Sunday, January 14, 2007

Stress And Heart Disease. It's Real.

That stress can have effect on your health is not in dispute. I see many patients in the office who request medications to relieve their stress. Some of these patients are so crippled by stress that you can see it on their faces and in their demeanor. The stress raises their blood pressure and affects their family and social relations. A study that appeared in the New Scientist shows that stress can have effects on the chromosomes by causing premature aging through its effect on the telomeres.

Telomeres are stubby strips of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes similar to the plastic tips on the end of shoe laces. They protect the ends and promote genetic stability. Each time a cell divides the telomeres shorten so the daughter cells have slightly shorter telomeres than their parents. However, in young people, telomerase, an enzyme, regenerates the ends and corrects the shortening. However, in older people, the telomeres shorten significantly and eventually their division stops.

Epel and her colleagues looked at the chromosomes of 2 groups of women. The first group had chronically sick children while the second group had normal children and hence had less stress. Women in both groups who had more stress had the shortest telomeres that represented nine to 17 years of cell ageing. Those that had been caring for a sick child the longest had worst outcome.

"I believe how we perceive the world can matter more than our objective reality. If we stress, it needs to be taken seriously because it may be embodied at the cellular level. Unfortunately, the longer the women were caregiving, the worse off they were."

In a recent article in the Lancet, a British medical journal,

"484 middle-age, high risk men, those with shorter leukocyte (white blood cell) derived telomeres had a 50% greater risk of coronary heart disease and might serve as a predictor of the disease."

If stress can shorten the telomere and a short telomere is a marker for heart disease, then it will appear that reducing stress may decrease heart disease and other age related diseases. Stress is part of life, however uncontrolled stress is harmful. We are lucky to have a Father who loves us and is our shepherd. Instead of downloading our problems on our shoulders we can upload it unto our shepherd to help us reduce stress, through meditation, creative visualization, prayers, church attendance and health maintenance strategies.

2 comments:

queenhunnyb said...

how about a career change as well to decrease stress?

Manny Essel, MD said...

QueenMD,
A carrier change can decrease stress in some instances. You however have to remember that every job has its stresses. You just have to come to grips with where you're now and learn to practice mindfulness . Remember that you don't have any guarantees in your next job. The only guarantee you have is what you have now. Once you are healthy, young, competent, a professional, well qualified, you should not worry. Because if one door closes another one opens. Therein lies the value of the practice of mindfulness because wherever you go the same problems will arise. It's how you deal with problems that make or break you.

I recommend the book the Power of Now. It stresses the importance of staying in the Now. It means just enjoy today and don't think about tomorrow or cling to yesterday, for tomorrow is not yours yet and yesterday is gone forever. I will leave the rest to you to explore. You have to practice this daily and meditate on it preferably twice a day until it becomes your nature. May these readings bring you "the peace of mind that passeth all understanding."