Click to view Stress runs down the body's immune system, which is why people with high-stress jobs or events in their lives are vulnerable to illness. Now a researcher at UCLA has discovered the link between emotional stress and physical damage — and she's going to develop a pill that will allow you to endure stress without the nasty side-effects. And there may also be one good side-effect: Extreme longevity.
It turns out that when you're under stress, your body releases more of the hormone cortisol, which stimulates that hyper-alert "fight or flight" reflex. While cortisol is good in small doses, over time it erodes the small caps at the end of your chromosomes known as telomeres (the little yellow dots at the end of those blue chromosomes in the picture). Many researchers have long suspected that telomeres would provide a key to longevity because they are quite large in young people and gradually shrink over time as cells divide.
Rita Effros, the researcher who led the UCLA study, believes that she can synthesize a pill that combats stress by putting more telomerase — the substance that builds telomeres — into the body. This would keep those telomeres large, even in the face of large amounts of cortisol. It might also make your body live a lot longer too.
Effros told Eurekalert:
When the body is under stress, it boosts production of cortisol to support a "fight or flight" response. If the hormone remains elevated in the bloodstream for long periods of time, though, it wears down the immune system. We are testing therapeutic ways of enhancing telomerase levels to help the immune system ward off cortisol's effect. If we're successful, one day a pill may exist to strengthen the immune system's ability to weather chronic emotional stress.
And, perhaps, to live much longer lives.
UCLA Study Identifies the Mechanism Behind the Mind-Body Connection [Eurkalert]