Science and scientific experimentation are revealing that mental stress is causing changes to our DNA. There was a time when I heard the word DNA, or genetics, and was immediately turned off, because I didn't understand things about DNA. I want to break it down for all of you to understand some research about DNA in the simplest of words, and provide you with material to see on your own, as well.
At the end of the protein-bound DNA strand called a chromosome, there is a protective case that goes around the DNA and replicates. This repeating structure is called a telomere. With aging and throughout life, that telomere is lost, but is replenished and keeps replicating at the end of DNA for further life. This telomere shortens due to the inability of polymerase (an enzyme substance to help build DNA) to fully replicate the end of the DNA strand. Shortening of the telomere is a protective role, by limiting proliferating cells that have sustained DNA damage and are vulnerable to oncogenic transformation (turning into cancer cells.) Of course, this is a protective factor, but limiting and killing the telomeres can also be of consequence occurring un-naturally due to oxidative stress and inflammation. These stress factors can damage and can cause permanent loss of these telomeres during cellular division.
Similar to polymerase, telomerase is a substance that replenishes the lost telomere. Of course, as we age, telomeres will shorten as a natural part of aging, which is understood, because we do not live forever. Studies have shown that this shortening process can be speeded up due to factors associated with telomerase length and bio-behavioral events. What does this mean? Telomeres can shorten faster and not replenish, due too psychosocial, environmental, and behavior factors. Your behavior and psychosocial stress can cause changes in your telomere length. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4112289/
Stress and your mental attitude can be "learned" or what is called "chronic." With chronic mental stress or even physical stress, cortisol, a hormone secreted when an individual is under stress, can be overstimulated due to stress and over-secrete, or secret more often. Cortisol exposure in the body DECREASES telomerase and therefore the telomere dies, or causes pro-inflammatory effects to the body. (For all the RN's reading, you know what inflammation does to the body, wreaks havoc!) Large amounts of inflammation in the body increases disease and heath risks, but worse, increases aging!
Research and clinical trials on individuals with chronic psychological stress and even sleep quality and duration, have shown negative effects to the telomeres. High stress individuals have shown to have shorter telomeres, and decreased telomerase actions along with higher oxidative stress. (The sample in the experiment was small, but many other experiments at the same level have shown similar effects.) http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/10/chronic-stress.aspx
High mental stress can cause an increase in muscle tension. Chronic muscle tension over time can cause muscle atrophy (muscle cell breakdown) due to disuse of the muscle. This can lead to musculoskeletal conditions. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body.aspx
Not to mention, high chronic mental stress causes compulsive eating, especially sugary foods. This is because there is an increase of the reward response in the brain every time you eat a sugary substance when in mental stress. The same effects happen with drug use. So, to all of you that do not feel you are addicted to sugar, and that it is NOT a drug, please rethink. Especially when you are feeding it to children, because you are setting them up for addiction in the future. (hmm I feel another blog post soon)
When you think of how this society acts and goes about their everyday living activities compared to other European and Eastern societies, and their view on stress and how it is linked to disease, it really makes you think. Why are we so stressed out and so diseased?
It's time for you to seek what you need in your life to decrease mental and physical stress and take responsibility for decreasing disease in your body. You have more control over your body and its aging effects than you think. Practice relaxation techniques to decrease muscle tension and the health effects of stress in your body, and to increase a sense of well being in your body, instead.
Thank you for reading :)