Monday, April 02, 2012

Elissa Epel - Emotions Stress and Rate of Telomere Shortening: Are Our Cells Listening to Us?

From UCTV,  a lecture on the role of stress and emotions in cell damage (telomere shortening). Research has shown that middle-aged people who were physically active have longer telomere's than their couch-potato peers - in fact, they have the telomeres of much younger people.

A more recent study looked at telomere length in people who are depressed and who suffer chronic stress - "telomere lengths were shortest for both depressed and healthy participants who were showing chronic stress." The culprit is likely cortisol, since both stress and depression are associated with impaired cortisol function.

More below the video.

Does stress speed up the aging process at a genetic level? Our cells are constantly aging. When a cell divides some telomere is lost, but if it becomes too short, that cell can no longer replicate and eventually dies. Elissa Epel, UCSF department of psychiatry, explores the affects of stress and emotions on the process of telomere shortening. Series: "UCSF Osher Mini Medical School for the Public" [4/2012]
This brief article is from at the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine.

Stress, Depression, and Telomeres: A Brain Health Update

One way to measure how much age has fatigued an individual is to measure the length of their telomeres.

Since telomeres naturally shorten with time many researchers use telomere length to determine cell age, and give a picture of overall brain health

What are telomeres?

They act as protective caps on the end of chromosomes to keep them from deteriorating. When cells replicate (think aging), telomeres are cut and become increasingly shorter. If the telomere becomes too short, it dies or at the very least, becomes dormant.
bike riding for brain health

I reported last year that researchers had found that middle-aged people who were physically active not only had higher aerobic capacities, but also longer telomeres than those who were sedentary.  They had telomere lengths that were similar to people much younger than they were.

This is compared to people who were middle-aged and sedentary. Their telomeres were about 40% shorter, on average than those of younger folks.

Now a new study in the journal Biological Psychiatry looked at the role of stress and depression on telomere length.

Karl-Fredrik Norrback, PhD and his colleagues at Umeå University (Sweden) took 91 patients with recurrent depression and 451 healthy controls.

Telomere length and stress levels were measured. They measured stress in two ways: cortisol levels were measured and participants also completed a questionnaire on stress.

The findings?  Telomere lengths were shortest for both depressed and healthy participants who were showing chronic stress.

Many of the depressed participants exhibited disturbed cortisol regulation, which may explain why they had a higher overall probability of having shorter telomere lengths.

Stress and depression are frequently linked by researchers, including Norrback and his crew, as are depression and shortened telomeres.

This current research adds to the results of earlier research linking depression and shorter telomere lengths.

Depression and stress are two things that can help derail brain health, and actually, some day soon, researchers will be studying the relationship between depression, telemere length and lifespan.
And when they do, I’ll be here at this blog telling you about it.

But depression and stress certainly aren’t the only factors that hurt the brain.  We know now that our brains can change, for better or worse, by what we eat, how we think, and what we do (or don’t do).

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