Can stress speed up the aging process? It’s not just about wrinkles. Chronic stress can actually cause your cells—and thus you—to age faster! So if you want to look and feel younger, it’s vital that your get your cortisol levels under control. Read on to find out how chronic stress can lead to premature aging and what you can do to stop it.
“Fight or Flight”—The Body’s Stress Response
At any age, stress is a part of life. Young and old alike have to deal with challenging circumstances, and find ways to overcome obstacles. Short-term stress—like the type of heart-pounding, fast-breathing response you would get if suddenly facing an attacker—is a helpful, natural response, designed to help your body deal with a real or perceived threat. A surge of adrenaline triggers the body to do everything it can to either to fight its way out of a dangerous situation, or to get you out of the dangerous area as quickly as possible. This is a vital survival mechanism.
The Dangers of Long-Term Stress
When anxiety is prolonged, however, your body can remain in the "fight or flight" response for an unhealthy period of time. The result? Chronic long-term exposure to cortisol—a stress hormone—can burn out your adrenal glands, weaken your digestive process, impair your immune system, negatively affect your ability to think clearly, and lead to weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes. It can also cause you to age more rapidly.
Cortisol and Premature Aging
Stress can make you feel older by causing muscle weakening, loss of eyesight and hearing, wrinkles, and graying. Even worse, it can actually lead to premature aging and shorter lifespan. Research has shown that chronic stress can add years to the age of immune system cells. Elevated stress hormones puts the body in a catabolic state—a destructive phase that can impede a cell’s ability to divide and replenish itself.
Long-term stress has also been shown to shorten the length of DNA strands. Every cell in your body has 46 chromosomes (half from your mother, half from your father). On the ends of those chromosomes are protective caps that are called telomeres. Think of the little plastic things—they’re called aglets—at the end of your shoelaces. Telomeres are similar in basic concept to those, protecting the ends from fraying. But when telomeres are too short, the cell can no longer divide, thus causing the cell to die. While this is an important mechanism, allowing the body to eliminate worn-out cells, it also causes premature aging, chronic diseases, and a shorter lifespan. Chronic stress shortens these telomeres.
Modulating cortisol production and lengthening telomeres with Panax ginseng
Looking for a natural way to reduce the negative impact of chronic stress and reverse the aging process? Benefit-rich ginseng is one of the most well-known adaptogens, and has been medically used for thousands of years in Asia. Panax ginseng, which literally means “panacea” or “cure-all,” continues to live up to its name, helping to improve cognitive performance, mood, sleep, energy, sexual function, and immunity.
Panax ginseng has been shown to help reduce excessive cortisol production, as well as aiding the restoration of cortisol production when it is depleted by long-term stress. That is one reason why Panax ginseng is known as an adaptogen. It modulates hormonal production to a normal range, boosting when too low and dropping when too high. While still new in the research world, Panax ginseng has additionally been found to be related to increased telomere length in animal studies.
So, though you might not be able to rid yourself of all life’s stressors, you can do something to help slow the accelerated aging that stress can cause, improving your health and possibly even lengthening your life.