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40 m a s s a g e & b o d y w o r k j a n u a r y / f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0 FUNCTIONAL ANATOMY education Bodyworkers and health practitioners are aware of the importance of stress management for health and disease prevention; however, it can be challenging to articulate exactly why this is true—and how specific modalities and behaviors contribute to both. Fortunately, researchers are finding specific mechanisms to assess health on a cellular level and the effects of acute and chronic stress on those mechanisms. This serves as an effective foundation for communicating the importance of developing tools to regularly manage stress and how our work contributes to that end. TELOMERES AND TELOMERASE In 2009, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider, and Jack W. Szostak for their discovery of the protective function of telomeres and telomerase on chromosomes. They had unraveled the mystery of how cells are able to successfully replicate over Chronic Stress, Cellular Function, and Longevity By Christy Cael and over without losing chromosomal stability during the replication process. The researchers discovered a protective "cap" at the ends of chromosomes made up of DNA-protein complexes. These caps, or telomeres, protect the fragile ends of the DNA strands and prevent loss of genetic information during the replication process. Each time a cell replicates, the end of the sequence is lost and must be "filled in" or completed by a section or sections of the telomere. Each time that end replication problem is corrected by the telomere, a small section of the telomeric sequence is lost. This results in a measurable shortening of the telomere until it becomes critically short and the cell can no longer replicate fully. Telomere length can therefore be utilized as a reliable measure of a cell's biological "age" with the potential for further cell division diminishing as the telomere shortens. In addition to telomeres, researchers also identified an important enzyme that supports the function and longevity of the telomeres. Telomerase extends telomere DNA and provides a platform for replication that copies the entire length of the chromosome and counteracts telomere shortening. By helping maintain telomere length, telomerase promotes cell longevity, allowing the cell to continue replicating without loss of genetic information. CHRONIC STRESS, AGING, AND DISEASE Once they unraveled the mystery of how cells are able to successfully replicate, researchers sought to understand factors that impact a cell's biological age and the implications for human health and disease. They noted that telomere length and telomerase activity both decrease with chronological age. Additionally, they noted that shortened telomeres and decreased telomerase activity predicted risk factors for cardiovascular and other chronic, age-related diseases independent of chronological age. Further investigation revealed a direct correlation between telomere length, telomerase activity, oxidative stress, and specific hormonal changes in the body. Decreased telomere length directly correlated to elevated levels of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. Stress hormones have specific effects on the body, including: • Decreasing insulin sensitivity • Increasing blood pressure • Increasing blood sugar • Narrowing arteries These are normal responses that ensure the body has enough energy to cope with a perceived threat. Proper recognition of, and response to, stress is essential to survival, but when excessive and particularly prolonged, these stress responses can negatively impact cellular longevity and organismal health. Health consequences associated with prolonged stress responses include: • Arterial damage • Atherosclerosis

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