Stressed Out? You Could Be Aging Faster

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In popular culture we commonly see the idea that stress makes one age faster; a Google image search of “stress and aging” returns to you pictures of presidents from when they first started their term to a couple years later with the difference being a head full of gray hair. 

This idea has been proven by previous research to be true in patients with high stress, including those with PTSD, trauma histories, or other mental illnesses. Now, researchers from Yale’s psychiatry department, including Zachary Harvanek, have shown that stress makes even healthy populations age faster. Using GrimAge – an epigenetic clock that correlates with chronological age, disease, and mortality – the researchers found that stress might contribute to accelerated aging even before contributions from chronic illnesses. Participants in the study were majority white and between 18-50 years old.

How can we slow the effects of epigenetic aging considering the stress that comes from the responsibilities of daily life? “People who have stronger emotion regulation or stronger self control seem to be more resilient not just to the psychological effects of stress but also to the physical effects as well,” said Harvanek. Next steps from here include investigating the impact of race and culture on epigenetic aging, as well as testing whether methods that do build emotion regulation actually lessen the psychological and physical effects of stress. And what steps can communities like New Haven and Yale take to help with these stress-causing factors? “The more important things are going to be providing those sorts of resources,” said Harvanek.