Doctors have discovered that high levels of stress can damage genes, causing premature ageing.
The discovery was made by a team at the Western Infirmary in the course of measuring the impact stress can have on the body’s cells.
Dr Paul Shiels, who led the research team, said that many lifestyle factors, such as poverty, unemployment and poor diet caused stress-related DNA damage.
“General stresses, whether they be a disease stress or some other environmental stress, do seem to impact upon the rates at which your biological clock ticks,” he said.
The team found that blood taken from those under the greatest amount of stress, either psychologically or through illness, had shorter telomeres, structures which effectively hold chains of DNA together.
“Shorter telomeres are a marker that you have been predisposed to some sort of life stress or disease. Telomeres are associated with one biological clock mechanism,” Dr Shiels said.
He added that the root cause of the damage was how the human body burned fuel. “Stress, whatever type, changes how your body burns fuel and makes it function less cleanly and effectively and this breaks DNA, which hurts the body clock.”
Dr Shiels said it was not just those in poverty, but anyone with a lifestyle high in stress, with a poor diet and with long hours could be open to similar damage.
One of the areas of application is examining the reasons why people living in poverty age faster.
The researchers behind the study are now working with the Glasgow Centre for Population Health to understand why the stresses of poverty shorten life and cause ill health.