Psychosocial Stressors and Telomere Length: A Current Review of the Science

Annu Rev Public Health. 2020 Apr 2;41:223-245. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040119-094239. Epub 2020 Jan 3.


A growing literature suggests that exposure to adverse social conditions may accelerate biological aging, offering one mechanism through which adversity may increase risk for age-related disease. As one of the most extensively studied biological markers of aging, telomere length (TL) provides a valuable tool to understand potential influences of social adversity on the aging process. Indeed, a sizeable literature now links a wide range of stressors to TL across the life span. The aim of this article is to review and evaluate this extant literature with a focus on studies that investigate psychosocial stress exposures and experiences in early life and adulthood. We conclude by outlining potential biological and behavioral mechanisms through which psychosocial stress may influence TL, and we discuss directions for future research in this area.

Keywords: cellular aging; early life adversity; perceived stress; psychosocial stress; stressful life events; telomere length.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / genetics*
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Telomere Shortening / genetics*
  • Telomere Shortening / physiology
  • Young Adult