Page last updated at 23:10 GMT, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 00:10 UK

'Stressed sheep' give ageing clue

Soay sheep
Researchers studied the impact of stress on Soay sheep

A lifetime of stress can speed up the ageing process, according to scientists at Edinburgh University who have conducted a 20-year study of sheep.

Researchers found Soay sheep on the island of St Kilda who were forced to contend with harsh winters were more vulnerable to illness in later life.

The study of more than 1,000 sheep found those who had suffered the most stress aged faster.

It is hoped the research will improve understanding of the ageing process.

Adam Hayward, of the university's school of Biological Science, said sheep were good animals to study because they live relatively long lives.

He said: "As we get older, our health tends to decline, but in addition to this, environmental factors make us age - our age in terms of years may not correspond to the body's true age.

"In the case of the Soay sheep, exposure to stress may have an irreparable effect on their health, persistent stress may weaken their immune system, making them age faster than sheep which experienced less stressed."

Researchers examined data for stomach worms - a common illness in adult sheep. They found that as the sheep got older, they tended to be more vulnerable to attack from worms.



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