Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
In popular culture, we commonly believe that stress makes one age faster. A simple Google image search of “stress and aging” returns pictures of presidents from when they first started their term to a couple of years later, with the difference being a head full of gray hair.
Previous research has proven this idea to be true in patients with high stress, including those with post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma histories, or other mental illnesses. Now, researchers from Yale’s psychiatry department, including psychiatry resident Zachary Harvanek, have shown that stress makes even healthy populations age faster. Using GrimAge – an epigenetic clock or biochemical test that correlates with chronological age, disease, and mortality – the researchers found that stress might contribute to accelerated aging even before contributions from chronic illnesses start taking a toll. In this study, most participants were white and between 18-50 years old.
How can we slow down the effects of epigenetic aging when stress is a pervasive element in most of our lives? “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.
Future research could involve investigating the impact of race and culture on epigenetic aging and testing whether methods that build emotion regulation actually lessen the psychological and physical effects of stress. And what can communities like New Haven and Yale do to help with these stress-causing factors? “The more important things are going to be providing those sorts of resources,” said Harvanek.