feeling overwhelmed in their lives, felt well supported by others. They had younger cells, even if they were caring for a disabled loved one."

Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence


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