Posted on Dec 31, 2019, 3 p.m.
For all living organisms aging is inevitable, while it is still not fully understood why the body grows more decrepit, we are beginning to grasp how it occurs.
Recent research published in Ecology Letters shows that factors influence one of the most important aspects of the aging process at the fundamental level of our DNA, and suggests stress can cause our built in biochemical body clock of our chromosome to speed up.
DNA does not float freely in cell nuclei, rather it is organized into clumps of chromosomes; when a cell divides to produce a replica it has to make a copy of its DNA, during this process a tiny portion is always lost at one end of each DNA molecule. Telomeres are end caps on each chromosome that help to protect vital portions of DNA from being lost in the process, but they are gradually shortened during cell division.
Gradual telomere shortening acts as a cellular clock, with each replication they get shorter to eventually reach a point when they become too short which forces the cell into a programmed death process. Scientists are working to determine what this process that happens on a cellular level means to our mortality and if this telomere clock is counting down the time we have to live.
Cellular aging is one of the most important components of aging, the gradual deterioration of body tissues and irreversible death of cells are responsible for the most visible effects of aging such as loss of physical fitness, deterioration of connective tissues lending to wrinkles, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Answers to questions such as what are the factors that may speed up or slow down the loss of our telomere clock have thus far been incomplete. While some studies have suggested possible mechanisms such as infections or dedication of extra energy to reproduction as being possible accelerators for telomere shortening and speeding up the cellular aging process, the evidence has been characterized by unsystematic partial measures taken over time.
However, these factors all appear to have one thing in common, which is that they cause physiological stress. Our cells become stressed when their biochemical processes are disrupted, be it by either a lack of resources or for some other reason such as losing too much water may cause dehydration stress. Common types of stress also factor in such as tiredness and overworking putting us under chronic stress, as well does feeling anxious for extended periods of time; lack of sleep or emotional stress can also alter internal cellular pathways which includes telomere functioning.
Many studies look at the problem of stress and strain on telomeres in specific species such as mice, rats, fish, and bird species, this study authored by Marion Chatelain, Szymon M. Drobniak, and Marta Szulkin compiled the available evidence into a summary of existing knowledge across all vertebrate organisms that have been studied thus far. Findings suggest that telomere loss is profoundly impacted by stress, and that stress does speed up telomere loss and accelerate the internal cellular clock. The type of stress is also important, with the strongest negative impacts being caused by pathogen infections, competition for resources, and investment of energy into reproduction; other stressors such as poor diet, human disturbance or urban living also speed up cellular aging but to a lesser extent.
Oxidative stress was identified as a possible candidate as to why stress exerts a powerful influence on our cellular clocks: When cells are stressed it often manifests itself through accumulation of oxidising molecules such as free radicals which are chemically reactive molecules that can attack our protective telomere end caps. Analysis suggests that regardless of the type of stress, oxidative stress may be the biochemical process that links stress and telomere loss.
According to the authors, more research is needed to determine if their results mean that we should consume more antioxidants to combat the oxidative stress and guard our telomeres. They also note that this is not the secret to stop aging as it is too fundamental to biology to simple get rid of completely, but it does highlight that reducing stress will have great beneficial effects on our bodies.
In modern day society it may be impossible to completely escape all stress, but we can make decisions and take steps to reduce stress by ensuring we get enough sleep, drinking enough water, maintaining a healthy balanced diet, and not push ourselves too hard whether that be at work, home, or play. These steps won’t give you eternal life, but it will help to keep your cells functioning nicely and lead to a more practical Immortality Now.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.