A Lonely Short Life

Telomeres are found at the ends of chromosomes that protect DNA (think of the plastic caps at the ends of shoelaces). Telomeres shorten during normal cell division, but if they get too short chromosomes get damaged, cells stop dividing, and our ability to repair tissue is inhibited.  Numerous studies have found that short telomeres are associated with older cells and an increased risk of disease, and longer telomeres with younger cells and a higher resistance to disease.  One analysis of skeletal muscle from a 90-year-old man revealed that only 5% of his DNA was full length, while that of a five-year-old boy was almost completely intact.

The exact cause of telomere shortening is still up for debate, but the leading hypothesis points to chronic stress.  Interestingly, two recent studies suggest that both a stressful home environment and social isolation can impact our telomere length (and thus our longevity). Researchers in the journal PNAS found shorter telomeres in boys from poor and unstable homes compared to those raised in nurturing homes. In fact, telomeres were:

  • 19% shorter in boys from a harsh home environments vs. those from advantaged backgrounds
  • 32% longer in boys whose mothers had a high-schools diploma vs. mothers who didn’t finish highschool
  • 40% longer in children from stable families compared to those who had experienced many changes in their family structure (remarried, multiple partners, etc)

In another recent study, from the journal PLoS One, researchers looked at the affect of social isolation on telomere length.  Single-housed African grey birds had significantly shorter telomeres than those living in shared cages. Understandably, these are birds not humans.  Although past research showed similar shortening with social isolation on telomere length, and it’s hard to argue that loneliness is a health supporting situation.

Morals of the story:

  1. Get out of the house to seek pleasurable human interaction
  2. Get out of the house to avoid unpleasurable human interaction

Stay Lean (and Live Long)!
Coach Mike


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