Researchers are making discoveries about the effects of stress, and they are finding that moderate amounts can be good for you.
Some studies analyzing how stress influences the aging process show a common and significant characteristic that alters outcomes: Response.
How your body responds to stress and how you perceive stress can potentially extend your life.
Some scientists have discovered an “unrecognized” and “unexpected” new form of cellular stress that may promote longevity.
When DNA wraps around histones, which are proteins, they form chromatin. Other proteins can attach to chromatin as well.
However, anything associated with DNA will have to address chromatin’s structure.
Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Houston Research Institute indicate that when chromatin stress occurs, the structure of the chromatin changes; therefore, interfering with gene expression. Some genes may express themselves when they shouldn’t or not at all.
The researchers found that chromatin architectural defect, or chromatin stress, could potentially present several opportunities to slow down the aging process.
Since changes to chromatin’s structure affect the way genes are activated and silenced, the researchers studied how dosages of histone genes affected the lifespan of a strain of yeast.
Histone modifications, such as lower protein levels, influence the aging process.
In a previous study, the researchers found that overexpression of histones can, to some degree, reduce the changes to chromatin’s structure during the aging process.
In the researchers’ latest study, they genetically engineered yeast to have a lower amount of histone genes compared to normal yeast.
These altered yeasts showed a moderate reduction of histone expression and significant chromatin stress.
The mild stress changed the activation of several genes and caused the modified yeast to live longer than the normal ones.
They noticed this response in other organisms, such as a worm and fruit fly, as well as the embryonic stem cells of a mouse.
Perception of Stress
Whenever your body reacts to a change, an adjustment or physical, mental, or emotional response, the body is undergoing stress.
Believe it or not, stress is a normal part of everyday life because the body’s design enables people to experience certain pressures.
Stress manifests internally and externally from changes that are either positive or negative.
Quite often, people perceive stress as negative. However, some stress can be useful, and switching the way you think about stress may help increase your longevity.
For example, public speaking may be stressful for some people because they are uncomfortable with the attention.
In contrast, others embrace the attention and the opportunity to share a new thought or idea.
Good stress is called eustress or acute stress.
It results from the primal “fight or flight” response, in which the body fights to defend itself from a life-threatening situation by fighting or fleeing from possible danger.
It’s a survival mechanism that most animals experience.
Eustress motivates you to take action.
It encourages you to succeed by reevaluating your efforts; it builds up your resilience by teaching you how to cope with difficult experiences and to power through them; and, it can improve your quality of life, helping you to focus on more positive results.
When the body encounters stress, it gets defensive. It releases chemicals and hormones, such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol.
They contribute to many physiological changes — for instance, muscles tense and heart rate, respiration rate, and perspiration increase.
Acute stress eventually goes away. According to the American Institute of Stress, it can take nearly an hour and a half before the body can return to its normal state.
However, when prolonged, it wears the body down impairing an individual’s health.
The issues that result from chronic stress include hypertension, headaches, gastrointestinal problems and skin rashes, obesity, depression, and memory loss.
It can also contribute to diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Researchers are finding that intermittent stressful events can keep the brain more alert and enhance performance.
In a 2013 study, the University of California at Berkeley researchers decided to look at how intermittent stress readies the brain for increased performance and affects memory in rats.
Since the brain’s hippocampus plays a significant role in memory, they focused on the dentate gyrus within the hippocampus.
It is one of two areas in the brain that can create brain cells in adults. It is also very sensitive to glucocorticoid stress hormones.
The researchers created a stressful environment by immobilizing rats. They kept them in their cages for a few hours.
This restraint raised the levels of the rats’ corticosterone, a stress hormone, for a few hours, and doubled new brain cells.
Two days after the event, the stressed rats failed a memory test, but they performed better on the test two weeks later.
Researchers were able to establish that the new nerve cells resulting from the short term stress were the same cells involved in learning new tasks a couple of weeks later.
They reasoned that it took time for the cells to mature and function as neurons.
However, the increase in the number of cells helped the rats stay more alert and aware of their environment, so they could determine what was or was not a threat.
The more discoveries scientists make, the more opportunities for innovations that can intervene with the aging process.
Researchers believe that chromatin stress triggers a response that benefits organisms. If this response is present in humans, it can open up some opportunities to slow the aging process.
Meanwhile, researchers also point out how you acknowledge stress can influence how you successfully adapt to change.
Altering the way you perceive a stressor or stressful situations helps you to evade a flood of stress hormones that prolong the “fight or flight” syndrome. Avoiding this prolonged state, which can develop into chronic stress, can help extend your life.