Look in the mirror and you’ll see an older you than in previous years. The cellular damage this reflects is seen not just in your skin but in organs and tissues throughout your body. It can lead to loss of immune system function, chronic illnesses such as heart disease, memory-wasting diseases like Alzheimer’s as well as cancer.
This journey to old age is not all bad news though. Because recent studies provide fresh hope that biological aging isn’t inevitable. In fact, a new scientific study in both mice and humans suggests you can reverse your biological age and extend your lifespan.
The way to succeed centers around your response to stress.
I don’t have to remind you that stress of all kinds is bad for your body and your health.
Clinical trials link high levels of stress to numerous diseases of aging. Some of these studies have even shown that high levels of stress can cause epigenetic changes — turning on and off your genes—that can cause you to grow old and get sick. That’s why stress management is just as important as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and good sleep to a healthy lifestyle.
But have you ever wondered how stress impacts your ability to slow down the march to old age and actually reverse aging for yourself or a loved one? A team of researchers has. And what they found is exciting…
Can we reverse aging in humans? The answer is yes…
When we talk about human cells and aging, you need to remember that there are two different kinds of aging that leads to illness and death: chronological age and biological age. Chronological age is your age in years. Biological age refers to how well your cells and tissues function as you get older. Biological age may reflect your chronological age, but not always.
In fact, individuals can be biologically older or younger than their chronological age because biological age can be influenced by factors such as chronic diseases, muscle mass, drug treatment, lifestyle changes, and environmental exposures.
Scientists from Harvard Medical School, UCLA, Duke University, and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, wanted to identify the factors in the human body that can increase biological age and whether these could be reversed to stave off old age and restore robust health and a more youthful state.
Reversing aging, old mice become young mice again
In their attempt to study and slow the aging process the team of scientists leveraged the power of DNA methylation clocks.
Methylation is a core biological process that impacts virtually every function of every cell in the body, including DNA. The official definition is a chemical reaction in the body in which a small molecule called a methyl group gets added to DNA, proteins, or other molecules. The methylation changes that take place over time reflect accumulating cellular damage in the body and are seen as key markers of biological aging and play a role in the development of age related disease.
Various DNA methylation clocks have been developed that measure such changes. These clocks represent the current gold standard aging biomarker and are widely used in the field of anti aging research.
The scientists used once such clock to measure these changes in a series of experiments using a mouse model. First, they surgically attached old mice and young mice together. This form of stress increased the biological age of the young mice, which was no surprise since this result was previously demonstrated by other researchers studying aging in mice.
However, and this is the exciting part, the scientists showed for the first time that these age-related changes were reversible upon surgical detachment.
That’s great for mice, but what about people? Turns out, an age reversal even happens in older adults who have gone through stressful situations.
Even elderly people can lower their biological age
That’s right, researchers found that this reversal of aging is also seen in humans following major surgery.
The researchers measured a strong and rapid increase in biological age in trauma patients following emergency surgery, but this increase reversed, and biological age was restored to baseline in the days following the surgery.
It’s noteworthy that the average age of these patients was 78, “implying surprisingly,” the researchers wrote in their paper published in the journal Cell Metabolism in May, “that even people of advanced chronological age have the capacity to reverse a stress-induced increase in their biological age.”
In other words, folks of older age can stave off the aging process by simply reducing their stress levels.
Recovery from stress, a key to reverse aging symptoms
This isn’t the first research published that shows the negative impact of stress on aging in humans. For example, previous studies show that pregnancy also induced an increase in biological age, but this reversed after the baby was born.
What’s more, patients who suffered severe COVID-19 also aged, but when doctors administered an immunosuppressive drug that brought their immune systems back to normal function the aging process stalled. As a result, these COVID-19 patients experienced a return to the biological age they had before coming down with the virus.
This research and other studies on certain diseases show that stress can trigger a rapid increase in biological age, but this can be reversed in days, weeks, or months.
Turn back the clock by reversing age
Co-senior study author Vadim Gladyshev explained, saying, “The findings imply that severe stress increases mortality, at least in part, by increasing biological age.
“This notion immediately suggests that mortality may be decreased by reducing biological age and that the ability to recover from stress may be an important determinant of successful aging and longevity.”
His colleague, James White added: “This finding of fluid, fluctuating, malleable age challenges the longstanding conception of a unidirectional upward trajectory of biological age over the life course.
“Our study uncovers a new layer of aging dynamics. A key area for further investigation is understanding how transient elevations in biological age or successful recovery from such increases may contribute to accelerated aging over the life course.”
I’m not surprised by these findings. The research my team and I have carried out for many years has revealed the terrible impact that both physical and emotional stress has on your health and well-being. Stress really is a silent killer.
I encourage you to use stress management techniques on a daily basis to lower your stress levels. Exercise is a great stress reducer as are spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation. If you find yourself in a season of extreme stress, consider reaching out to a therapist who can help.