People under 'mild stress' as children live LONGER, study finds

Surprising study finds mild stress in childhood may extend lifespan by making kids ’resistant’ to challenges

  • Researchers looked at oxidative stress, an imbalance between radical molecules and antioxidants, in roundworms
  • Oxidative stress occurs during aging but can also occur from diets and exercise
  • Worms that produced more oxidants during development lived longer than worms that made fewer
  • Scientists theorize that early-life stress may make us better able to fight stress later in life 

Dealing with some stress during childhood may actually be good for you, a new study suggests.

In research conducted on roundworms, scientists found worms that had more biological signs of struggle – measured via oxidative stress – during development had longer lifespans than worms that had less. 

Oxidative stress describes the harmful effects that free radicals (unstable molecules) have on the body. 

It happens naturally over our lifetimes as we age, but ‘mild’ oxidative stress can also result from day-to-day activities that put strain on the body, like dieting and exercising. 

Experiencing early-life stress may make children more ’resistant’ to, or better able to face, challenges later in life.

The University of Michigan (U-Mich) team behind the latest study says creating a treatment that could induce oxidative stress at a young age could be the secret to warding off age-associated diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

A new study from the University of Michigan has found that roundworms that produced more radical molecules early in development lived longer than worms that produced fewer (file image)

‘If lifespan was determined solely by genes and environment, we would expect that genetically identical worms grown on the same petri dish would all drop dead at about the same time, but this is not at all what happens,’ said Dr Ursula Jakob, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at U-Mich.

‘Some worms live only three days while others are still happily moving around after 20 days.

‘The question then is: what is it, apart from genetics and environment, that is causing this big difference in lifespan?’  

For the study, published in the journal Nature, the team examined a type of roundworm known as C. elegans.

Researchers exposed the worms to reactive oxygen species (ROS), a form of free radicals that cause oxidative stress.  

ROS are known for creating oxidative damage as we age and are often what anti-aging creams claim to fight.  

The team found that worms that produced more ROS chemicals during development lived longer than those that produced fewer earlier in life.

When the whole population of worms was exposed to ROS during development, the average lifespan of the entire group rose.

‘Experiencing stress at this early point in life may make you better able to fight stress you might encounter later in life,’ said lead author Daphne Bazopoulou, a post-doctoral researchers at U-Mich.

For future research, the team plans to examine what triggers oxidative stress during development. 

Making this discovery might allow scientists to combat age-related brain diseases before they have an ability to take hold.

‘The general idea that early life events have such profound, positive effects later in life is truly fascinating,’ Dr Jakob said.

‘Given the strong connection between stress, aging and age-related diseases, it is possible that early events in life might also affect the predisposition for age-associated diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.’   

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