Stress can shorten telomeres

Living things are made up of cells, and cells are controlled by a molecule called DNA. In cells, DNA forms structures called chromosomes. Humans have 23 pairs (total of 46) of chromosomes – you get 23 from your Mum and 23 from your Dad. Chromosomes look like this:

chromosome.gif

They have a centromere in the middle and telomeres on the end. The interesting thing about telomeres is that they play an important role in ageing. As you get older your chromosomes get shorter and shorter because every time your cells replicate they lose a little bit of telomere at the ends.

telomere_length.gif

When they get too short, the cell can no longer divide and it dies. And I suppose when all the telomeres in all of your cells get too short you’re in trouble!

A long-term study of children from Romanian orphanages suggests that the effects of childhood stress could be visible in their DNA as they grow up.

Children who spent their early years in state-run Romanian orphanages have shorter telomeres than children who grew up in foster care. And I suppose shorter telomeres means shorter lives. Read more here.

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