Loneliness can cause early aging
Several studies suggest that telomere shortening is accelerated by stress, but until now, no studies have examined the effects of social isolation on telomere shortening.
To test whether social isolation accelerates telomere shortening, Denise Aydinonat, a doctorate student at the Vetmeduni Vienna, conducted a study using DNA samples that she collected from African grey parrots during routine check-ups.
African greys are highly social birds, but they are often reared and kept in isolation from other parrots (even though such conditions are illegal in Austria).
She and her collaborators compared the telomere lengths of single birds versus pair-housed individuals with a broad range of ages (from 1 to 45 years).
Not surprisingly, the telomere lengths of older birds were shorter compared to younger birds, regardless of their housing.
However, the important finding of the study was that single-housed birds had shorter telomeres than pair-housed individuals of the same age group.
"Studies on humans suggest that people who have experienced high levels of social stress and deprivation have shorter telomeres," Dustin Penn from the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology at the Vetmeduni Vienna said.
He points out that this new finding suggests that both extremes of social conditions affect telomere attrition.
However, he also cautions "further 'longitudinal' studies, in which changes in telomeres of the same individuals over time, are needed to investigate the consequences of stress on telomere shortening and the subsequent effects on health and longevity."
Co-author, Franz Schwarzenberger from the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the Vetmeduni Vienna, points out that their results are exciting because they suggest, "telomere length may be useful as a 'biomarker' that enables to assess an individual's exposure to chronic social stress."
(Posted on 06-04-2014)