September 24, 2013
Quit Stressing! You’re Chopping Off Your Chromosomes!
This is the scariest thing that you will read today. Every time your cells divide, the ends of your chromosomes get a little bit shorter. Why should you care? Well, your chromosomes contain your tightly coiled DNA. DNA runs the show. It is the master code. And, unfortunately, bits of this master code are being eroded away.
Before you get concerned, you should know that your body is aware of this problem. To counteract the issue, there are “caps” at the end of your chromosomes called telomeres. Telomeres are repeated sequences of nucleic acids that protect the important part of the code. They are often referred to as the “biological clocks” of cells.
To illustrate, pretend that all of the information in your genome is bound in a book. With each cell division, a page of the book is torn out. Initially, this would not be a problem. You would lose the publisher page, the author’s notes, etc. But, eventually you would damage crucial parts of the story. When those parts are damaged, the integrity of the story is compromised.
So, what can you do to preserve your molecular “story?” Well, researchers would argue that you should begin by minimizing stressors in life. Chronic stress has been repeatedly associated with faster telomere shortening.
You should strive to feel secure in your job and happy in your personal life. A recent study in Taiwan showed that people who were married with higher-paying jobs actually had longer telomeres than those who were single with lower-paying jobs.
Participants in the study were asked to fill out questionnaires that measured their mental health and neighborhood experiences. In addition to the questionnaires, their telomere length was measured using the quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). qPCR is useful when measuring the amount of a specific nucleic acid sequence in a sample of DNA. In this case, researchers were interested in the length of the remaining telomere sequences.
All participants were between ages 65-74. The researchers found that those with lower-paying jobs had significantly smaller telomeres in comparison with those working higher-paying jobs. Also, unmarried participants had shorter telomeres than those that were married. Due to stressors such as income or relationship status, some participants were experiencing accelerated cellular aging. They were, more or less, speeding up their “biological clock.”
Your body can tell when it is being overworked, even at a cellular level. A breakneck pace could lead to chromosome “nubs.” (Picture an eraser being worn down over time.) Chromosomes that are worn down cause the cells to begin degrading, which can have serious health consequences. Moral of the story, take care of yourself!
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