Stress increases a person’s biological age. But can the effects be reversed? Researchers have found that biological age is much more dynamic than previously thought.
A new study has revealed that just as stress advances the biological clock, rest and recovery can help reverse the effects.
Biological age is the pace at which a person’s body has aged based on the years lived on Earth or the chronological age. Although chronological age cannot be reversed, a person’s biological age varies based on factors such as disease, environmental exposure, genetics, lifestyle, demographics, diet and exercise habits.
“Traditionally, biological age has been thought to just go up and up, but we hypothesized that it’s actually much more dynamic. Severe stress can trigger biological age to increase but if that stress is short-lived, the signs of biological aging can be reversed,” Jesse Poganik, one of the lead authors of the study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said.
How Stress Changes the Body
Stress can affect all systems of the body including musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous and reproductive systems.
Long-term exposure to stress can increase the risk of hypertension and cause heart attack and stroke.
When a person is stressed, the body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. However, when exposure to stress becomes prolonged, the hormones can cause inflammation and cell damage.
Long-term exposure to stress can also cause oxidative stress, an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body that can result in damage to organs and tissues.
How Rest and Recovery Can Help Reverse These Changes
Earlier research has indicated the possibility of short-term fluctuations in biological age. However, the new study explored the possibility of reversing the effect caused by stressors. The findings of the study were published in Cell Metabolism.
The researchers conducted a mice study by surgically attaching the body of three-month-old mice to 20-month-old mice allowing the blood to flow between them. They then found that the biological age of the younger mice increased over three months during which they shared the blood. However, the biological age went back to normal after they were detached and the younger mice were allowed to recover for two months.
The scientists then studied how stress affected the human body by examining the blood samples from elderly patients who had undergone major surgeries.
The researchers found that patients who received emergency surgery for a fractured hip had an increased biological age the morning after the procedure. Around four to seven days after the surgery, the biological aging returned to pre-surgery levels.
They also found that increased biological age during pregnancy went back to pre-pregnancy levels within about six weeks. However, the same effect of reversal was not seen in patients who took elective hip surgery or colorectal surgery.
While observing the COVID-19 patients, the study indicated that the biological age of women increased during the hospital stay but got partly reversed within two weeks of recovery. However, the study did not observe significant change among men with COVID-19.
“Our findings challenge the concept that biological age can only increase over a person’s lifetime and suggest that it may be possible to identify interventions that could slow or even partially reverse biological age,” Vadim Gladyshev, senior author of the study, said. “When stress was relieved, biological age could be restored. This means that finding ways to help the body recover from stress could increase longevity.”
Published by Medicaldaily.com