Phobic anxiety or fear-related anxiety attacks are relatively common among middle-aged women. A new study suggests the condition may be associated with premature aging.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) discovered the condition is associated with shorter telomeres in middle-aged and older women — a biochemical status that implies cellular aging.
Telomeres are DNA-protein complexes at the ends of chromosomes. They protect chromosomes from deteriorating and guard the genetic information at the ends of chromosomes during cell division.
Scientists believe telomeres are markers of biological or cellular aging as shortened telomeres have been linked to increased risk of cancers, heart disease, dementia and mortality.
In the large, cross-sectional study, researchers obtained blood samples from 5,243 women, age 42 to 69 years, who were participants in the Nurses’ Health Study.
Telomere length was then analyzed as well as the participants’ concurrent self-reports regarding phobic symptoms determined by assessment with a validated questionnaire.
Investigators determined having a high phobic anxiety level was associated with significantly shorter telomere lengths.
Moreover, telomere lengths for women who were highly phobic were similar to what was seen in women six years older.
“Many people wonder about whether — and how — stress can make us age faster,” said Olivia Okereke, MD, MS, BWH Department of Psychiatry, study author.
“So, this study is notable for showing a connection between a common form of psychological stress — phobic anxiety — and a plausible mechanism for premature aging. However, this type of study design cannot prove cause-and-effect or which problem came first — the anxiety or shorter telomeres.”
The findings pave the way for further prospective investigations relating anxiety to telomere length change.
The study is published online in the journal PLoS ONE.
Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital