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How one night stands could be leading you to an early grave

Aside from increasing exposure to gonorrhea, that is.

Firstly, apologies for the click-bait title. I just couldn't pass this one up. You'll see how it is relevant (and true) in just a couple of minutes.

Let me start with aging. One of my biggest fears is getting old and not being able to the things I like or take care of myself. So, naturally, immortality is an interesting topic for me. But, given that we are unknowingly far away from achieving that, the focus shifts to how I can avoid getting old for as long as I can.

It all starts with two cells that mate to form a zygote, of course. We all start off as a zygote, a single cell, before eventually growing into a monstrosity with billions of cells. The very monstrosity that we look at every morning in the mirror and think could be prettier.

We reach this stage because the zygote replicates into two cells which then replicate into four and so on and so on. This is a process that continues to occur throughout our lifetime.

Every time a cell replicates, the entire DNA is copied over to the new cell. At the end of our chromosomes in the DNA, we have something called telomeres. Now, after every replication, these telomeres don't remain exactly the way they were before the replication. The telomeres get shorter after every replication.

And eventually, the cells are no longer able to replicate. And this is how we age. Our skin wrinkles because the skin cells stop replicating. We are more prone to diseases and sickness because the cells in our immune system stop replicating.

So, now that we know how exactly we age, what can we do about it?

The immediate thought is to find a way to prevent the shortening of telomeres after every replication. And like we are so good at doing, we first look at the millions of other living beings on the planet to see if some of them have managed to find a way to do this.

Elizabeth Blackburn, a biologist, found just such a creature called tetrahymena (pond scum) and won a noble prize for it. Well, the noble prize was for more than just finding this creature. It was for explaining the mechanism that makes this creature immortal.

She found that the cells of tetrahymena have an enzyme called telomerase that ensure that when the cells replicate, the telomeres at the end of chromosomes aren't shortened. And voila, the tetrahymena never ages as a consequence and lives on forever. Until something else kills it or eats it, that is. What it doesn't have is a natural death brought upon by old age.

Now that's interesting, I thought. Maybe we're only a few years away before we start harvesting this enzyme or find a way to artificially manufacture it and then inject it into our own cells and we will be immortal too.

Not so simple, as it turns out.

We are all very familiar with what happens when our cells fail to stop replicating and begin multiplying out of control. Yes, it is called cancer.

And that is the downside of injecting telomerase. We drastically increase our chances of contracting cancer.

Given that this is a difficult proposition to go after, Elizabeth Blackburn took a deviation and began to study what causes telomeres to shorten at different speeds in different people.

The first thing to come out of that study was that people who put themselves under emotional and psychological stress very often ended up having shorter telomeres (a.k.a. aging faster) than others that weren't under similar levels of stress.

So, there you have it. Scientific proof that stress actually shortens our life spans.

What do one night stands have to do with all this?

The other thing that the study revealed was that long lasting intimate relationships (like life long friends, parents and children, husband and wife) slowed down the speed at which telomeres shorten.

So, now we have a nobel prize awarded to someone that scientifically proved the ancient wisdom that leading a life of happiness and surrounding ourselves with people whom we love, leads to a longer life span.

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