Stress makes you age faster

Stress: Why Christian Wulff has aged so quickly

Constant pressure to perform at work, financial worries and conflicts in private life top the list of stress factors. Almost six out of ten Germans feel stressed, as a current study by the Techniker Krankenkasse shows.

The constant stress that keeps many people running at full speed is often written on their faces: the skin is pale, the corners of the mouth and eyelids droop tiredly, worry lines are deeply embedded, and their hair turns gray prematurely.

How grayed over night

Long-lasting stress causes us to age prematurely, sometimes so rapidly and profoundly that, as in the case of ex-Federal President Christian Wulff - the trial against the former Federal President for taking advantage of benefits began this week in Hanover - you can see a person like over Night appears gray. In the meantime, science has researched more closely what happens in the organism.

When the body is under stress, it releases large amounts of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol into the blood. They mobilize all energy reserves in organs and muscles within seconds, thus enabling maximum physical performance. What was life-saving in the Stone Age has now become permanent tension - with fatal consequences for the organism.

It shuts down all functions that it can do without for a short time, but for a long time. The cells of the immune system weaken and can no longer develop their protective effects. Food is processed on the back burner, vitamins and other important nutrients are not sufficiently formed and supplied to the cells via the blood. There, more and more damage accumulates, which can even be detected in the genome and can hardly be removed by the paralyzed repair systems: the cell and with it the genes age. This also leads to graying of the hair: more and more defects in the cells ensure that the production of the dye pigment decreases - the hair becomes gray.

Similar to the ends of shoelaces

The fundamental biological process was discovered in 2004 by Elizabeth Blackburn, who later won the Nobel Prize, together with her colleague, the molecular biologist Elissa Epel from the University of California in San Francisco. In a study you examined women, some of whom were under constant psychological stress, the others had a balanced mental life.

How severely stressed someone was could be read very precisely in the cell nuclei, more precisely in the so-called telomeres. Similar to the clips, the structures form protective caps at the ends of shoelaces, which protect the ends of the chromosomes in which the DNA is located.

With each division of a body cell, the protective caps on the chromosome ends lose some building blocks and become shorter and shorter. The older the cell, the shorter its telomeres. From a critical length, which is reached after about 50 cell divisions, the telomere clock stops the divisions and the cell dies.

This point was reached much earlier in the cell samples of subjects with constant stress than in the less exposed study participants. Biologically speaking, the cells of the most stressed patients were between nine and 17 years older than those of the less exposed.

Recently, researchers at the University of Gothenburg discovered that constant stress also increases the risk of mental aging. As the evaluation of a study with a few hundred test subjects running over several decades showed, the risk of dementia is higher the more stress has to be dealt with in everyday life.