Anticipation of Stressful Situations Accelerates Cellular Aging
The ability to anticipate future events allows us to plan and exert control over our lives, but it may also contribute to stress-related increased risk for the diseases of aging, according to a study by UCSF researchers.
The study involved 50 women, about half of them caring for relatives with dementia. Branco Weiss fellow Aoife O’Donovan and her team found that those most threatened by the anticipation of stressful tasks in the laboratory, specifically public speaking and solving math problems, looked older at the cellular level. The researchers assessed cellular age by measuring telomeres, which are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes. Short telomeres index older cellular age and are associated with increased risk for a host of chronic diseases of aging, including cancer, heart disease and stroke.
The researchers also found evidence that caregivers anticipated more threat than non-caregivers when told that they would be asked to perform the same public speaking and math tasks. This tendency to anticipate more threat put them at increased risk for short telomeres. Based on that, the researchers propose that higher levels of anticipated threat in daily life may promote cellular aging in chronically stressed individuals.
The study will be published in the May 2012 issue of the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.