High phobic anxiety is related to lower leukocyte Telomere length in women

Olivia I. Okereke, Jennifer Prescott, Jason Y.Y. Wong, Jiali Han, Kathryn M. Rexrode, Immaculata de Vivo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

49 Scopus citations


Background: Chronic psychological distress has been linked to shorter telomeres, an indication of accelerated aging. Yet, little is known about relations of anxiety to telomeres. We examined whether a typically chronic form of anxiety - phobic anxiety - is related to telomere length. Methodology/Principal Findings: Relative telomere lengths (RTLs) in peripheral blood leukocytes were measured by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction among 5,243 women (aged 42-69 years) who: were participants in the Nurses' Health Study; were controls in prior case-control studies of telomeres and disease, or randomly selected healthy participants in a cognitive function sub-study; had completed the Crown-Crisp phobic index proximal to blood collection. Adjusted least-squares mean RTLs (z-scores) were calculated across phobic categories. Higher phobic anxiety was generally associated with lower RTLs (age-adjusted p-trend = 0.09); this association was similar after adjustment for confounders - paternal age-at-birth, smoking, body mass index (BMI) and physical activity (p-trend = 0.15). Notably, a threshold was identified. Among women with Crown-Crisp<6 points, the multivariable-adjusted least-squares mean RTL z-score = 0.02 standard units; however, among the most phobic women (Crown-Crisp≥6), the multivariable-adjusted least-squares mean RTL z-score = -0.09 standard units (mean difference = -0.10 standard units; p = 0.02). The magnitude of this difference was comparable to that for women 6 years apart in age. Finally, effect modification by BMI, smoking and paternal age was observed: associations were stronger among highly phobic women with BMI≥25 kg/m2, without smoking history, or born to fathers aged ≥40 years. Conclusions/Significance: In this large, cross-sectional study high phobic anxiety was associated with shorter telomeres. These results point toward prospective investigations relating anxiety to telomere length change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere40516
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 11 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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    Okereke, O. I., Prescott, J., Wong, J. Y. Y., Han, J., Rexrode, K. M., & de Vivo, I. (2012). High phobic anxiety is related to lower leukocyte Telomere length in women. PloS one, 7(7), [e40516]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0040516