There is some truth behind the notion that stress can turn your hair gray. A new study finds that intense stress can trigger cellular damage leading to premature aging.
Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital from Boston found that women suffering phobic anxiety, such as fear of heights, had shorter telomeres, the outermost part of chromosomes that shorten as we age, than their less-stressed counterparts.
Researchers looked at blood samples from more than 5,000 women aged 42 to 69 years old, in addition to survey answers regarding their experiences with phobias and anxiety.
The difference in telomere lengths, considered markers of biological or cellular aging, of those women who were highly phobic and those who were not was tallied up to an additional six years of age.
“Many people wonder about whether — and how — stress can make us age faster,” wrote study author Olivia Okereke.
“So, this study is notable for showing a connection between a common form of psychological stress — phobic anxiety — and a plausible mechanism for premature aging.”
The study was published online in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE on July 11.
The research follows another recent study published in Biological Psychiatry that also shows that people who are severely stressed have shorter telomeres. While short-term stress — such as nervousness before a job interview or a big speech — has been linked to boosting immunity, long-term stress has been pegged as a culprit in everything from weight gain to heart attacks.
Want to slash your stress levels? Earlier research found that subjects who practiced Buddhist meditation significantly decreased both cortisol and blood pressure, two signs of stress, in a six-week study.