The Primal Mind

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Maternal Stress Shortens Fetal Telomeres and Programs Aging and Disease In Utero

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by Bruce Wilson

Maternal stress during pregnancy is associated with shorter telomeres in newborns, according to researchers at the Universities of California at Irvine and San Francisco, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Telomeres are short strands of DNA at the end of each chromosome that protect the chromosomes from deterioration or from fusing with other chromosomes. After each cell division, the telomeres become shortened and an enzyme known as telomerase adds more DNA to keep the telomeres intact. But over time, the telomeres reach a critical short length and the cell ages and dies. For this reason, telomere length has long been established as a marker for human aging – the shorter the telomeres, the earlier you will die.

Studies in the past few years have shown that the telomeres are far more than a marker for aging; they also mediate epigenetic changes, preserve the overall structure of chromatin (the DNA and proteins in the cell nucleus), and regulate gene expression. In effect, the telomere/telomerase system is one of the major mediators of health and disease throughout the lifespan.

A number of landmark studies have shown that psychological stress in adults is associated with shortening of the telomeres and accelerated aging. More recently, Sonja Entringer, Elissa Epel, and colleagues demonstrated that maternal psychological stress during pregnancy correlates with shorter telomeres in young adulthood. [1] Now they’ve gone one step further to show that telomere shortening occurs in the fetus when the mother is psychologically stressed. [2] By measuring telomere length in leukocytes taken from the cord blood and assessing the mother’s stress during her pregnancy, they were able to correlate the length of the telomeres with the degree of stress experienced by the mothers. In the words of the authors, “it is plausible that in utero telomere biology represents a molecular mechanism whereby stress exposure in this critical period before birth can impact aging and subsequent disease susceptibility over the lifespan.”

Short telomeres are also sign of oxidative stress in the womb, whether caused by maternal psychological stress or other stressors. In other words, womb stress causes senescence of fetal and placental tissues which can trigger preterm birth. One group at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston correlated short fetal leukocyte telomere length with preterm prelabor rupture of the membranes and characterized the phenomenon as a “placental membrane disease likely mediated by oxidative stress-induced senescence.” [3]

Findings like this emphasize how important it is to reduce maternal stress during pregnancy and especially in the critical period before birth. Once the telomeres are shortened, the damage is done, although there have been promising attempts to stimulate telomerase activity in adults through mindfulness meditation and lifestyle factors such as a healthy diet and nurturing relationships. [4]

However, even if such efforts are proved to reduce negative effects of stress from the primal period, it is obviously much better to prevent that damage in the first place, especially since problems in early stages of development might easily lead to a cascade of further harmful consequences.

References

1. Entringer S, Epel ES, Kumsta R, et al. Stress exposure in intrauterine life is associated with shorter telomere length in young adulthood. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011;108(33):E513-8.

2. Entringer S, Epel ES, Lin J, et al. Maternal psychosocial stress during pregnancy is associated with newborn leukocyte telomere length. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2013;208(2):134.e1-7.

3. Menon R, Yu J, Basanta-Henry P, et al. Short fetal leukocyte telomere length and preterm prelabor rupture of the membranes. PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31136.

4. Daubenmier J, Lin J, Blackburn E, et al. Changes in stress, eating, and metabolic factors are related to changes in telomerase activity in a randomized mindfulness intervention pilot study. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012;37(7):917-28.

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Written by theprimalmind.com

March 2nd, 2013 at 2:07 pm

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One Response to 'Maternal Stress Shortens Fetal Telomeres and Programs Aging and Disease In Utero'

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  1. The success of a project depends on the extent to which it is adopted by others.

    I agree with Art Janov when he says “Life Before Birth” is his best book. It contains unique patient stories that are followed up with experienced and knowledgeable neurological and psychological explanations. The cases are typical examples of what happens to our lives if we do not get our parent’s unconditional love and care during pregnancy, birth and the vulnerable first years.

    More and more research shows the epigenetic changes that may affect a fetus with a mother suffering from stress during pregnancy. Bruce Wilson reports e.g. in an article: “Maternal Stress Shortens Fetal Telomeres and Programs Aging and Disease In Utero” the following:

    “Telomeres are short strands of DNA at the end of each chromosome that protect the chromosomes from deterioration or from fusing with other chromosomes. After each cell division, the telomeres become shortened, and an enzyme known as telomerase adds more DNA to keep the telomeres intact. But over time, the telomeres reach a critical short length and the cell ages and dies. For this reason, telomere length has long been established as a marker for human aging – the shorter the telomeres, the earlier you will die.

    Studies in the past few years have shown that the telomeres are far more than a marker for aging; they also mediate epigenetic changes, preserve the overall structure of chromatin (the DNA and proteins in the cell nucleus) and regulate gene expression. In effect, the telomere / telomerase system is one of the major mediators of health and disease throughout the life span.”

    If stress during the primal period is a fact we know that the health during our lifespan, prematurely, is at stake. When mental and/or physical diseases occur, most of the treatment we have to look forward to is one that is dealing with symptoms. To cure the original imprints of before birth is a unique possibility that require resources in terms of expertise, money and time, which only in rare and exceptional cases can be mobilized.

    I have for 40 years been part of a project with Primal Therapy. This has meant that through a unique method and guidance, I have been able to re-live the feelings of a brutal, traumatic birth process that led to that I developed epilepsy. As an adult, after a complicated, very costly and long lasting process with total dedication, I could eventually demystify my epilepsy, my suicidal feelings, my allergies and my neuroses. My life became normal, and my personality changed, and I could live without being chased by my pain propelled needs.

    My experiences with positive changes including Primal Therapy led me to think that many more should be able to resolve anxiety and pain-related neuroses by re-living pain. However, as the years and decades have passed, I have realized that the euphoric hope that “The Primal Scream” once brought to cure mental afflictions have decreased dramatically. The requirements to be cured has proven so exorbitant that very few of the, often rightly criticized psychological and therapeutical corps, have adopted the principles of “Evolution in Reverse.” They continue to treat the symptoms with more or less short-term solutions / quick fixes.

    Simone de Beauvoir’s old truth: “The success of our projects depends on the extent to which they are adopted by others”, also applies to Primal Therapy.

    Jan Johnsson

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