Biological age increases with stress but drops back to pre-stress level after recovery, according to scientists who work at the genetic research laboratory of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and their colleagues at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as well as geneticists from Hungary and Sweden.
On May 2, 2023, this group of scientists published the results of many years of research, which show that it actually is possible to “reverse the clock” inside the human body. The results of their experiments refute the conventional wisdom that nerve cells cannot regenerate and prove that biological age increases with stress but returns to pre-stress level after recovery.
A human person’s biological age may not be identical with his or her chronological age. One’s biological clock can make a person older or younger than this person’s nominal age. Concurrently, a growing volume of research indicates that aging is in large part caused by diseases, medications, lifestyle factors, environmental pollution, etc. Scientists have put forward such assumptions before – after all, there are many people who look a generation younger than their peers. It remained unknown what influences this and whether the aging process is reversible. Now this mystery seems to be solved.
Some of the researchers who took part in this project: Alexander Tyshkovskiy, Vadim N. Gladyshev, Jesse R. Poganik, Bohan Zhang Vadim, Clary B. Clish, and others.
In this article you can familiarize yourself with an expert opinion shared by geneticist Maja Barbalić, PhD, Scientific Director of the Henome project.
During the experiments, the researchers observed fluctuations in biological age in humans and mice after various types of severe stress and in the process of recovery from it. It is the biological age that determines the way we look.
The new study used the most powerful tool in genetics today, the DNA methylation clock, also called the epigenetic aging clock. As we wrote (Life O’clock 2.0) earlier, such clocks have excellent predictive ability. Given certain markers, such as calorie restriction, improved sleep quality, lifestyle changes, etc., they can predict age-related changes and even the time of death quite accurately.
This time stress was chosen as the main factor of biological aging. Using the “magic clock,” the scientists measured changes in DNA methylation levels in humans and rodents in response to various stress stimuli, including illness, major surgery, pregnancy and childbirth, and severe form of COVID-19. So, in patients with serious injuries, there was a strong and sharp increase in biological age immediately after surgery. However, a few days after the intervention, during which period doctors helped them recover, the biological age returned to its original level.
Similar results were observed in pregnant women after childbirth: their biological clock also rewound time as the body recovered, albeit at different speeds. The immunosuppressive drug tocilizumab helped people and mice recover from COVID-19 to return to their pre-COVID age.
According to the findings of the team of geneticists, the increase in biological age caused by stress may partially affect life expectancy. This is important to remember, especially in today’s stressful world. Therefore, even in extreme circumstances, try to keep your presence of mind, remember the good things that you had and have, but that you sometimes don’t notice, considering them “too familiar to be noteworthy”. Practice mindfulness techniques, such as conscious observation, avoidance of automatic negative thoughts, breathing practices, physical activity, and gratitude.
If you are worried that you “became a lifetime older” overnight, calm down: this is a temporary phenomenon. Knowing the mechanisms of bio-age reduction, you can not only look younger again, but also live longer. Therefore, in their new studies, scientists will focus on effectively overcoming the effects of stress, which is an urgent issue. However, it is important to remember that doctors will only partially help: the main responsibility for our mental health lies with ourselves.
Epigenetic clocks seem to be the most predictive biomarkers of aging. They are based on DNA methylation patterns across the genome. Reliable biomarkers of aging provide the possibility to explore the rate of biological aging, to understand factors that have major impact on aging, and ultimately to provide the basis for interventions that can slow down the aging process. This research demonstrates the effect of stress on aging, which can be reversed when the stress is removed.
The reversibility of the process is the most interesting finding of the study, since it provides a basis for future interventions.
Maja Barbalić, PhD, Scientific Director of the Henome project
More on the “clock of life” in our previous articles: LifeO’Clock 1.0 and LifeO’Clock 2.0.
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