First Sister Study Results Reinforce the Importance of Healthy Living
Women who maintain a healthy weight and who have lower perceived stress may be less likely to have chromosome changes associated with aging than obese and stressed women, according to a pilot study that was part of the Sister Study.
Balintfy: The long-term Sister Study is looking at the environmental and genetic characteristics of women whose sisters had breast cancer. The study hopes to identify factors associated with developing breast cancer. But two recent papers show that factors such as obesity and perceived stress may accelerate the aging process.
Sandler: So our study was focused on a marker called telomere length.
Balintfy: Dr. Dale Sandler is chief of the Epidemiology Branch at the National Institute of Environment Health Sciences and principal investigator of the Sister Study.
Sandler: This study was a pilot effort to help us better understand the relationships between these various factors that have been linked to breast cancer risk and some biological markers of genetic changes.
Balintfy: She explains that telomeres are the repeating DNA sequences at the ends of a person's chromosomes.
Sandler: These telomeres, these caps at the end of the chromosomes, get shorter and shorter. And at some point, they get so short that the chromosome dies. The shortening of the telomeres with age can also be associated with changes in the genes, so the genes are no longer protected.
Balintfy: Dr. Sandler adds that while there is concern that shortening telomeres might also be associated with increased risk for cancer, her study was focused on the changes associated with obesity and perceived stress.
Sandler: What we found is that women who have good coping skills, even though they have high stress, and women who maintain a healthy weight over their lifetime, do not show the same level of changes in their telomere length than women who are obese for their entire life or who have a higher level of stress.
Balintfy: This research, combined with other studies, suggests that lifelong obesity and stress may be associated with an acceleration of the aging process.
Sandler: And that's consistent with other studies that have shown that chronic stress is associated with shorter telomeres or that shorter telomeres are associated with an increased risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease.
Balintfy: Dr. Sandler emphasized that this is a small pilot study, and although consistent with other reports in the literature, it is preliminary. These are some of the first findings coming out of the Sister Study, which is just completing its enrollment of 50,000 women aged 35-74. For more on these results, visit www.niehs.nih.gov. For more about the Sister Study, visit www.sisterstudy.org. This is Joe Balintfy, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Joe Balintfy
Sound Bite: Dr. Dale Sandler
Topic: sister, women, weight, stress, aging, obesity, breast, cancer