Some people stand up better to stress–at least to its biological effects–than others do and their resistance may help them live longer.

Researchers in the Netherlands report that among 202 people taking part in a long-term health study, 18 that have a particular gene variant were less sensitive to the many effects of the stress hormone cortisol than were people without that gene type. Furthermore, those with the cortisol-resistant gene variant had lower concentrations of insulin, glucose, and cholesterol in their blood and fewer signs of atherosclerosis. The findings suggest that the gene variant confers reduced risks of diabetes and heart disease to carriers.

The gene variant was more than twice as common among study volunteers over age 66 as it was among younger participants. It might promote longevity, the researchers suggest in the October Diabetes.

People with the gene variant “suffer the same amount of [biological] stress, but their bodies don’t react to it as negatively,” says Elisabeth F.C. van Rossum of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. In the future, she says, testing people for this and other related gene variants might help doctors decide whether patients need aggressive preventive therapy for diabetes, heart disease, and other age-related illnesses.


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