New research suggests that those suffering from psychological stress known as phobic anxiety may also be at risk of premature aging.
Scientists studied telomere lengths in 5,200 women between the ages of 42 and 69. Telomeres protect chromosomes from deteriorating, and shortened telomeres have been linked to a heightened risk of cancer, dementia, heart disease, and death.
Researchers at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital discovered that shorter telomeres in women were connected to phobic anxiety. The difference in telomere length was equivalent to adding six years of age.
Phobic anxiety disorders involve intense fear of common circumstances that do not affect others, such as agoraphobia (a fear of public places) or claustrophobia (a fear of closed spaces).
The study was published in the July 11 issue of the journal PLoS One, and states that phobic anxiety could be a possible cause of premature aging.
"Many people wonder about whether—and how—stress can make us age faster," said study author Olivia Okereke, MD, of the BWH department of psychiatry. "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."