Each person’s body works differently, but there are some scientific discoveries that affect the body in the same way. It’s no secret that long periods of stress can have negative internal effects on the body. Now it’s time to look at how stress affects external parts of the body…and if it can be linked to things we just chalk up to “old age”.
Stress and Hair
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) looked at a study completed by Dr. Ya-Chieh Hsu of Harvard University. In this study, they exposed mice to different levels of stress and studied how it changed their fur. They found that the key to stress-related greying is an increase in noradrenaline, which is transmitted by the sympathetic nervous system (our “fight or flight” system). Inside the hair follicle, there are cells called melanocyte stem cells. When the sympathetic nervous system pumps noradrenaline into each hair follicle as a response to stress, it causes a loss of melanocyte cells—and eventually hair greying.
Stress and Wrinkles
“Stress increases cortisol levels, which speeds up the aging process,” Dr. Clarissa Yang, Chief of Dermatology at Tufts Medical Center says. According to her, large amounts of stress can also cause a decrease in telomere lengths. Telomeres are little caps that protect the end of our DNA chromosomes. Paired with other environmental stressors like UV rays, decreases in telomere length can lead to loss of tightening and increased wrinkling. To top it off, Dr. Yang says that mental stress or anxiety can deepen wrinkles or frown lines.
Do they correlate?
According to Dr. Vivian Diller, Ph.D., and Tufts, much of greying hair and wrinkles can be associated with genetics. However, Dr. Diller says “stress chemicals” in the body like adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol can break the body down. Following some genetics research, she believes there are three ways to damage genes, and that stress is one of them. Diller also attributes external responses to activities like worrying or frowning. Overall, everything in the body works as a cycle. Increases in stress lead to more chemicals released throughout the body which could end up damaging key pieces of the body.