Telomeres, Biology, and Psychology: 
The ties of chronic stress to disease, aging, and early death.

Go Beyond Psychology: Things every mental health professional needs to know:

Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, Molecular Biologist, Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology 2009 discusses how damaging chronic stress actually is and why it will age you faster, thus eventually killing you faster.

My son, Kyle Stangline, is a biochemistry and molecular biology major from the University of Georgia. Kyle is teaching me that I need to move beyond the scope of psychology and the brain and look at the entire body in order to properly help and treat my clientele.

In this series I call “Beyond Psychology” I will be relying on Kyle to educate me on the entire body concept starting at the cellular level. I hope you will join me as I delve head first in this exciting new world to learn more about new scientific discoveries and connect them to psychology.

The Life of the Telomeres and How it Affects Us

From Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell’s Ted Talk Presentation

Dr. Blackwell explains that we start out as one cell that multiplies to more than 200 million billion cells. Over our lifetime these cells divide thousands of times and each time the DNA in our chromosomes copies itself (basically it saves the instructions so the next cell can carry on). An example of this is the heart cell that keeps the heart beating, or the brain cell that retains memory.

Research over the past 20 years has shown that as we age our chromosomes ends (called telomeres: think of the ends of shoe laces) shorten each time our DNA is copied. The shorter your telomeres are the more old you look and feel. This is when disease sets in such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and heart disease. When your cells can’t divide anymore… you die. Therefore, keeping your telomere length is vital to your health, wellbeing, and longevity.

The next part of this research will astound all the mental health professionals out there! Dr. Blackwell started working with psychologist, Elissa Epel, who asked the question, “What happens to telomeres when people are under chronological and severe stress over time?” Now, we see psychology working with biology. This is so exciting!

Thousands of scientists and over 10,000 research papers concluded that chronic long term stress is bad for your telomere length leaving one susceptible to diseases that will cause increased aging and death. Examples of stressors mentioned in the “Ted Talk” are emotional stress, home violence, not feeling safe, and negative perceptions of situations. People who are caregivers for dementia patients, parents of special needs children, and people who live in violent homes or communities are at the highest risk for shorter telomeres.

However, the good news is that you can become more resilient and better maintain your telomere length. Basically, meditation for ten to fifteen minutes a day, a positive attitude, healthy friendships, and a long term marriage are no brainers for keeping the length of your telomeres. Dr. Blackwell also spoke of the importance of leaving a legacy and making a difference in the world in order to help others keep their telomeres longer too!

So, mental health professionals, what are you doing to keep your telomeres longer? What are you modeling to your clients? Are you taking daily walks in nature? Eating a more plant based diet? Leaving a legacy for the next generation? Investing in learning and curiosity? Are you helping, or hurting, with your thoughts, words, actions? I don’t know about you, but I am headed to a yoga class after work today.

 

To see the Ted Talk with Dr. Blackwell see the link below:

 https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_blackburn_the_science_of_cells_that_never_get_old

From Ted Talks Presentation: “Dr. Blackburn is the president of the Salk Institute and a pioneering molecular biologist. She received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for discovering the molecular nature of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that serve as protective caps essential for preserving genetic information, and for co-discovering telomerase, an enzyme that maintains telomere ends. Both telomeres and telomerase are thought to play central roles in aging and diseases such as cancer, and her work helped launch entire new fields of research in these areas.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Blackburn has received nearly every major scientific award including the Lasker, Gruber, and Gairdner prizes. She has served as president of the American Association of Cancer Research and the American Society for Cell Biology, and on editorial boards of scientific journals including Cell and Science. She coauthored the best-selling book The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer.

 

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