Premature Aging: Is Your Body Aging Faster Than It Should BeAugust 24, 2021
As we age, our internal processes – from skin cell turnover to workout recovery – all slow down and take longer to complete. As a result, this leaves room for the signs of aging, wrinkles, and fatigue to rear their inevitable heads more frequently.
These changes can be surprising when they happen earlier than you might expect, hence the term “premature aging.” And while it’s impossible to avoid these age-related changes entirely, there are ways to reduce the signs and symptoms of aging...especially if they're happening before you're ready to embrace them.
What Is Premature Aging?
The only real difference between "aging" and "premature aging" is the timeline.
Aging is ultimately the result of a shortening of telomeres, which are basically caps at the end of DNA strands that protect DNA from damage. As we age, our telomeres get shorter and shorter, eventually leaving our DNA exposed to damage; as our DNA is damaged, the signs of aging begin to emerge. For most people, fine lines and wrinkles begin to show up in our late 20s to early 30s, but this can occur even earlier for people experiencing premature aging. This carries over to any part of the aging process when the signs of aging occur earlier than usual.
In more direct terms, premature aging is when a person’s biological age appears older than their chronological age.
What Are The Signs Of Premature Aging?
While the aging process will look different for everyone, there are certain signs of aging that are considered “premature” if they occur before the age of 35 years old. Let's examine a few common concerns.
Sun spots, also known as age spots and liver spots, are flat spots found on the skin caused by years of sun exposure. These hyper-pigmented spots are most commonly found on the face, backs of the hands, and forearms. In general, they tend to appear at or after the age of 40, but people with fairer skin may see sunspots develop earlier.
Over time, the top layers of skin become thinner and contain less structuring proteins, such as collagen, that gives skin its shape. The hands start to appear more veiny, thin and prone to wrinkles as a result of this effect. There is no objective metric for when someone's hands start looking older, but most people typically notice it during their late 30s and early 40s.
Inflammation or Hyperpigmentation
Many people develop patchy discoloration on their chest as they get older. Similar to sunspots, these areas containing differing pigments are mostly caused by damage to cells during sun exposure. However, this kind of hyperpigmentation is not always connected to aging. It’s possible that it can be the result of eczema or other skin conditions that directly damage the melanin cells found in skin. There is no typical age for when this skin condition typically appears.
Dry or Itchy Skin
Having dry or itchy skin, or xerosis cutis, may happen more frequently over time when aging. This is because thinning skin becomes more vulnerable to dehydration. In most cases, people notice their skin becoming drier and more likely to flake as they near their 40s.
Wrinkles or Sagging
As you enter your 30s, your skin will begin to slow down the production of collagen, the protein that helps to give skin its shape. Collagen helps skin to bounce back and stay firm and plump. With less collage in the skin, it becomes easier for visible wrinkles and sagging to occur. You may begin to notice this happening in areas that surround frequently used muscles, such as the forehead and eyes, or where you're more exposed to the sun. The age at which a person will start to notice more wrinkles will vary, and there is little to standardize when your aging signs are considered “premature”.
When stem cells responsible for the triggering of new hair growth in the hair follicles die off or are weakened, hair loss can begin. Hormonal changes, environmental factors, genetics, and diet are all factors that play a role in how quickly this happens. At least 50% of men will be affected by hair loss by the age of 50, and up to 70% of all males later in life. Roughly 16% of women will be impacted by hair loss under the age of 50, and the number reaches over 40% of women aged 70 or more.
What Causes Premature Aging?
The shortening of our telomeres happens naturally as we age, and the rate at which these DNA caps shorten will contribute to aging speed. As with many biological processes, genetics play an important role in how quickly a person ages. However, there are lifestyle factors that can speed up the rate at which telomeres shorten and, as a result, influence the rate of aging or developing visible signs of aging. Some of these factors include:
- Smoking. Toxins and chemicals found in cigarette smoke, both naturally and added, expose skin to more oxidative stress than usual. This will cause dryness, wrinkles and other signs of premature aging to appear.
- Sun Exposure. Tanning beds and general exposure to sunlight will damage skin with ultraviolet rays. These rays damage the DNA found in skin cells, causing wrinkles, sunspots, and hyperpigmentation to occur.
- Genes. Some genetic conditions can cause a person to show signs of aging during childhood and early puberty. These conditions are known as progeria and are mostly rare. Werner syndrome affects 1 in 1 million people and Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome affects 1 in 8 million.
- Sleep Habits. Sleep gives the body the opportunity to regenerate cells. Poor sleep quality has been shown to be connected to increased signs of aging and diminished skin barrier functions.
- Diet. There has been research suggesting that eating a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can damage skin over time.
- Alcohol and Caffeine. Drinking alcohol excessively can cause skin to sag and lose its shape earlier than usual. Caffeine can have a similar effect, although there has been conflicting research about whether or not daily consumption of coffee will cause wrinkles.
- Environment. Wrinkles and pigment spots can be triggered or worsened by environmental pollutants. Since a person’s skin comes into direct contact with the air, their skin barrier will become subjected to the toxins and pollutants found in their daily environment.
- Stress. Leading a stressful lifestyle can trigger an inflammatory response in the body, in addition to hurting sleep habits. Stress hormones and inflammation can age a person faster.
What To Do To Reduce The Effects Of Premature Aging
Obviously there is little that can be done to fight aging, but there are ways to help your body not to age “prematurely.” Some of the best ways to do fight the signs of aging include:
1. Protect yourself from the sun. The sun plays a huge role in prematurely aging skin. Seek shade from the sun, cover up with clothing, and use sunscreen when you plan to be in the sun for long periods of time.
2. Stop smoking. Chemicals in smoke greatly speed up how quickly skin ages and causes wrinkled or dull complexion.
3. Eat a healthy diet. By eating more fruits and vegetables you can help prevent damage that leads to premature aging. Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates when possible.
4. Drink less alcohol. Alcohol dehydrates and damages the skin over time. Reducing alcohol consumption can help keep skin hydrated and younger-looking, not to mention the benefits for your liver and nervous system.
5. Exercise more. Increasing exercise can improve circulation, strengthen muscles and the cardiovascular system, and boost the immune system.
There are many contributing factors to premature aging, and while some can’t be helped, there are quite a few that can be altered. By protecting yourself from sun exposure, eating a healthier diet, and getting plenty of exercise you can fight some of the most common causes of aging prematurely.
Aging is one of the non-negotiable realities of life; however, for people that feel like they may be aging faster than they should be, there might be a few things that can be done about it. The sun is known to contribute to skin issues, as do alcohol and smoking, and reducing exposure to these alone can significantly reduce your risk of experiencing premature aging. Supporting general wellbeing with a quality diet, plenty of exercise, adequate rest, and good stress management can all contribute to a great complexion, and more.
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