Rat empathy, stress and telomere shortening

It may seem strange to tie all of these seemingly dissimilar things together but bear with me and all will be revealed.

As you probably know by now rats share many things in common with people. Some people more than others! There are similarities in biochemistry, structure and yes, behavior – all of which makes rats a good model for studying humans. Rats even seem to have shorter telomeres and slower erosion than some other rodents, again making them a good model for studying aging.

So what does aging have to do with empathy?

Well in rats if you take litter mates and expose one to some stressor in the presence of a litter mate, the litter mate also develops a stress response. Do that enough and you start shortening the telomeres of both rats. The presumed mechanism is excess secretion of stress hormones and the eventual deregulation of the stress response. The hormones involved initially are epinephrine and norepinephrine but eventually cortisol gets into the act.

Just like people!

The strange thing is that, at least hormonally, the rats develop these responses that mirror what we would normally assign as a human trait: empathy.

Also just like people!

Several different studies have been done in human beings to show the correlation of stress and telomere length.  The most telling of these involve the shortening of telomeres in mothers of sick kids and those responsible for caring for an Alzheimer’s patient in the family.  The stress mechanisms are put in place big time with all of our hormonal friends from above, epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol, showing up in the blood and urine.

The suspicion is that these hormones increase oxidative stress at the cellular level, accelerating telomere loss and increasing the percentage of critically short telomeres.  The net result is premature aging!

Remember telomere loss is actually the sum of two very different processes.

The first is the cumulative total of what I simply call lifestyle – how you sleep, eat, exercise, deal with stress and how much toxin exposure you get.  To some degree you can control and escape some of these slings and arrows that are thrown at you.

You can modify your behavior, limit your exposures, make sensible eating, supplement and exercise choices and modify your risk of premature aging.

The second is cellular replication. And while you may be able to slow that down, you never escape it.

The only way you can slow it down or reverse it is by reducing the number of critically short telomeres you have and possibly adding some length to those telomeres. In effect you are slowing, stopping, or even reversing the aging process.

The only proven way to do this in humans is TA-65, which of course helps with all the lifestyle damage as well.

I don’t know how much you value your life or those of the ones you love. Only you can decide if you personally are worth the cost. But I do know this. Stress kills and if you are caring for a parent, a child, a wife or husband that needs you, you might want to think about that as well.

Stay healthy, happy and productive!


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