Can Anxiety Age Women?

Can Anxiety Age Women?

Posted on July 28, 2012 (Updated June 15, 2018)

The Connection Between Anxiety In Women and Telomeres

Oh no! Even the question, “Can anxiety age you?” strikes a chord of terror in one’s heart, mind…. or more specifically one’s telomeres. Yes, it is true: the mental effects of anxiety translate to physical effects, which include changes at the molecular and genetic level. Telomeres are DNA-protein complexes that cap chromosomes and promote chromosome stability. Recent research from a large cross sectional study of women looking at telomere shortening in highly anxious and phobic women compared to those who were less anxious showed shortening of the telomeres.

Telomere shortening has been shown to occur in anxious individuals and this capping or shortening of the genetic material in your cells has been estimated to age someone by at least 6-10 years! Telomeres allow cells to distinguish chromosome ends from broken DNA. Immortal cells (forever young cells) avoid telomere loss. Cigarette smoking accelerates aging and thus shortens telomeres. Shorter telomeres have also been associated with a higher risk for cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, dementia, and arthritis. On the flip-side, long telomeres are related to healthy aging and overall longevity.

Research has suggested that the following are all associated with increases in the enzyme called “telomerase” that protects telomeres from shortening:

  • yoga
  • a heart healthy diet
  • increased physical activity

How Can You Reduce Your Anxiety Levels?

Although this is a new area of research, it appears we can act to protect our telomeres and maintain telomere length -- and increase our health and longevity.

So in addition to avoiding inactivity, weight gain, smoking, and a poor diet, we need to work to reduce anxiety levels. Stressors cause an outpouring of adrenaline, the so-called ‘fight or flight’ hormone. When adrenaline pulses through your blood vessels:

  • your heart races
  • your blood pressure rises
  • your pulse quickens
  • your respirations increase

I have seen countless women plagued by anxiety disorders including:

  • panic attacks
  • phobias
  • generalized anxiety disorder

They are distraught, exhausted and are hyper vigilant and are unfortunately likely accelerating their aging process.

There are many medications and non-medication therapies to help reset the autonomic nervous system. One should never suffer from continued panic attacks. Every week some woman visits my clinic wondering if her female hormones ‘are out of balance.’ Many times it is not the estrogen or progesterone that is out of balance, but rather too much adrenaline.

So, whenever you look at the clock and realize you are late (something that happens to me daily), take a deep cleansing breath. Rather than brood about a problem, get out and take a brisk walk. When you feel stressed and want to reach for some high carb, high fat, non-nutritional snack, ask for a massage instead. And if you are plagued by excessive fear, anxiety or a phobia, please be sure to visit a trusted physician.

Today, when I sat back and relaxed during my glorious pedicure (an iridescent French pink) and foot massage, I thought that my telomeres were lengthening. Take time every day to nurture yourself and seek personal peace. Your telomeres will thank you!

Be Strong, Be Healthy, and Be in Charge.

-Holly L. Thacker MD

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