Does Success Cost? Stress and early aging
The drive, the ambition, the high.
But is there a cost?
A cost to the body's most luxurious state . . .
The body: the exquisite physique that we are learning to love more than luxury cars. Fine physical shape and glowing health is the new status symbol.
Health is the wealth that buys you time, confidence, and a deeply satisfying content. But wellness can suffer due to stress.
"Can I handle this?"
Stress becomes negative stress when we start to believe that the stress is more than we can handle. "I can't handle it" is the beginning of unfortunate physiological changes.
Stress can be due to mental, physical, or emotional pressure.
"I can handle this."
The key to adapting to stress, in addition to using tools listed below, is to believe "I can handle it". Practicing this attitude repetitively through mindfulness, meditation, guided athletic classes, training with positive affirmations, or therapy are useful to re-pattern your neural networks.
Create the habit of feeling Empowered.
What is the wellness science of stress recovery?
Read below, or sign up for the Online Course.
Stress can cause hair loss.
Sudden and recoverable hair loss: telogen effluvium is a one-time stress event related hair loss that doesn't usually need treatment; the hair will grow back as you get well, usually within 6 to 9 months.
Patchy hair loss: alopecia areata can causes patches of hair loss, due to an autoimmune process and associated inflammation. So reducing stress and inflammation is key. In both of these two conditions, alopecia areata and telogen effluvium, the hair follicle is simply dormant, not damaged.
Certain drugs can affect the hair, so consult with your physician or dermatologist, even for over the counter drugs like Ibuprofen. For a list of drugs, see the article by Brzezinska-Wicslo 2016, or WebMD.
What exactly is hair?
And how does it grow back?
Hair is dead keratin, created by living keratin made in hair follicles. Each follicle has a three stage life cycle that it goes through: anagen, catagen, telogen. Let's call them stages A, C, T for short.
The A stage is growth for 2 to 6 years.
The C stage is transitional.
The T stage is a rest time, lasting 8 to 12 weeks. In prolonged stress, the hair can prematurely enter the T stage and break off more easily. Hormonal imbalance, inflammation, and malnourishment are some of the contributors to early T stage.
Hair follicles also respond to stress by increased production of CRH, Corticotropin Releasing Hormone. CRH increases specifically in the hair follicle keratinocytes, ie the cells that produce keratin. It also increases in sebocytes, whch produce sebum, a substance that can build up and clog pores and follicles of the scalp. CRH also increases inflammation (1).
So, if you are losing hair due to prolonged stress, you need to re-design your lifestyle and investigate your nutrition. Key tools to rebalance your hair health include:
hair: KEY TOOLS
- relaxation to reduce stress
- mindfulness: 1 minute a day
- exercise to increase endorphins and reduce stress
- supplements to look into:
- increase effective digestion of nutrients: more time in parasympathetic mode, foods and supplements to heal the gut, intermittent fasting and expert support if needed
- juicing for increased nutrients: use vegetable juices without added fruit to avoid excess sugars
- scalp massage
- scalp oils
- scalp health
- upside down yoga poses to increase circulation to the scalp: downward dog, forward fold, butterfly, handstand, headstand, pinche, matsayasana or fish pose
- pay attention to scalp tightening when stressed and try to reset to a more relaxed mode of neck and head muscles
- review your medications and consider alternatives
If these aren't effective in three months, consider a consult with a physician, a dermatologist to rule out a skin disorder affecting hair growth, Book A Session to design your ultimate de-stress plan, or see a functional medicine doctor.
Dr. Alexia Harris says that hair loss can be due to adverse conditions on the skin of your scalp, such as a fungal growth, and can assess for this use a wood's lamp in naturopathic sessions.
Stress can lead to early aging of the skin.
But what exactly is skin?
And how do you preserve youthfulness that goes skin deep?
Skin is a layer of live cells, the epidermis, that then die and become the surface layer of dead cells, the stratum corneum.
The amount of collagen, moisture, and other factors contribute to the youthfulness of skin.
On a more microscopic level, the quality of DNA affects the skin cell. Telomeres protect DNA from fraying, and when they age, then the DNA frays, which causes the cell to age. Stress shortens telomeres, and leads to earlier biological aging in general, including skin aging.
The good news is that telomere shrinking can be halted by reducing stress. Even better, they can grow long again, reducing the effects of aging. To grow your telomeres, you need to activate an enzyme called telomerase (2).
How do stress hormones cause a change to your skin?
In your skin, there are a variety of cells that contribute to skin elasticity and cohesion. These cells have tiny receptors on them that respond to hormone changes. When you have increased stress, you release more hormones that cause changes to the skin. You may have heard of the HPA axis. The skin is the outer aspect of the HPA axis. Skin cells produce more CRH when stressed. CRH is Corticotropin Releasing Hormone, which causes increased corticosterone and ACTH by melanocytes and fibroblasts. Stress also increases production of glucocorticoids, which increase skin age.
Part of the HPA axis, your adrenal glands which sit just on top of your kidneys, amp up with stress to produce more stimulants: epinephrine and norepinephrine. Epinephrine leads to decreased blood flow to the skin, and increased inflammation by increasing inflammation chemicals called cytokines.
Stress also interferes with mitochondrial function, and having less healthy mitochondria is associated with increased aging.
So, what can you do?
skin: KEY TOOLs
- increase exercise: you flush excess stress hormones out of your blood stream, increase number of mitochondria, and increase myokines
- relax to reset your HPA axis
- increase blood flow to the skin through: exercise, relaxation, saunas, hot yoga, massage, dry skin brushing
- eat an anti-inflammatory diet
- avoid smoking and air pollution
- take time to self care or get treatment if caregiving, depressed, or struggling with memories of childhood adversity, which are all situations which can increase aging through telomere shortening
- remove yourself from violent situations, which increase aging through telomere shortening
- recover from sleep deprivation
- take adequate omega 3 fatty acids in your diet to increase telomere length: such as oily fish and flaxseeds (3)
- glutathione to help cells detoxify
- design your own anti-aging skin de-stress plan with a Series of Sessions
NEURONS / BRAIN
Does stress affect the brain?
Yes it does.
Chronic stress decreases the branches of neurons, the tiny cells that compose our brain and send electric signals all around our bodies.
Our brain is composed of about 100 billion nerve cells.
Studies show that, after three weeks of chronic stress, neurons start to lose their branches. These branches, called dendrites, are key to learning and optimal quick thinking, also known as processing speed.
In research by Dr. Cara Wellman, she found that prolonged stress and increased corticosterone reorganized dendrites in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that does problem solving, also known as executive function.
Dr. Wellman explains that the nerve branches can grow back, with rest, exercise, and activities such as reading, writing, and doing crossword puzzles.
Also, exhaustion occurs when chronic stress lead to less dopamine and serotonin in the brain. More than 21 days of stress cause increased amygdala activation, which means that increased fear and aggression occur as the amygdala is where we create fear, flight, fight, or freeze responses to stress.
Increased stress also decreases norepinephrine, leading to fatigue. Learning and memory decrease with too much stress, and self control diminishes as well.
Prolonged glucocorticoids created by the adrenal glands, lead to shrinking of the hippocampus with stress. A smaller hippocampus is also seen in people with PTSD. The hippocampus can grow back, as it is the one are of our brain where we now know that neurons continually grow. As the hippocampus is associated with learning, memory, and emotional intelligence, this is reassuring.
brain: key tools
- deep breathing exercises
- learn how to de-escalate negative emotions
- plan recovery from stress
- every three weeks, take two days to really unwind
- increase BDNF, Brain Deived Neurotrophic Factor, through exercise. There may be a benefit on increasing BDNF from green tea extract, coffee bean extract, and low dose lithium but this is not yet confirmed; however, was presented in repetition throughout the IFM Conference on the Dynamic Brain
- reduce the impact of trauma, recent or remote, through trauma-focused therapy and / or trauma-sensitive yoga
- reduce amygdala stimulation and overly intense emotions: reduce stimulant use, reduce exposure to high expressed emotion or intense emotion, in real time or on tv shows and movies or other media, increase a sense of calm, increase seeing experiences through compassion and kindness, remove your self from interpersonal interactions where the other is voicing or unloading frustration on you, walk away from people venting anger, keep conversations on intense emotions (yours or others when active listening) to less than 30 minutes to avoid a change to your brain rhythms
- practice feeling safe, calm, uplifted through meditation, mindfulness, or yoga
- cultivate alpha brainwave states
- surround your self with positive people
- Book a Mindfulness Session for a personalized tap in to your deepest state of chill
YOUTHFUL SUCCESS PLAN
So, how can you harness all of this information into a renewal plan?
Let's divide this into four weeks, so one month with a different focus every week to re-build your health.
WEEK 1: BODY
- sleep 7 hours a night
- exercise 5 days a week
- decide on and take needed supplements as mentioned above: assess this with a qualified health care provider as to which ones work best for you, do tests as needed to confirm deficiencies
- repeat the sentence "I can handle this" and if you can't believe this, find someone to support you
- enjoy fresh air once a week at least on an extended walk or hike or other outdoors activity
WEEK 2: MOOD
- mindfulness practice for at least one minute daily: guided meditations count
- cultivate a feeling of safety
- cultivate alpha brainwaves
- avoid high expressed emotion in media or otherwise
- cultivate positive mood through Guided Meditation, Yoga Nidra, or Sankalpa Meditation
- remove yourself from violent situations
- establish clear boundaries on negative emotions or thoughts
- listen to calming music or meditations before you go to sleep
- surround yourself with positive people
- seek qualified guidance to resolve past trauma if needed; consider trying trauma-sensitive yoga
WEEK THREE: MIND
- one hour of protected rest time each night, whatever is restful to you
- one weekend of no schedule, just to relax and unwind, no work, no obligations beside family
- read, write, do crossword puzzles
- consider supplements, again best done supervised by a qualified health care practitioner
- increase BDNF
WEEK FOUR: BELIEFS
- practice the sentence "I can handle this" for three minutes, three times a day
- counter negative beliefs with positive beliefs
- commit to one thing in the next year that will bring you great joy, uplift you
- choose your favourite elements from the last three weeks, and make a simplified and synthesized plan for your self to follow for the next month
Wishing you the best, always,
Dr. M. ~
1. Chen and Lyga, 2014. Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging in: Inflam Allergy Drug Targets.
2. Thea Singer, 2010. Stress Less: The New Science That Shows Women How To Rejuvenate The Body And The Mind by Thea Singer, published by Hudson Street Press. (Book)
3. Zoe Korben, 2017. Elizabeth Blackburn on the Telomere Effect: it's about keeping healthier for longer. In: The Guardian. (Popular Literature)
4. Dr. Cara Wellman: Garrett & Wellman, 2009. Chronic Stress Effects on Dendritic Morphology in Medial Prefrontal Cortex: Sex Differences and Estrogen Dependence. In: Neuroscience Aug 4; 162(1): 195–207.
5. Tiffany Cruikshank, 2016. Meditate Your Weight: Your 21-Day Retreat to Shed Pounds, Feel Great, and Lighten Up. (Book)
6. Sun et al, 2016. The Mitochondrial Basis of Aging. In; Molecular Cell Review 61, March 3 654-666.
7. Reynolds 2014. Younger Skin through Exercise. In: The New York Times. (Popular Literature).
8. Sara Gottfried, 2017. Younger: A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years. (Book)
9. Dinoff et al 2016. The Effect of Exercise Training on Resting Concentrations of Peripheral Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF): A Meta-Analysis. In: PLoS One 11(9): e0163037.
10. Reynolds 2016. How exercise may help the brain grow stronger. In: The New York Times. (Popular Literature).
11. Gomez-Pinella et al. 2002. Voluntary Exercise Induces a BDNF-Mediated Mechanism That Promotes Neuroplasticity. In: Jounral of Neurophysiology.