Cellular Health Impacted by Environment, Researchers Say

Researchers at University of Pittsburgh published a report today in PLOS One that indicates the quality of one’s environment directly impacts one’s cellular health.

cellular health“Strong evidence supports that living in disadvantaged neighborhoods has direct unfavorable impact on mental and physical health. However, whether it also has direct impact on cellular health is largely unknown. Thus we examined whether neighborhood quality was associated with leukocyte telomere length, an indicator of cellular aging.”

Telomeres, stretches of DNA found at the end of chromosomes, protect the DNA strands from damage. They become shorter each time the cell divides. It is believed that cellular aging occurs when the telomeres are too short to support DNA replication and cell division.

Telomere shortening can be accelerated with exposure to biological or psychological stresses such as cancer, anxiety and depression,” Dr. Park said.

Working with other researchers from Amsterdam, they assessed two dimensions of neighborhood quality: general appraisal of neighborhood and perceived neighborhood quality.

Where you live could make you old

They examined the telomere length of people living in neighborhoods which were determined to have perceived higher rates of disorder, fear, crime and noise. It was found that telomere lengths were significantly shorter when compared to those who lived in perceived better quality neighborhoods.

“Our team examined whether these environments also have a direct impact on cellular health. We found that indeed, biological aging processes could be influenced by socioeconomic conditions.” ~ Lead author Mijung Park, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N., assistant professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing.

“The differences in telomere length between the two groups were comparable to 12 years in chronological age,” Dr. Park said. “It’s possible that their cells are chronically activated in response to psychological and physiological stresses created by disadvantaged socioeconomic, political and emotional circumstances.”

This study has shown the importance of integrating research on social processes related to cellular health and cellular aging.

Learn more about cellular health >


“Where You Live May Make You Old: The Association between Perceived Poor Neighborhood Quality and Leukocyte Telomere Length” Mijung Park, Josine E. Verhoeven, Pim Cuiipers, Charles F. Reynolds III, Brenda W. J. H. Penninx, Published 17 June 2015. <http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0128460>.