Experiencing stress at this early point in life may make you better able to fight stress you might encounter later in life.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have published some fascinating news in the medical journal, Nature, stating that: “some stress at a young age could actually lead to a longer life”. Indeed, the scientists have shown that: “oxidative stress experienced early in life increases subsequent stress resistance later in life”. This could be good news for many of us, so let’s look into it further…
So What is Oxidative Stress?
This refers to an unhealthy imbalance between the antioxidants and free radicals in our bodies. Antioxidants are substances which can either stop, or slow down the damage to our cells that is generated by free radicals. The latter are: “oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons. The uneven number allows them to easily react with other molecules” , and when our cells generate more free radicals and oxidants than they can handle, it causes oxidative stress. And while this type of cellular stress forms part of the aging process, it can also be caused by stressful conditions such as heavy exercise, smoking, and environmental pollution.
A Look at the Research
Worms, which are frequently used for research purposes, were examined by the scientists during their developmental stage. For the purpose of the study, the entire population of juvenile worms were subjected to external reactive oxygen species (ROS) throughout their development, and to the surprise of the scientists: “the average lifespan of the entire population increased. Though the researchers don’t know yet what triggers the oxidative stress event during development, they were [however], able to determine what processes enhanced the lifespan of these worms”.
A well known professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, Ursula Jakob, noted: “If lifespan was determined solely by genes and environment, we would expect that genetically identical worms grown on the same petri dish would all drop dead at about the same time, but this is not at all what happens. Some worms live only three days while others are still happily moving around after 20 days. The question then is, what is it, apart from genetics and environment, that is causing this big difference in lifespan?”.
So What is Causing the Difference in Lifespan?
Together with Jakob, Daphne Bazopoulou, the lead author of the paper, and postdoctoral researcher, discovered one important piece of the puzzle when they realized that: “during development, C. elegans worms varied substantially in the amount of reactive oxygen species they produce”.
Jakob noted that: “the general idea that early life events have such profound, positive effects later in life is truly fascinating. Given the strong connection between stress, aging and age-related diseases, it is possible that early events in life might also affect the predisposition for age-associated diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s”. This is a potentially very important discovery, particularly at this time when Alzheimer’s and dementia are becoming so commonplace.