Can high levels of stress really make you age faster? That seems to be the case judging by all the gray hair President Obama has sprouted since his inauguration. Researchers, though, have more scientific ways to measure aging, using telomeres — the caps at the end of our cells’ chromosomes that protect DNA from damage. These caps shorten over time, and a new study suggests that a common form of anxiety is associated with shorter telomeres and perhaps an earlier risk of dying.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers looked at data from 5,200 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study and found that women with high levels of phobic anxiety — an exaggerated fear of crowds, heights, enclosed spaces, and certain social situations — had shorter telomeres on average compared with those of the same age who didn’t have this anxiety disorder.