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Stress influences aging factors
In study published in the November 30 2004 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (http://www.pnas.org/), scientists from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have found that chronic stress affects three biological factors involved with cellular aging: telomere length, telomere activity and oxidative stress. Researchers have long known that stress was linked with poor health, but its mechanisms had not been elucidated.
Telomeres are the caps at the ends of chromosomes that consist of DNA and protein, which shorten as a cell ages. The enzyme telomerase protects and replenishes telomeres, which increases a cell’s lifespan. Oxidative stress, caused by excess free radical activity, damages DNA and speeds up telomere shortening. During the normal aging of an individual, the process of telomere shortening becomes more rapid than that which occurs during youth.
The study included 58 healthy women, aged 20 to 50. Thirty-nine of the women were the biological mothers and caregivers of a chronically ill child and 19 women were the mothers of healthy children. The women completed questionnaires that assessed their stress levels. Blood mononucleocytes, a type of immune cell, were analyzed for telomere length and telomerase activity. Oxidative stress was calculated from blood and urinary markers.
It was discovered that increased duration of caregiving (controlled for age) was correlated with increased perceived stress, shorter telomere length, lower telomerase activity and increased oxidative stress. Perceived stress levels were correlated with all three markers of cellular aging in both the caregivers and the mothers of healthy children. When telomere length was analyzed, women who perceived the greatest stress were found to have experienced the equivalent of ten years of additional aging compared to participants who perceived the lowest stress levels. Decreased telomerase activity and increased oxidative stress were also significantly higher in the group who reported the most stress. Coauthor and Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology and Physiology at UCSF’s Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, commented, "The results were striking. This is the first evidence that chronic psychological stress -- and how a person perceives stress -- may damp down telomerase and have a significant impact on the length of telomeres, suggesting that stress may modulate the rate of cellular aging."
The findings suggest that the telomerase activity of immune cells could be impaired in individuals experiencing chronic stress. A long term study is currently being conducted to determine if the rate of telomere shortening over time is faster in chronically stressed individuals than in those with lower stress levels. It should be noted that although our involvement in situations considered stressful may sometimes be beyond our power to control, our reaction to the situation, i.e. our perception of stress, can be modified.
Anxiety and stress
Too much stress is not good and sustained stressors often cause adverse effects. There is ample evidence that living a highly stressful lifestyle damages the heart, raises blood pressure, and can contribute to digestive problems. Not surprisingly, stress can also be damaging to the brain, even leading to premature brain cell aging (Uno et al. 1994; Sapolsky 1996a, 1996b; Lombroso et al. 1998). Most people are familiar with the adrenaline rush response to an emergency. The heart pounds, the muscles constrict, and the lungs expand; and while this is happening, we are capable of greater than normal strength and speed. This response is the body's way of rescuing itself when faced with an emergency. We don't have to think about it to make it happen. It's automatic.
The same can be said of the stress response. Whether we're stuck in traffic, about to give a speech in front of a group, or sitting in the waiting room at a doctor's office, the human stress response happens automatically. The difference between the two is that the adrenaline response in an emergency starts and resolves itself quickly. The response to being stuck in traffic may not. The adrenal glands, located above the kidneys, secrete adrenaline until the emergency passes. Then the body returns to its normal function. However, the stress response is more complex and can last longer. Studies have shown that long-term, chronic stress may cause neural damage (McEwen 1991, 1997, 1999, 2000; Uno et al. 1994; McEwen et al. 1997). Just as prolonged increased levels of adrenaline result in adverse physiological effects, it has been less appreciated that excessive stress can also compromise the nervous system.
Weeks of exposure can wither connections between neurons. Studies on rats indicate that continued stress will eventually destroy brain cells in the hippocampus. The good news is that alterations in dendritic atrophy can return to normal when stress is removed (Sousa et al. 2000). The key is to learn how to deal with daily stress to allow the body to return to its normal state (McCraty et al. 1998).
Deficiencies of many vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids can imbalance the nervous system. You can take a high-quality multivitamin and mineral formula and consider adding a B-complex supplement along with extra calcium and magnesium at a one to one ratio. This will ensure you are getting enough of these essential nutrients you may not be receiving from your diet alone.
The active ingredients in Adapton (Garum armoricum extract) represent a class of unique polypeptides, which act as precursors to endorphins and other neurotransmitters that exert a regulatory effect on the nervous system. This action can improve an individual’s ability to adapt to mental and physical stress. Adapton also contains omega-3 essential fatty acids that increase the synthesis of prostaglandins and prostacyclins. These omega-3 fats are thought to contribute to the effects of Adapton.
Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that produces calming effects in the brain.
Theanine increases GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid), an important inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA can be considered the brain’s natural sedative that brings balance to excitability that can sometimes lead to restlessness and other disruptive conditions. Theanine also increases levels of dopamine, another brain chemical with mood-enhancing effects.
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