“You’re giving me gray hair!” a cry that I’m sure I was not the only one who heard this from their mother when their difficult behavior caused her stress. True or not, it all sounded a little like a folk tale, until now. New studies from the laboratory of Dr. Robert Lefkowitz at Duke University show that chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone adrenaline damage the DNA in specific ways that could lead to a spectrum of conditions from gray hair to tumor formation.
The damage was shown to break down p53 protein, the protein that protects the genome against cancer by helping potential cancer cells either repair their cancerous nature, or self-destruct.
In this report in the August 21 issue of the journal Nature, they also showed more detail of the pathway by which adrenaline cause this damage. This included the role of a molecule called beta–arrestin-1 in the process of causing the damage.Two major conferences were held at the New York Academy of Science in the late 1960’s on the effects of psychological factors in causing cancer. An impression of this effect was present for a long time, and supported by numerous studies.
This recent paper by Lefkowitz brings a new level of proof and understanding to the relationship between chronic, excessive stress and the onset of gray hair and cancer. While other factors certainly contribute to onset of these conditions, we can now pinpoint one factor over which we may have some control.
Exercise, meditation, breathing exercises and other stress-management techniques may contribute to longer, healthier, and less gray lives.