Elissa Epel, PhD


Elissa Epel, Ph.D, is a health psychologist focusing on stress pathways. For the past 15 years, she has studied stress in the lab and in the field, using naturalistic stressors, and associations with an early aging syndrome. She examines how stress processes lead to early disease precursors, focusing on overeating, abdominal obesity, and immune cell aging. She has found that people’s propensity to be stress reactive, psychologically or in terms of cortisol reactivity, is associated with overeating, abdominal obesity, and accelerated cell aging. With UCSF colleagues Elizabeth Blackburn and Jue Lin, she found that stress perceptions and stress arousal are related to telomere shortness and dampened telomerase activity. Their group now collaborates with many other labs extending this work from animal models to population studies. Their collaborative teams are examining how stress reduction interventions may enhance functioning of the telomere/telomerase maintenance system. Early work from their studies as well as from other research groups shows promise in understanding biochemical and behavioral modulators of cell aging in people.

Epel studied psychology and psychobiology at Stanford University (BA, 1990), and clinical and health psychology at Yale University (PhD, 1998). She completed an NIMH funded postdoctoral fellowship at UCSF, where she has stayed on as faculty, in the Department of Psychiatry. Epel has received awards from the American Psychological Association, for her research conducted as a student (1996, 1998), a junior investigator (2005), and more recently, the Early Career Award (2008). She also was awarded the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research Neal Miller Young Investigator Award, and the International Society for Psychoneuroendocrinology’s Young Investigator Award.

At UCSF, she enjoys working in collaborative teams, fostering interdisciplinary research, mentoring students, and working with postdoctoral fellows. She is the Assistant Director of the Center for Health and Community, a center promoting interdisciplinary research, a faculty member in the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar Postdoctoral Fellowship Program on population health, the NIMH funding Psychology and Medicine Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the UCSF Osher Center Training in Integrative Medicine (TRIM) fellowship. She is involved in several clinical trials at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, where she helps examine how mindfulness meditation affects stress pathways and cell aging. She was a founder and is now a Director of the UCSF Center for Obesity Assessment, Study, and Treatment (COAST), an umbrella organization for clinical/translational research at UCSF, which focuses on how socio-economic status and stress pathways play a role in the obesity epidemic.