Stress Kills Right?

Stressed outEver since the emergence of the so-called Type A personality some 50 years ago, scientists have struggled to understand the relationship between stress, disease, and aging. We all kinda knew there had to be a relationship, but the data did not always bear it out.

All kinds of statistical machinations were needed to make things fit but eventually the problem was discovered to be lack of information. What we did not know and had a hard time measuring, falls under the realm of “psycho social interactions”.

Simply put, the resources a person has to deal with stress make all the difference in the world, more or less independent of the actual stressor.

Examples of positive stress modifiers include:

  • Meditation and other specific stress relievers (bio feedback, etc)
  • Economic status
  • Education status
  • Social Support
  • A Past History of chronic stressors

Still, it was very difficult to actually measure much. Questionnaires were subject to the memory and bias of the person filling out the questionnaire. You could measure end points like heart attack, cancer, dementia and so forth, but you really had a hard time fitting all of this into “dying before your time”.

Then along came the telomere, the biologic time clock that governs the actual lifespan of the cell and thus the organism to a large degree. Telomere measurements have advanced greatly in precision and accuracy with the best test being the Life Length HT-Q Fish assay developed by Maria Blasco.

Using precision testing allows us to make direct correlations between stress and biologic age.

Remember your biologic age is how many tick tocks are left on your clock and is often quite different than chronologic age – how many birthdays you’ve had.

Recently a large ethnically diverse study looked at telomere length in people recovering from heart attacks.  The study was adjusted for smoking, weight, age and other factors known to shorten telomeres.

Thus the numbers they generated were directly related to the level of social support a person had while recovering from a heart attack.  Social support in this context includes familial care givers, hired care givers, extended circles of friends, and community involvement (social organizations) either by the person or with the person (community outreach programs).

Now I am going to ask you to guess what they found.

In case you need a little help, here are some previous things that were associated with shorter telomere lengths.

  • Being the care giver of a chronically sick child or adult
  • Growing up in an orphanage
  • High levels of perceived stress

Ok, I hope you figured out that the lower the level of social support, the shorter the telomeres and the higher the likelihood of illness and death.

These factors are something you can modify and you are never too young to start. Keep your friends close, join at least one organization that allows you to socialize, consider volunteering in an outreach program so you can see firsthand what it’s like.

Oh yeah, it doesn’t hurt to be above average in the smarts and income department either.

In a very real way how you live your life and how you fulfill your potential impacts on how well you age!

Now, with the advent of HT-Q FISH telomere testing, you can “see how you are doing” in a very real sense and you have time to make the changes you need to live longer and healthier.


P.S. For more on Telomere Testing, visit

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