Chronic stress causes premature ageing much like smoking and drinking.
Small bursts of stress managed by hormones like cortisol are normal and your body can deal with this. It’s called your fight or flight response. But when it’s prolonged and you feel there’s hardly any ‘downtime’, the flow of cortisol causes lots of inflammation that promotes ageing.
Why? Stress interferes with your gut. Your nervous system can’t digest food if your body’s tense and in permanent fight or flight mode. Your skin and brain become less nourished, and even your cells become rigid and tense. Stress also affects your detox organs so toxins accumulate and skin loses elasticity.
Your skin is also vulnerable to DNA damage. Your DNA strands are protected by sheaths called telomeres, a bit like the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces. The younger and healthier you are the longer your telomeres. A steady stream of stress shortens your telomeres and encourages wrinkles.
But the good news is you can slow this right down and here’s how:
When you’re stressed your body circulates higher levels of glucose into your bloodstream. Eat complex carbs instead of sugar and processed food to keep your blood sugar much more stable. Choose whole grains, beans, sweet potatoes, veggies and fruit packed full of antioxidants that will also combat any sugar cravings.
‘It’s no coincidence that desserts spelt backwards is stressed’ – Dr Lustig
Replace bowls of cereal or bread with porridge, smoothies, quinoa and greens. Choose peppers, kale, blueberries, turmeric, cinnamon, black rice, green tea and raw cacao. They all fight inflammation caused by stress. Snack on walnuts and pumpkin seeds between meals as their healthy fat and zinc will balance blood sugar and feed your skin. Omega 3 fish oil lengthens telomeres and regulates blood sugar so eat plenty of mackerel and wild salmon too.
Gentle exercise like walking, swimming and yoga reduce stress and combats ageing. It can reverse telomere damage and can even lengthen them again, amazing right? People who exercise 3 times a week for 45 minutes have similar telomere lengths to marathon runners! Exercise also induces healthy sleep.
Sleep is when your body regenerates damaged cells and your liver actively detoxes whilst you rest. So eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is your perfect anti-ageing skin serum. But chronic stress often impacts the quality of your sleep, so it can be a catch 22. Poor sleep is often caused by blood sugar imbalances during the day, so focus on eating anti-inflammatory and nourishing foods to reduce stress. Melatonin, your sleep hormone, is largely reliant on serotonin. So enjoy nuts, whole grains, poultry, natural yoghurt, bananas and kiwis to increase serotonin and send you peacefully to sleep.
We’re all different and what can be perceived as insignificant can be a huge stress burden on someone else. So get to know your stress triggers and befriend the anti-ageing diet to keep your brain and skin young.