Does stress cause wrinkles? The short answer is a resounding, “Yes!” But just how do life stressors contribute to lines on the face? The mechanism is really quite simple: high cortisol levels degrade collagen, and the less collagen you have, the more wrinkles you’ll see. High levels of cortisol are caused by acute and chronic stress.
When tissues are constantly subjected to high cortisol levels, it becomes increasingly more difficult for skin to repair itself. If that weren’t enough, unhealthy levels of cortisol cause inflammation, which also negatively affects the skin.I don’t mean to infer that just because you’re stressed out, you’re going to wake up one morning with a wrinkled face. That’s not how it works. It’s a cumulative effect that happens, gradually, over years.
Stress And Aging
Glycation is a normal metabolic process that happens in the body. It’s the rate of glycation that I’m concerned about. This rate is increased poor eating habits, cooking at high temperatures, environmental toxins, obesity, and stress of all kinds.
Stress correlates to aging because of the chemicals that are released during periods of chronic stress. These chemicals cause internal changes, which then promote the external, visible signs we associate with aging. One of the main stress hormones is cortisol, which is secreted from the adrenal glands in response to stress. We need cortisol, but an excess of it, is damaging. It dysregulates blood sugar, and increases glycation, leading to, not just aging, but chronic disease.
Stress correlates to aging because of the chemicals that are released during periods of chronic stress. These chemicals cause internal changes, which then promote the external, visible signs we associate with aging.
One of the main stress hormones is cortisol, which is secreted from the adrenal glands in response to stress. We need cortisol, but an excess of it, is damaging. It dysregulates blood sugar, and increases glycation, leading to, not just aging, but chronic disease.
Glycation occurs when cortisol turns proteins and fats in the skin to sugar. This causes fibers in the skin to cross link, and become stiff and inflexible. Guess what collagen and elastin are? Yep, they are proteins, and you don’t want them sugar-coated, which is the process behind glycation. The result is some not-so-pretty effects, such as, sagging skin, wrinkles, loss of radiance, and aging. Understanding the relationship between glycation and skin health will arm you with knowledge so you can minimize glycation and its deleterious effect.
The best illustration of the effect glycation has on the skin is to visualize a smoker’s skin. Can you picture the deep wrinkles and furrows? What you’re seeing is glycation. The good news is that glycation doesn’t happen until around age 35. The bad news is, it starts to show around that age. Glycation combined with blood-sugar dysregulation, oxidative stress, and inappropriate sun exposure, creates the perfect storm raging right on your face. Ugh!
Here’s an easy way to remember what advanced glycation end products, or AGES, do. AGES = Aging.
Foods That Cause Glycation
Starchy, sugary foods are the culprits behind glycation. High-glycemic foods combined with protein and fat lead to AGE formation. Avoid foods like sugar-laden, deep-fried donuts, french fries, ice cream, and any food that spikes blood sugar. We’re all aging on a daily basis, why accelerate the process by eating foods that place stress on the body, leading to imbalanced hormones and increased glycation. Avoid high-glycemic, nutrient-depleted foods:
- Soda, juice, and all sweetened beverages
- Cakes, cookies, and pastries
- Boxed cereals
- Bread, pasta, and crackers
- Doughnuts, french fries, and ice cream
We all need a treat every now and again, so do treat yourself and don’t feel guilty about it, just don’t over do it!
Lifestyle And Skin Health
Your lifestyle affects how you look, and the rate at which you age. The health of your skin and your external appearance is directly reflective of what’s going on internally. Here are ways to minimize glycation to protect your skin:
- Take it easy on the sugar – and don’t think it’s just candy and desserts that are problematic. Processed grains, bread, crackers, and other high-glycemic carbs also cause glycation. Even healthy carbs in excess aren’t good.
- Control your blood sugar levels – elevated blood sugar is terrible for your body and your skin. Control these levels so aging isn’t accelerated.
- Maintain a healthy weight – a large waist circumference is associated with increased glycation.
- Do NOT over exercise – this is a big one. Cardio in excess increases AGES, and aging. Weight training and interval training are the best forms of exercise for aging skin as they don’t increase cortisol levels.
- Find appropriate ways to manage your stress – physical, mental, and emotional stress all raise cortisol, which increases glycation.
- Don’t over do sun exposure – UV rays from the sun increase glycation so protect your face. Zinc oxide is my favorite sunscreen as it completely blocks all UV rays. Just use it on your face, and make sure that you allow some sun exposure on your body so your vitamin D levels remain in a healthy range.
- Quit smoking and reduce alcohol intake – tobacco and alcohol, both, lead to the formation of AGES.
- Don’t cook at high temperatures – heat increases glycation so protect yourself by cooking your food for longer at lower temperatures. When grilling, marinate your meat beforehand, to further protect yourself from harmful chemicals. Blackened meat sure does taste good, but realize, that you’re consuming AGES when you eat it.
- Increase your antioxidant intake- antioxidants counteract the negative effects of AGES by protecting your cells. B vitamins are important for many metabolic processes, and also inhibit glycation, and the ravages of stress. I use Dr. Jacob Teitlebaum’s Energy Revitalization System. He’s an expert in chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, and formulated the vitamin powder specifically for his patients. It’s inexpensive, tastes good, and I can tell a difference when I take it.
- Take time for yourself – Practice self-care daily. Doing what you love is one of the best ways to manage stress, and the high cortisol levels that come with it. Find activities you enjoy, and consistently make time for them. Your hormone levels, and your face will thank you!
- Vitamin C prevents glycation damage – use this healing vitamin internally and topically.
So what’s the take home message? Safeguard your health, and your face, by engaging in healthy lifestyle practices, self-care, and stress management. Give your skin a fighting chance to age gracefully by keeping your cortisol levels and glycation within healthy ranges.
Have you noticed negative effects on your skin in times of stress? What strategies do you have in place to manage stress? Let me know in the comments:)