Phobic anxiety possibly speeds up the aging process
Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Medical School, Boston, find middle-aged and older women who have high levels of phobic anxiety such as arachnophobia; fear of spiders or agoraphobia; anxiety of being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult (or embarrassing) which includes being on a bridge or traveling by bus, are more likely to have a risk factor associated to premature aging.View slideshow: General anxiety disorder (GED) alternatives
Researchers conducted a cross-sectional study using blood samples from 5,243 women, age 42 to 69 years, who were part of the Nurse’s Health Study.
Using the blood samples researchers were able to determine telomere length of blood cells, along with self-reported questionnaires regarding phobic symptoms with questions such as Are you afraid of heights?
The results had shown that a high level of phobic anxiety was significantly associated to shorter telomeres.
The difference in telomere length between women with the highest levels of phobic anxiety compared to women with no phobic anxiety symptoms was equal to an additional six years of age.
These findings still remained after researchers had taken into account high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, heart disease and other major medical conditions.
Also found was that women with the highest phobic anxiety were in general less healthy in comparison to the lowest levels. The women with the highest levels were more likely to be smokers, have a higher BMI and less physically active.
Dr. Olivia Okereke, MD, MS, Neuropsychiatrist, Behavioral Neurology Clinic, Brigham and Women's Hospital & Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health & Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and author of study commented in a press release "Many people wonder about whether—and how—stress can make us age faster.” "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."
Dr. Okereke notes the findings of the study do not prove “which problem came first-the anxiety or shorter telomeres”.
According to researchers the finds do pave the way for further prospective investigations relating anxiety to telomere lengths.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health anxiety disorders affects around 40 million American adults age 18 and older.
Women are twice as likely to suffer from panic disorder or social phobias compared to men. Women are also three times more likely to have agoraphobia (fear of being in public places).
For information on generalized anxiety disorder can be viewed at the Mayo Clinic website.