Stress that does not subside and becomes a long-term, nagging issue, also known as chronic stress, has been found to be extremely dangerous for human health. Among many other ills, stress has been linked to impaired cognitive and immune system function.
A new study, published in the journal Nature, has found another danger of physiological stress: it may shake adult stem cells out of a state of dormancy, causing them to rapidly divide, and potentially lead to DNA damage.
The study authors summarize, “here we show in mice that DNA damage is a direct consequence of inducing HSCs [haematopoietic stem cells] to exit their homeostatic quiescent state in response to conditions that model physiological stress, such as infection or chronic blood loss.”
On the effects of physiological stress on these stem cells, study leader, Dr. Michael Milsom, explains:
“It’s like forcing you out of your bed in the middle of the night and then putting you into a sports car and asking you to drive as fast as you can around a race circuit while you are still half asleep. The stem cells go from a state of rest to very high activity within a short space of time, requiring them to rapidly increase their metabolic rate, synthesize new DNA and coordinate cell division.”
Dr. Milsom adds: “Suddenly having to simultaneously execute these complicated functions dramatically increases the likelihood that something will go wrong.”
Dr. Andreas Trumpp, the study’s co-author, extrapolates: “The novel link between physiologic stress, mutations in stem cells and aging is very exciting. By understanding the mechanism via which stem cells age, we can start to think about strategies to prevent or at least reduce the risk of damaged stem cells which are the cause of aging and the seed of cancer.”
While more research needs to be done on these mechanisms, it is a healthy and wise decision for all of us to actively manage our stress. Some ways to do this are:
- Eat a clean diet of whole, unprocessed, preferably organic foods. Processed foods contain many chemical additives, some of which may trigger mood shifts such as anxiety.
- Make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep each night – at least 7 hours. When you don’t sleep enough, your body cannot repair itself.
- Exercise daily, for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity. Exercise is one of the greatest stress-busting tools in your arsenal. Try doing it in the morning or early afternoon – too late at night, and you may be too pumped up to fall asleep.
- Schedule some downtime. If you do not take time for yourself, stress is practically inevitable.
- Consider incorporating mind-body practices such as yoga and meditation into your day. These have been used to relieve stress and get centered in the present for centuries.
What steps do you take to manage your stress?
-The Alternative Daily