Science has begun to make profound advances in health and longevity by working on the most subtle levels of the body: chromosomes, threadlike strands of DNA and proteins. Ayurveda acknowledges that the more precise a therapy is on the subtle level, the more powerful the effect on the gross and physical levels.
A new study links chronic stress to shortening of the protective caps of chromosomes, called telomeres.1 Damaged or shortened telomeres is directly associated with accelerated aging.2 Scientists have discovered three Ayurvedic herbs with unique properties that provide support for the body before stress gets out of hand!
Keep reading to learn how you can reap the anti-aging benefits of keeping stress at bay.
Stress + DNA
At the end of each chromosome is a protective cap called a telomere, like the plastic cap on a shoelace. When the cap is damaged, the telomere becomes non-functional, shortens, ceases to divide, and dies.
Luckily, there is an enzyme in the body that replenishes telomeres, called telomerase reverse transcriptase. However, scientists have found multiple biochemical pathways of stress that can deplete this enzyme over time. Without it, telomeres will shorten, which is directly linked to aging.2
In other words, chronic stress —> shortened telomeres —> rapid aging
In fact, stress has become such a major threat that one study reports 60-80% of visits to primary care doctors are related to its effects.3 The body’s natural stress defense is called homeostasis, an inherent function that makes instantaneous physiological adjustments when we’re under stress, thereby maintaining a harmonious equilibrium in our bodies.
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Overwhelmed: Chemistry of Stress
Within seconds of a stressful event, the stress hormone cortisol is released, triggering a fight-or-flight response and other short-term effects of stress.
Short-Term Effects of Stress
- Turns off digestion
- Stores fat
- Spikes blood sugar and blood pressure
- Causes heart to race
- Fight-or-flight sympathetic charge
If the body isn’t given opportunity to recover from short-term stress, over time stress responses occur that are more concerning.
Long-Term Effects of Stress
- Free radical damage
- Decreased memory and cognition
- Decreased sexual function
- Imbalanced blood sugars
- Release of stress hormones
- Depletion of mood-stabilizing hormones
When homeostasis pathways are overwhelmed by stress, the resultant chemistry can linger for hours, days, weeks, or longer. When the stress response is chronic, homeostatic pathways break down and more and more telomeres become damaged and shortened.
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Protect Your DNA Naturally
Stress pathways are so diverse that researchers have found not one, but a combination of herbs may be needed to protect all of the body’s natural homeostasis pathways under stress.
Three Ayurvedic herbs were found to support the full range of homeostatic pathways:
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha may be the world’s most powerful and well-documented adaptogen. An adaptogen is an herb or supplement that supports homeostatic pathways to cope with immediate impacts of stress. Ashwagandha supports the following homeostatic pathways:
- Supports mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters6
- Protects against lipid peroxidation7
- Promotes antioxidant activity7
- Helps regulate balanced blood sugar14
- Supports balanced cortisol levels7
In one study, 98 stressed men were given 500mg of ashwagandha for 60 days. The results supported: healthy moods, cardiovascular health, healthy blood sugar levels, and healthy stress hormone levels.4
Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri)
Bacopa, also known as water hyssop, has been found to support homeostatic pathways in the following ways:
- Promotes mental clarity8
- Supports cognition11
- Supports memory11
- Supports stable mood8
- Helps regulate healthy cortisol levels9
- Is a natural antioxidant10
- Supports neurotransmitters for mental health9
Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)
Tulsi, also called Holy Basil, has been used successfully for thousands of years, like bacopa and ashwagandha. Tulsi has been found to support stress-related homeostatic imbalances in the following areas:
- Stimulates antioxidant activity5
- Helps promote healthy blood sugar already within a normal range5,12
- Supports cardiovascular health5
In a double blind, placebo-controlled study, 79 individuals took 1200mg of tulsi a day for six weeks, while 71 individuals took a placebo. Both groups were tested for stress-related issues, including cognitive function, energy, forgetfulness, sleep, and sexual health. Tulsi was shown to support stress-related issues by 39% over placebo.5
Scientists have found that a combination of herbs may be needed to mitigate effects of stress due to the complex nature of the chemistry of stress, the numerous homeostatic pathways that the body employs to protect against stress, and the potential shortening of telomeres. It’s amazing that Mother Nature provides the antidote to stress, isn’t it?
Here’s to long and healthy telomeres!