Stress ages you but it’s reversible new study finds

stress ages you

A new study has found that stress ages you but that these effects may be reversible. 

Stressful life events can increase biological age in humans, a recent study has found, but these effects are reversible. 

While our chronological age can only move in one direction (in this universe, anyway) our biological age may be more flexible. According to a research brief, biological age reflects the health of a person’s cell and tissues and can be influenced by factors including disease, lifestyle changes, and environmental exposures. There have been hints in the past that biological age might be reversible, but a new study led by investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital is the first to provide compelling evidence. Findings from both human and preclinical models show that when stress is relieved, biological age can be restored. The results have implications for aging research and testing anti-aging drugs. 

Biological age may be more dynamic than we think

“Traditionally, biological age has been thought to just go up and up, but we hypothesized that it’s actually much more dynamic,” said lead author Jesse Poganik, PhD, of the Brigham’s Division of Genetics. “Severe stress can trigger biological age to increase, but if that stress is short lived, the signs of biological aging can be reversed.”

Poganik and colleagues gathered data from different situations likely to cause severe physiological stress. These included blood samples from elderly patients undergoing emergency surgery, taken before and after surgery; blood samples from pregnant mice and pregnant people, from early and late phases of pregnancy and after giving birth; and samples from COVID-19 patients admitted to the intensive care unit, at time of admission and throughout their stay. The team also used a classic mouse model in which the circulatory systems of younger and older mice are surgically joined together. The team used “biological clocks” – widely used in the aging research field – to determine the health of cells and tissue. 

Stress ages you, research team finds

In every analysis, the researchers saw indications that biological age increased in situations of several physiological stress but was restored when the stressful situation resolved. 

The authors note that the changes may be driven by as-yet unidentified factors and that not all subjects recover their biological age at the same rate or to the same extent, but the work does have implications for the study of anti-aging interventions.

“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,” said senior author Vadim Gladyshev, PhD, of the Brigham’s Division of Genetics. “When stress was relieved, biological age could be restored. This means that finding ways to help the body recover from stress could increase longevity.”  

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