Monday, July 19, 2010

Stress, Telomeres and Health

Our chromosomes have protective sheaths and caps at their ends. These caps are known as telomeres and protect the ends of the chromosomes. An analogy is the little plastic ends on shoelaces. The length of these little caps has been found to indicate the health of our cells. Shortened caps are associated with advanced cellular aging.



Telomeres and the enzyme telomerase are responsible for protecting the chromosomes which take care of  the replication of our cells. Chromosomes which are unprotected are associated with cancer and other mutations of cells. Shortened or damaged telomeres have been found in women who are chronically stressed in caring roles (Epel, Blackburn & Lin 2004).

Researchers at University of California San Francisco (UCSF) were calling for volunteers to take part in a trial to look at the role of stress on telomere length and health. 

I volunteered, because I figured it would be a good thing to be part of this research looking at whether knowing the length of these cell replication protection units would be useful as a health  marker.  I got an email back today telling me they were fully subscribed for the study. Many women had responded to the newspaper article. I'm delighted that so many people saw the value in this research.  What really impressed me was the note the researcher included in her email.  She said and I quote:

"Just a side note --we can try to keep our telomeres healthy, without having to have them tested. To keep healthy  telomeres, it seems the same factors that protect the heart also protect the telomeres- regular vigorous activity, healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables (antioxidants from foods) and less processed meats, and to reduce stress, feeling socially connected and being mindful and relaxed when we can.  My own favorite stress buster is yoga.

With best regards,

Wanda Truong, Clinical Study Coordinator
Elissa Epel, PhD, Principal Investigator (head of the study)"
I was invited to reply if I was interested in being part of further studies and of course I am, so I replied and told them so.  I figure that if these researchers are suggesting ways to keep our telomeres healthy, then that's worth listening to!

By the way, Dr Elizabeth Blackburn has been seeking to find ways to enhance life as we age and her efforts led to her winning, along with two of her colleagues the 2009 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for the discovery of “how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.”


Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. by E. S. Epel, E. H. Blackburn & J. Lin, et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), 2004, 101(49)

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