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Chronic Stress Accelerates Aging: Epigenetic Evidence

0 2 years ago

The increase in cardiovascular disease caused by chronic stress is related to biologic mechanisms (metabolic, hormonal, inflammatory) and to behavioral mechanisms (lifestyle). There is a popular saying that “stress speeds up aging,” which makes sense if we consider the age-old idea that “our age corresponds to that of our arteries.”

The study of the mechanisms of psychosocial risk factors is of major relevance to the creation of the individual and communal preventive strategies that ensure longevity and maintain quality of life.

The following hypotheses were proposed by a group of researchers from Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, in a recent study:

1. Stress is positively associated with accelerated biologic aging, and this relationship will be mediated by stress-related physiologic changes, such as insulin and hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) signaling.

2. Strong factors associated with psychological resilience will be protective against the negative consequences of stress on aging. (These relationships are predictive, not causative, as this study is cross-sectional.)

The Study

In their study, the team assessed 444 adults with no chronic medical conditions or psychiatric disorders who were 18 to 50 years of age and living in the greater New Haven area. Levels of obesity and alcohol consumption in the study cohort were generally in line with those in a community population, so alcohol use and body mass index were used as covariates to account for their impact on the results.

The team also used the latest “epigenetic clock,” known as GrimAge. In recent years, several methods of determining biologic age have been developed that trace chemical changes in the DNA that are natural to the aging process but occur at different moments in different people. The epigenetic clocks have proven to be better predictors of longevity and health than chronologic age, and GrimAge predicts mortality better than another epigenetic clock.

Results

1. Cumulative stress was associated with the acceleration of GrimAge and stress-related physiologic measures of adrenal sensitivity (cortisol/ACTH ratio) and insulin resistance (HOMA). After the researchers controlled for demographic and behavioral factors, HOMA was correlated with GrimAge acceleration.

2. Psychologic resilience factors moderated the association between stress and aging, such that with worse regulation of emotions, there was greater stress-related age acceleration, and with stronger regulation of emotions, any significant effect of stress on GrimAge was prevented. Self-control moderated the relationship between stress and insulin resistance, with high self-control blunting this relationship.


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