Posted by: Hourglass PJ23 JUN 2011
Telomeres are stretches of DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes, and thus the integrity of the genome. They have been the subject of an increasing number of research studies over the past two decades, mostly because of the finding that they shorten with ageing.
More recently, evidence has grown that shorter telomeres are associated with shorter lives and with a variety of age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease and several cancers. Studies have also associated smoking, obesity, physical inactivity and depression with decreased telomere length.
In 2004, Elizabeth Blackburn, the US biochemist who won the Nobel prize for her work with telomeres, and her colleagues demonstrated in healthy premenopausal women that psychological stress can also shorten telomeres. This work has now been taken one stage further with research presented at this year’s meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research showing that shortened telomeres can be rejuvenated using interventions to reduce stress and improve quality of life. According to the researchers, this finding suggests that telomere length should be included in the list of stress-associated biomarkers as a downstream consequence of chronic stress that can be altered by interventions that improve the stress response, such as exercise and counselling.
Such findings, if confirmed by further research, could prove important to patients suffering from cancer and other long-term conditions that are a significant source of stress.