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The Connection Between Disease and Stress

It's about time medicine acknowledged, once and for all, the connection between the psychological stress people feel and the negative effect it has on their bodies. Scientists at the University of California at San Francisco found that stress may exact its toll, in part, by affecting molecules believed to play a key role in cellular aging and, possibly, disease development.

Chronic stress appears to hasten the shriveling of the tips of the bundles of genes inside cells, which shortens their life span and speeds the body's deterioration, according to researchers who conducted a small study involving mothers caring for chronically ill children.

As expected, most women who cared for a chronically ill child reported that they were more stressed than women in the control group, though, as a group, their biological markers were not different from those of the controls. The length of caregiving was a critical factor, however.

The more years of care giving, the shorter the length of the telomeres (DNA-protein complexes that cap the ends of chromosomes and promote genetic stability), the lower the telomerase activity (that plays a critical role in determining the number of times a cell divides, its health and its life span), and the greater the oxidative stress (which causes DNA damage and has been shown to hasten the shortening of telomeres in cell cultures).

Perception was also a major factor. In fact, the telomeres of women with the highest perceived psychological stress had undergone the equivalent of approximately 10 years of additional aging. Moreover, the highest-stress group also had significantly decreased telomerase activity and higher oxidative stress than the lowest-stress group. The central issue here is that we are genes do not condemn us to diseases, emotional stresses can turn off or on our genes. Effective energy psychology tools like the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can help to regulate the expression of our genes.

EurekAlert November 29, 2004

MSNBC November 29, 2004

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