Researchers say 9/11 terror attacks had impact on health of Utahns

Posted at 6:13 PM, Mar 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-05 20:13:09-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- The September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. hurt the health of Utahns: That's the conclusion of a study from Intermountain Medical Center's Heart Institute Genetics Lab.

Geneticists John Carlquist and Stacey Knight were not thinking about September 11 when they looked at the chromosomes of patients admitted or treated during that time period, but while trying to find a link between air pollution and a genetic strand called a telomere, they realized those strands were measurably shorter after September 11.

Telomeres allow cells to reproduce, and once there are no telomeres, the cells can no longer renew themselves when they are damaged.

"Telomeres are more a measure of biological age," Carlquist said.

The link between telomeres and stress has been proven through other studies, but the link had not been made with stress caused by a distant event.

Carlquist thinks it's a new phenomenon caused by the modern world's unprecedented access to information.

"This is a 20th, 21st century phenomenon, and so these are new forms of stress that as a world population we haven't encountered before," Carlquist said.

The researchers looked at records in the Intermountain Health Care system to corroborate their findings beyond the microscopic level, and they found that heart attacks increased in the year following September 11, 2001.

Prior to the terrorist attacks, minor heart attacks, or myocardial infarctions, accounted for .59 percent of all patients admitted. Afterwards, they made up .62 percent, which amounts to a five percent increase in admissions for the condition.

The researchers say their findings should be used as a reminder to pursue de-stressing activities including exercise, healthy eating, and sleep.