July 17, 2012

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Great. A new study suggests that anxiety—an emotion we already don't love because of that awful impending-doom way it makes us feel—may also speed up aging.

How did researchers discover this potentially anxiety-provoking info? They took blood samples from more than 5,000 women aged 42 to 69 and measured the length of tiny pieces of DNA called telomeres. Telomeres are "caps" of DNA which sit at the ends of chromosomes like the plastic tips that cover the ends of your shoelaces.

Telomeres get a bit shorter each time a cell divides, and shorter telomeres in general have been linked to a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, and earlier death.

Women with acrophobia, agoraphobia, arachnophobia, cynophobia (fear of dogs), or any other phobic anxiety had shorter telomeres than their more anxiety-free peers. In fact, the length of the telomeres suggested that the anxious women were about six years older—in terms of their DNA--than other women in the study, which was published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Researcher Olivia Okereke, MD, of the psychiatry department at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston said in a statement that the study "is notable for showing a connection between a common form of psychological stress—phobic anxiety—and a plausible mechanism for premature aging."

So in other words they can't say with 100% certainty that mental stress actually caused the more rapid aging. But if you need yet another reason to cut back on stress, you've now got one.

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