Is Some Stress Good for Kids?
Dec 13 2019 Read 1060 Times
According to new research from the University of Michigan, exposing roundworms to stress in the early years increases overall lifespan. The team focussed on the effects of oxidative stress, which occurs when cells produce an excess of oxidants and free radicals. Oxidative stress is a natural part of the ageing process, though it can also occur during the early years when the body encounters physiological stress or calorie restriction.
While oxidative stress can be disturbing at the time, researchers noted that in roundworms, it can strengthen stress resistance later in life. The findings were published in the journal Nature, with head researchers Ursula Jakob and Daphne Bazopoulou musing the same concept could apply to humans.
"Experiencing stress at this early point in life may make you better able to fight stress you might encounter later in life," says Bazopoulou.
Exploring the hidden effects of stochastic factors on lifespan
For Jakob, the research unlocks new insight into the effects of stochastic factors on overall lifespan. While genetics and environment do play a role, Jakob asserts that random factors such as stress are also important.
"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," she says. "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?"
Jakob and Bazopoulou tested the theory on roundworms, using oxidative stress as a stochastic factor. They found that juvenile worms producing higher levels of Reactive oxygen species (ROS) during the early stages of their lives enjoyed longer lifespans than their counterparts. This is because high levels of oxidative stress modify activity in the histone modifier. While the mechanics behind the process are unknown, the results indicate that oxidative stress could be beneficial to longevity.
A breakthrough for treating age-related diseases
Moving forward, Jakob predicts the study could help pioneer new treatments for diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's. "The general idea that early life events have such profound, positive effects later in life is truly fascinating," she says. "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 disease," Jakob said.
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