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Rose E. Constantino, PhD, JD, RN

As we get older, we may look in the mirror and see our face gain a line or two. Some parts of our body lose their firmness. These are physical and observable signs of aging. However, deep inside our bodies, in our cells, there is another process of aging that can be measured. This is the length of telomeres. Telomeres are protective components of our DNA that stabilize the ends of our chromosomes and control cellular aging. Telomeres become shorter as we grow older.

Researchers are finding that aging may not be the only reason why telomeres become short. Other factors like chronic stress, trauma and experiences of violence or abuse could shorten telomere length. These also contribute to developing chronic conditions. Women who experience intimate partner violence (IPV) have a source of chronic stress. These people could be aging faster than women who do not experience IPV.

To understand this better, an exploratory study was done to examine the length of telomeres in DNA. There were two groups—women who had experienced chronic stress related to IPV and women who had not experienced the chronic stress of violence at any time in their lives. Dr. Janice Humphreys and other researchers found telomere length was significantly shorter in 61 women who experienced IPV compared with the 41 women who had not experienced violence. Also, how long women experienced IPV and having children were associated with telomere length after controlling for age and body mass index.

These results show us that it is important to take action to stop IPV before it becomes a source of chronic stress in our communities, homes, schools and workplaces. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, IPV affects millions of Americans each year. Nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men experience physical, emotional or sexual violence at some point in their lives. IPV affects people of all races and ethnicities. Research is needed to explore further if other chronic illnesses go along with telomeres’ shortening process in women experiencing IPV. For more information about this study, contact Dr. Rose Constantino at rco100@pitt.edu.

(Rose E. Constantino, PhD, JD, RN, is associate professor of health and community systems, University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, and Janice Humphreys, PhD, RN, is professor and associate dean for academic affairs, Duke School of Nursing. )


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