We all know that too much stress isn't healthy. Now, intriguing scientific evidence shows that chronic stress may accelerate aging in our immune cells.
Prof. Elissa Epel of University of California, San Francisco, may have found new evidence of how stress wears us down by making the immune cells in our bodies age prematurely.
Epel's team followed 58 mothers, 39 of whom were caring for a chronically ill child. Most of them reported higher stress levels than mothers with healthy children.
But when researchers looked at the DNA in their immune cells, they noticed a stunning finding. The telomeres, or biological clocks, in the cells of the chronically stressed women were much shorter, indicating they had aged prematurely.
"We were flabbergasted. It was something you couldn't have expected to find," Epel says.
"We found that in women with the highest stress, they were so short that the cells had aged 10 years more than in the other women. That's not a matter of normal aging but from stress."
The authors say "the exact mechanism that connect the mind and the cell are unknown." But they will now begin work to see if other types of cells are affected by stress.
The study is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.