Anxieties may spur premature aging

July 25, 2012

People beset by some sort of phobic anxiety - and 8 percent of Americans have at least one - may be more prone than others to faster biological aging and related health problems, a recent study suggests.

Boston - People beset by some sort of phobic anxiety - and 8 percent of Americans have at least one - may be more prone than others to faster biological aging and related health problems, a recent study suggests.

Researchers with Brigham and Women’s Hospital examined blood samples and survey results from 5,243 women ages 42 to 69 from the Nurses Health Study cohort. Women with the highest levels of phobic anxiety had biological markers similar to those of women who were six years older.

According to a blog report on ScientificAmerican.com, study investigators looked specifically at telomeres, the protective ends of chromosomes that keep genetic information from being lost during cell division. Telomeres shorten naturally, and scientists suspect shortening results from exposure to oxidative stress and inflammation. Shorter telomeres have been associated with a higher risk of heart disease, cancer and dementia.

Investigators suggested the study’s results demonstrate “a connection between a common form of psychological stress - phobic anxiety - and a plausible mechanism for premature aging,” ScientificAmerican.com reports.

Phobic anxieties, which are especially common in women, are treatable with therapy. If phobias do play a role in shortening telomeres, it might be possible to stave off premature aging and associated disease risks by treating those anxieties, the authors concluded.

The findings were published online in PLoS ONE.

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