Have you ever wondered why it is said that worrying gives us grey hair? So have scientists, who have gone about trying to understand the connection between ageing and stress. With They have found that phobic anxiety reduces the length of chromosome ends, called telomeres.
The Ends of Our DNA May Determine How We Age
Telomeric regions of the chromosome don’t contain any genes. They are simply buffer regions at the ends of chromosomes that help maintain genome stability. Every time a cell divides, the telomeric regions of the chromosomes are shortened by a little bit. They just protect functional genes from being degraded. However, critically short telomeres lead to DNA damage, and short telomeres have been linked to cancers and several age-related diseases, including dementia . Telomeric shortening is thus one of the factors implicated in the ageing process.
Researchers at the Brigham’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Boston measured relative telomere lengths from white blood cells of women who had been identified on an index estimating phobic anxiety levels. This index covers ‘fear disorders’, i.e., when a feeling of intense fear is set off by a single stimulus or a small set of stimuli, for instance, panic and claustrophobia. The difference in telomere lengths between unaffected women and women who were phobic was equivalent to a difference of 6 years in age. Putting it differently, phobias can make your telomeres look 6 years older (and that much more shorter).
Could Shorter Telomeres Cause Anxiety?
However, the lead investigator in this research, Dr. Olivia Okereke, refused to rule out the reverse possibility that shorter telomeres could lead to anxiety. Which came first, shorter telomeres, or phobic anxiety? Understanding the molecular basis of this association is the key to obtain more insight into the cause-effect nature of this correlation.