Do You Know Nutrition: How stress and nutrition go hand-in-hand

By Phylis Canion
Jan. 21, 2014 at midnight
Updated Jan. 20, 2014 at 7:21 p.m.

Phylis Canion

Phylis Canion

I have been under an undue amount of stress, and I can feel the effects of it. What is it about stress that can be so damaging to the body, and what kind of affect does it have on telomeres?

First, it is important to understand that stress is an experience when you feel overwhelmed by an event happening in your life that generates emotions that become difficult to handle.

When you become stressed, an alarm signals the hypothalamus in your brain to release hormones to stimulate part of your adrenal glands, which increases your blood sugar and reduces the efficiency of your immunity and reduces your allergic response.

Telomeres are protective caps at the end of human chromosomes. It is normal for the body to release stress hormones in stressful situations, but when the condition persists and the stress hormones are present in the bloodstream for a prolonged period of time, they can lead to shorter telomere length.

In the largest study of telomere length, 10 percent of people with the shortest telomeres were almost 25 percent more likely to die in three years than people with longer telomeres. What is not known is whether telomere length is a passive marker of health and aging or if it actively determines whether you will be susceptible to heart disease or illness, according to Dr. Catherine Schaefer, director of research on Genes at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif.

Aging can shorten telomeres as well as chemical food additives. Telomeres are like the little caps on the ends of shoelaces that prevent the laces from unraveling.

Reducing stress as well as avoiding food products that have wording stated on food labels such as natural flavors, flavor enhancers and all of those words that you cannot pronounce helps avoid the unraveling.

Look for foods that say non-genetically modified organism, no additives, no preservative and no hormones. In a study published in the Lancet Oncology, Dr. Dean Ornish found that healthy lifestyles inclusions of a low-fat, plant-based diet significantly increased telomerase activity.

While more research is being conducted on the effects of stress on aging and the role telomeres may play, one fact is known-reducing stress, changing lifestyles and eating healthy are all components to leading a healthy life.

Thought for the week: It is in the darkest moments when someone can experience a massive breakthrough.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant; email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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