A team of researchers has found that severe emotional distress - like that caused by divorce, the loss of a job, or caring for an ill child or parent - may speed up the aging of the body's cells at the genetic level.via New York Times
The researchers found that blood cells from women who had spent many years caring for a disabled child were, genetically, about a decade older than those from peers who had much less caretaking experience. The study, which appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also suggests that the perception of being stressed can add years to a person's biological age.
And when the researchers compared the DNA of mothers caring for disabled children, they found a striking trend: after correcting for the effects of age, they calculated that the longer the women had taken care of their child, the shorter their telomere length, and the lower their telomerase activity. Some of the more experienced mothers were years older than their chronological age, as measured by their white blood cells.
The researchers also gave the women a questionnaire, asking them to rate on a three-point scale how overwhelmed they felt by daily life, and how often they were unable to control the important things in their lives. The women who perceived that they were under heavy stress also had significantly shortened telomeres, compared with those who felt more relaxed - whether they were raising a disabled child or not.
She said the group had plans to test the effect of meditation, mindfulness training and yoga on both perceived stress and telomere length.