Health & Fitness

Stress Response as Sign of Aging

Kristen Sparrow • August 11, 2018

I’m rereading this blog post by “friend-of-blog” Zach Haigney.  He is reviewing and discussing a Science Direct article from 2013 that seeks to establish biomarkers for cellular stress response and what they can tell us about the aging process.   A key sentence in this article is the following

“A crucial component of the homeodynamic space is the Stress Response (SR), by virtue of which a living system senses disturbance and initiates a series of events for maintenance, repair, adaptation, remodeling and survival”.

In the context of acupuncture, this disturbance is needling.  Needling causes a cascade of physiological responses to heal the body when confronted with this slight injury.  Part of healing is going into the “rest and digest” state of relaxation.  The body needs to shut down “fright/flight” and go into healing mode. I am trying to show that with heart rate variability (a second by second monitor of stress response), is this potential for healing. So it behooves us to understand stress, and the adaptive stress response in the context of health and aging.  Because slight stressors  or hormetic stimuli on the system, can actually strengthen the system by making the adaptive stress response more robust. Hormesis is defined as a “hormesis; a low dose stressor that bestows benefits because it challenges the body to upregulate adaptive, survival, repair and rejuvenating processes.”

So the point Zach makes  in his blog post is that aging starts occurring before the outward symptoms start.   It is my belief, and Zach’s, that acupuncture represents a  stressor which causes the body to have a more robust response to stress.  One of the most dramatic examples in the clinic are people’s results with acupuncture for migraine.  The occasional needling helps boost their system, so that when a migraine trigger is encountered, they don’t flip into a full blown migraine.

To be clear, Zach and I are interested in other potential hormetics also.  Exercise is an obvious one.  A Another might be cold or heat (sauna) stress.  Another, which he goes into at length, is hunger.  And he advocates for time restricted eating to encourage this benign stressor which engenders many benefits.  I hope these examples also make clear the importance of dosage.  I’ve seen ultra marathoners who age prematurely because of the undue stress they’ve put on their systems.  Obviously cold or heat exposure can kill you if in an excessive “dosage.”  Fasting is starvation when taken to an extreme.

Going back to the first quote, and revisiting the idea of aging as the shrinking of the homeodynamic space we can say that aging is the decrease in the dynamics which maintain, repair, adapt, remodel and survive in response to stress.  So to slow the aging process as much as we can, there are simple ways to hormetically strengthen our systems. My goal is to establish HRV as one of these biomarkers for robust cellular health.

In trying to come up with an understandable metaphor for the slight stressor of acupuncture, or other hormetics, one can think of it like stretching.  Stretching gets the best results when done every day, or even twice a day.  You push the system slightly to the point of a stress, and then back off.  One wouldn’t expect to be able to stretch into a full lotus in one day, it’s just not physiological.  Likewise with facial needling.  The beauty of facial needling, along with acupuncture therapy or with microneedling, is that it is a mild physiological response that the body can react to.  The results are natural.  Some of the results I’ve seen with laser can be much more dramatic, but you run the risk of looking freakish.  Same with surgery.