Psychological and biological resilience modulates the effects of stress on epigenetic aging, 2021

Topics: Stress, psychological morbidity, anxity, epigenetic, aging

Authors: Zachary M. Harvanek, Nia Fogelman, Ke Xu and Rajita Sinha


Our society is experiencing more stress than ever before, leading to both negative psychiatric and physical outcomes. Chronic stress is linked to negative long-term health consequences, raising the possibility that stress is related to accelerated aging. In this study, we examine whether resilience factors affect stress-associated biological age acceleration. Recently developed “epigenetic clocks” such as GrimAge have shown utility in predicting biological age and mortality. Here, we assessed the impact of cumulative stress, stress physiology, and resilience on accelerated aging in a community sample (N = 444). Cumulative stress was associated with accelerated GrimAge (P = 0.0388) and stress-related physiologic measures of adrenal sensitivity (Cortisol/ACTH ratio) and insulin resistance (HOMA). After controlling for demographic and behavioral factors, HOMA correlated with accelerated GrimAge (P = 0.0186). Remarkably, psychological resilience factors of emotion regulation and self-control moderated these relationships. Emotion regulation moderated the association between stress and aging (P = 8.82e−4) such that with worse emotion regulation, there was greater stress-related age acceleration, while stronger emotion regulation prevented any significant effect of stress on GrimAge. Self-control moderated the relationship between stress and insulin resistance (P = 0.00732), with high self-control blunting this relationship. In the final model, in those with poor emotion regulation, cumulative stress continued to predict additional GrimAge Acceleration even while accounting for demographic, physiologic, and behavioral covariates. These results demonstrate that cumulative stress is associated with epigenetic aging in a healthy population, and these associations are modified by biobehavioral resilience factors.

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