The quest to look younger is big business. Revenues from popular anti-aging treatments such as hair coloring, plastic surgery, anti-wrinkle creams and hair restoration are at an all-time high, with revenues expected to exceed $191 billion dollars by 2019.1
Growing older is a natural progression of life, but unfortunately, premature aging is not. This occurs when people look older than they really are. Many will try products that promise a youthful appearance, but it’s just as important to focus on ways to prevent premature aging from occurring in the first place. One potential cause that is often overlooked is stress.
In its simplest terms, stress is the release of various hormones and chemicals during physical responses. Adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine, and others give the body a rush of energy that prepare the body for physical action. For example, a surge of adrenaline can provide a boost of energy that focuses our attention on the task at hand, allowing us to respond quickly and effectively.
In certain situations, stress is extremely beneficial and much needed: the butterflies a person feels before giving a speech, playing in the big game or quickly crossing a busy intersection are all examples of good stress.
How Chronic Stress Causes Premature Aging
Stress is good for the body, but only in certain situations. Problems can arise when the body becomes stressed and releases these chemicals when it’s not supposed to, or when it continues to be stressed for an extended period of time. This is called chronic stress and can cause many health issues, including premature aging.
While many people focus on hiding the effects of premature aging, getting to the root cause is and addressing it there is the most effective way of treating it. Here are the top ways stress causes premature aging:
Shortened telomeres. Telomeres are the sections of DNA that are found at the ends of our chromosomes. They can be compared to the plastic on the tips of shoelaces. Telomeres are important because they allow chromosomes to replicate during cell division.
As a person ages, the length of these telomeres is slightly decreased. When telomeres become too short, chromosomes can no longer be replicated. As a result, cells experience apoptosis, which is a programmed cell death. Studies indicate stress and even anticipated stress can shorten telomere length, which is a key factor in premature ageing.2
Ages the brain prematurely. Stress creates free radicals that attack brain cells, causing them to die. It also halts the production of new brain cells. Studies indicate stress elevates levels of cortisol in the body and can accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s disease.3
Increased wrinkles. Collagen is the elastic fiber in the skin that gives it elasticity. As people age, collagen production begins to gradually decrease, increasing the formation of wrinkles. Stress causes the body to produce cortisol, which damages collagen. As a result, the skin can’t repair itself, increasing the probability of wrinkles forming prematurely.
Hair loss. Hair loss is oftentimes associated with getting older. Stress can cause hair loss in three ways:
- Alopecia areata: The body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing hair loss.
- Telogen effluvium. Extreme stress can cause the thinning of the scalp that can last six months or more.
- Trichotillomania. Stress can cause people to do things they may not normally do, such as pull hair out of their scalp or eyebrows when under times of duress or extreme tension.
There are many potential causes of premature aging. Instead of treating the symptoms, it’s important to determine what is causing the body to age prematurely. Are you easily stressed? What causes you to feel stress? If stress is the culprit, make an effort to decrease your stress levels. Your body will thank you.
1Anti-aging Market is estimated to be worth USD 191.7 Billion Globally by 2019: Transparency Market Research. https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2015/05/21/737992/10135534/en/Anti-aging-Market-is-estimated-to-be-worth-USD-191-7-Billion-Globally-by-2019-Transparency-Market-Research.html
2Perceived stress and telomere length: A systematic review, meta-analysis, and methodologic considerations for advancing the field
3UCI MIND » Blog Archive » Stress and its influence on Alzheimer’s disease. https://www.mind.uci.edu/stress-and-its-influence-on-alzheimer%E2%80%99s-disease/