NAU Study: Cells May Age Faster If Your Spouse Isn’t Supportive

By Melissa Sevigny
Published: Friday, February 12, 2016 - 8:02am
Updated: Friday, February 19, 2016 - 11:28am
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The NAU study looked at telomere data for more than 1,000 married people over the age of 60.

New research from Northern Arizona University found signs of increased aging in the cells of married people who say they don’t receive emotional support from their spouse.

Telomeres are stretches of DNA that shorten every time a cell divides. Short telomeres indicate aging and they’re associated with stress and disease.

NAU psychologist Steven Barger looked at telomere data for more than 1,000 married people over the age of 60.

“Those who reported their spouse as a source of support had longer telomeres than those who did not report their spouse as a source of support,” he said.

Barger said the results surprised him. They suggest friends and family can’t make up for the lack of a supportive marriage.

“These are not people who lack support generally,” he said. “The people who did not nominate their spouse as a support source had other sources, yet they looked different on this marker of biological aging.”

Barger cautions the survey, designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, didn’t ask specific questions about marital relationships. He also says different age groups might give different results.

The paper appears in the March issue of Biological Psychology.

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