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A. Researchers Reveal How Psychological Stress Affects Physiology

Narrator: This is Science Today. It's well known that chronic, psychological stress can take its toll on the body, but the exact mechanisms involved were not established. Now, University of California, San Francisco research has uncovered some crucial clues. Psychologist Elissa Epel, who led the study, says they focused on a DNA-protein complex called the telomere and the enzyme that protects and promotes the lengthening of telomere length.

Epel: The telomere length is this type of DNA that caps the ends of chromosomes, kind of like the cap on a shoelace that keeps it from unraveling. The telomeres are very sensitive and vulnerable to damage.

Narrator: To see if stress shortened the telomere, Epel studied mothers caring for disabled children, measured their perceptions of stress and drew blood samples to measure their telomere length.

Epel: The women in the highest stress group had lost the amount of DNA in their telomeres that we would expect one would lose due to the normal process of aging in a period of about thirteen years. And we think it was in part, due to the chronic stress that they were perceiving on a daily basis.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.