Nothing ages you faster than stress!
How do we know? Well, let's back up for a second and look at the science of aging. DNA is the genetic material that makes up the chromosomes, and each chromosome starts out with a lengthy protective cap - a specific sequence of DNA - at each end. These caps, called telomeres, are like the plastic-coated tip of a shoelace that keeps the shoelace from unraveling. The telomeres help organize our chromosomes in the cell nucleus, allow proper chromosome replication in cell division and keep chromosomes from fusing with one another.
Throughout life, though, and as the cells divide, the telomeres get shorter and shorter. Eventually, they become too short to protect the DNA. At this point, cellular damage begins to occur, leading to malfunction in crucial organs, such as the brain, heart, liver and pancreas. Muscle loss also develops, and eventually, extreme weakness and frailty occur. Scientists are learning that when the telomeres get short enough, the deterioration associated with aging begins.
In a Harvard-affiliated study, researchers boosted the cellular levels of telomerase, the enzyme that lengthens and repairs telomeres, in mice - and saw significant signs of age reversal. Even fur on the mice that had turned gray was restored to dark fur. The researchers were surprised to see such dramatic results. In measurable ways, the mice grew younger.
Of course, the results of many research studies on mice are not duplicated on humans. However, there are some interesting new studies that focus on the relationship between stress, telomere length and cellular aging in humans. Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, a Nobel laureate who first identified the enzyme telomerase, has examined the effect of psychological stress at the cellular level. As reported in The New York Times, Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel, a research psychologist interested in chronic stress, studied telomere length in two groups of mothers. One group had normal, healthy children; the other group of mothers each had a child with a chronic illness. Blackburn and Epel found significant differences between the groups and found that the longer the mother had been caring for her chronically ill child, the lower her telomerase levels and the shorter her telomeres.
Although genes play a role in telomerase production, so does stress. The external conditions of a chronically ill child created enough chronic stress to affect the body's ability to repair itself. Increased stress levels, the scientists found, can measurably accelerate the aging process at the cellular level. The research team found similar effects among primary caregivers for partners with dementia. A 2012 study at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston tracked telomere length in more than 5,000 women and confirmed similar findings.
A recent study by Dean Ornish, M.D., founder and president of the Preventive Medical Research Institute and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, showed that comprehensive lifestyle changes can have a positive effect on telomere length. His research was based on a host of lifestyle changes, including meditation, and showed that telomeres actually increased in length for those in the five-year study who followed a lifestyle plan that included eating whole foods, exercising and meditating.
If you, like most people, have accepted the belief that age reversal can't happen, you may want to challenge that belief. Replace it with a belief based on new information - it is possible to reverse the signs of aging and grow younger. Reducing stress is one of the most effective ways to do it.
Wood, of Questa, is an inspirational speaker and award-winning author of "Think and Grow Young: Powerful Steps to Create a Life of Joy." The title of her forthcoming book is "Joy! Joy! Joy! 7 Mind/Body/Spirit Habits That Transformed My Life." Wood's website is ellenwoodspeaks.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.