Since I've been in my 40s, I've heard this expression a lot: You're only as old as you feel. My standard answer? "In that case, I'm 87."
Now, research is suggesting that I could be right about fibromyalgia making me older than my years. In fact, chronic pain could be aging us prematurely, in a very real sense.
A new study suggests that a structure called a telomere, which is part of a chromosome, is shorter than it should be. Telomere length is considered a measure of biological aging, kind of like the rings of a tree. It's also linked to illness, but we don't know a lot about its relationship to chronic pain.
Researchers compared telomere lengths of people with fibromyalgia and healthy controls and found there wasn't a huge difference, overall. However, when they looked at the fibromyalgia participants who had higher pain levels, they found shorter telomeres than in controls or lower-pain patients. Participants who had high pain AND high depression levels had the shortest telomeres, with lengths suggesting they were six years older than their actual age.
Telomere shortness was also linked with low pain threshold and sensitivity, as well as with less gray matter in regions of the brain involved in pain processing. This kind of premature gray-matter loss has been linked to fibromyalgia by earlier research.
Researchers concluded that not only fibromyalgia, but chronic pain in general is linked to premature cellular aging and is therefore a more serious condition than has been recognized.
So what can we do about it? This study didn't get into that, but we know that we can protect cellular health, and perhaps slow aging, with antioxidants. Those are certain substances that help get rid of oxidation damage to your cells.
Learn more about antioxidants:
- What are Antioxidants? by About.com Nutrition Guide Shereen Jegtvig
- Antioxidant Foods, but About.com Alternative Medicine Guide Cathy Wong
Antioxidant supplements include:
Have you used antioxidant foods or supplements as a treatment? Has it helped? Leave your comments below!
Learn more or join the conversation!
Photo © Juan Silva/Getty Images