Stress: What it does to your DNA to speed aging

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Stress can kill you.”

And it turns out that it’s even truer than you might think.

In fact, according to a study by a team of scientists at Yale University, stress won’t just keep you up at night, it also speeds up your aging, ticking years off your life — just a clock.

But not just any clock…

Recently, scientists have discovered ways to go beyond chronological age (the number of years you’ve lived) to measure biological age (how old your cells are, and therefore your true age) using epigenetic clocks.

To do this, they track chemical changes in your DNA that occur naturally as you age, which can better predict not only your health but also your lifespan.

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Stress makes life’s clock tick faster

And those Yale researchers decided to put one such clock, appropriately named “GrimAge,” to work to see just exactly what stress can do to your biological clock.

The team enrolled 444 people, from 19 to 50 years old, who provided blood samples used to evaluate the age-related chemical changes captured by GrimAge. They also answered questions regarding their stress levels and psychological resilience — in other words, their ability to cope.

And sure enough, GrimAge revealed that for those living with chronic stress were aging faster.

Yup, stress accelerated their aging process — something none of us needs or wants.

And to top it off, the people with higher stress levels also showed physiological changes, like increased insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes and heart problems.

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Minimizing the consequences of stress

Luckily, the research didn’t just confirm the damage stress can do to your body, it also revealed tools you can use to minimize its consequences.

You see, while stress was damaging to all participants, it didn’t affect everyone’s health to the same degree.

According to the researchers, subjects who scored high on two psychological resilience measures — emotion regulation and self-control — were better able to fight off the effects of stress on aging and insulin resistance

In other words, caring for your psychological health makes it more likely you’ll live a longer and healthier life.

Stress-proof your mind to age-proof your body

So how can you overcome the stress that’s stealing years from your life?

Here are a few simple tricks you can put into action:

  • Breathe in citrusy relaxation – Researchers at George Washington University found that orange essential oil had the power to relax mice suffering from a fear disorder similar to PTSD. If the oil can help overcome even such a strong level of anxiety, imagine what it could do for you.
  • Eat your fruits and veggies – One study found that eating at least 470 grams of fruits and vegetables a day could lower your stress levels by 10 percent.
  • Go MediterraneanThe Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce sympathetic nervous system and cortisol responses to stress.
  • Take up an ancient practice – Research at Newcastle University in England found that just six weeks of yoga trained the body to put the brakes on stress.
  • Supplement with L-theanine – This amino acid found in green and black tea is known for its ability to lower levels of cortisol — the stress hormone.
  • Consider nutrients that promote healthier aging, like pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ). PQQ is a powerful antioxidant that’s considered a “longevity” nutrient because it lowers the risk of age-related disease by improving the function of the mitochondria, the so-called powerhouses of the body. 

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Stress makes life’s clock tick faster. Chilling out slows it down — EurekAlert!

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.