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Pain – its causes, its cures, its meaning and its management takes up most of our waking hours at CH HQ and a not inconsiderable number of our sleeping hours too. A few days ago we put up a fairly lengthy post on pain science and the brain. One very well understood aspect of chronic pain is the negative role that stress plays in aggravating and maintaining the pain experience. In short less stress can mean less pain.
Less stress can also mean a longer life.
Telomeres are small sections of DNA that sit on the end of our chromosomes like little plastic shoelace caps. Their role is to stop the end of the chromosome from fraying. Each time a cell divides the telomeres get shorter and when they get too short the cell can no longer divide and it becomes inactive and dies. You don’t need to be a scientist to understand that cells dying isn’t a good thing. This process of cellular senescence is associated with ageing, cancer and an increased risk of premature death. In short, longer telomeres means a longer life – unless you get run over by a bus at which point telomere length becomes somewhat redundant.
Shortened telomeres have been found in a number of cancers including pancreatic, bone, prostate, lung, kidney, head and neck. So what’s stress got to do with it? It seems that the same factors associated with an increased risk of cancer development have also been associated with telomere shortening. The big four are – smoking, physical inactivity, a diet high in refined sugars and psychological stress.
Research has shown that lifestyle modifications – smoking cessation, meditation, yoga, exercise and dietary changes have the ability to increase telomerase activity (the key enzyme responsible for telomere lengthening) and hence telomere length. Considering that a 60 year old with short telomeres is three times more likely to die from heart disease and eight times more likely to die from infectious disease than his long telomered companion, wouldn’t you consider that a little lifestyle change is in order?