Did you know that chronic stress and your mental well-being affects the aging process?

We all know that chronic stress leaves us feeling exhausted and worn out.  But what if that stress becomes an actual medical condition like depression or anxiety?  All three scenarios can negatively impact your physical and mental wellness, speeding up the aging process!

Research shows that chronic stress, depression, and anxiety accelerate the aging process at the molecular level. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) can accelerate the aging process in your DNA or chromosomal level telomeres (the caps at the ends of chromosomes which get smaller every time a cell divides).  Those caps getting worn aware are a marker of aging. Those with depression have significantly shorter telomeres than unaffected individuals.  Also, depression creates inflammation and hyper-boosts the body’s stress and immune response, which can cause a worn-out immune system and premature aging.  The good news is that that the damage done, even over years or decades, may be reversible once the depression or anxiety is treated.

These disorders of the brain can also affect your heart health.  Studies conducted at Intermountain Healthcare found that for those with moderate to severe depression, taking antidepressants could reduce the risk of heart disease even more than taking a traditional cholesterol-lowering drug.  By assuring that your brain is healthy, individuals can reduce their risk of a heart attack as well as improve their overall health!

Chronic stress has long been shown to create a type of inflammation in the brain that contributes to Alzheimer’s Disease.  Some scientists believe that higher levels of stress may be the reason that some women’s brains age more prematurely than men’s. Additionally, the production of the stress hormone adrenaline can lead to temporary vision and hearing loss.

Aside from these serious medical conditions, many people don’t take care of themselves the way they should when they are struggling with depression and/or anxiety.  They tend to eat poorly, exercise less and self-medicate with drugs and alcohol – all behaviors that accelerate the aging process.

Individuals who believe that their chronic stress may have turned into depression or anxiety should seek a diagnosis from a qualified psychiatrist who can determine if a brain imbalance is affecting their overall health and provide the appropriate treatment.  By taking care of your brain health, you can prevent premature aging and enjoy a higher quality of life!

 

Author
Angelo Sambunaris, M.D.

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