Here is an interesting article on a scientific explanation of how stress may shorten lifespan and encourage diseases of aging. It focuses on telomeres, a name you probably remember vaguely from Biology classes and which determine lifespan in cells. The interesting connection is that stress hormones can interfere with the work of telomerase, causing problems in overall health.
I find this connection very interesting for its parallels in Chinese Medicine. The Chinese Diagnostic system says that stress blocks the free and easy flow of Qi (or energy) through the body. Where these blockages occur most densely, Blood can also be blocked -- often causing pain. Phelgm can accumulate -- causing adhesions or tumors. Over time, the body tissues are left unnourished and begin to fail in their functions. Heat can accumulate and begin to dry the tissues and burn away the body's Vital Essence (or Jing), leading to premature aging and the diseases of aging. This is a poetic description from doctors working thousands of years ago, and it sounds strange in our modern scientific culture, and, yet, to me it sounds much like a description of Telomeres shortening prematurely and millions of body cells failing in their function.
Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco have discovered an enzyme that plays a key role in normal cell function, as well as in cell aging and most cancers. It's called telomerase, and it produces tiny units of DNA that seal off the ends of chromosomes, which contain the body's genes.
The DNA units are called telomeres, and among other things they work to protect the quality of the gene, and how often a cell divides which determines the lifespan of the cells. What's exciting about this discovery is the notion that telomeres can be lengthened to prolong cell life — and along the way treat age-related diseases like blindness, cardiovascular problems and neurodegenerative disorders.
Looking at the situation from either perspective, the importance of stress control is clear. Whether you use exercise, acupuncture, meditation, herbs and supplements (including antioxidants and glutathione), or laughing with friends -- reducing stress can lead to a healthier and longer life.