Traumatic life events affect cellular ageing in women of reproductive age
They tested the hypothesis that psychological challenges increase the age-related pace of biological ageing by measuring telomere attrition in a cohort of Kaqchikel Mayan women living in a population with a high frequency of child mortality. The women are part of an ongoing longitudinal study of the relationship between naturally occurring stress and women’s reproductive function. Genetic variability was reduced since the women were all Kaqchikel Mayan with at least five generations of traceable ancestors. Moreover, they had similar lifestyles in terms of diet, physical activity, education, and socioeconomic status, and none smoked.
Telomere length was quantified by qPCR of buccal specimens collected from 55 women in 2013, and HPAA activity was assessed by quantifying cortisol levels in first morning urinary specimens collected every other day for 7 weeks during that same year. Child mortality data were collected in 2000 and 2013.
Only women who experienced child mortality were found to have shorter telomere lengths with increasing age (p=0.015). Notably, shorter telomere length was linked to higher than average basal cortisol levels (p=0.007) as well as greater variations in basal cortisol levels over time (p=0.053). Nonparametric bootstrapping analyses indicated that HPAA activity mediated the effect of child mortality on telomere length.
The researchers suggested that more large-scale longitudinal studies are required to confirm their findings.