Most of us are well aware that stress dramatically heightens our susceptibility to contracting illnesses β both physical and psychological. Scientists have known about this link for decades, but have often struggled to describe the actual mechanics involved. But new research from the Ruhr-UniversitΓ€t Bochum (RUB) is now indicating that genetics may be a contributing factor β or more accurately epigenetics. It now appears that stress may actually contribute to the onset of diseases by changing our very genes.
Specifically, acute environmental stress has been shown to change the methylation of DNA, which in turn alters the activity of certain genes. Epigenetic information determines which genes are read and how they’re to be expressed (a kind of biological switch), and are often regulated by environmental factors. And as this new study indicates, it’s these stress-induced changes to genetic expression that are responsible for an increased risk of contracting mental or physical illnesses.
Meinlschmidt and his team concluded that stress increases the risk of physical or mental illness by means of epigenetic alterations. Consequently, they believe that a link may exist between stress and chronic diseases such as cancer and depression. As a result, the researchers are hoping to find more complex epigenetic stress patterns to determine the associated risk of disease in order to provide new information on new approaches to treatment and prevention.
The entire study can be read at Translational Psychiatry. See http://www.nature.com/tp/journal/v2/n8/full/tp201277a.html.
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