Premature aging can be defined as a human condition wherein multiple tissues and organs display features of accelerated aging.
What Is Premature Aging?
Premature aging is a condition characterized by the gradual depletion process of multiple tissues and organs that are accelerated with the process. The aging process is different for every individual. This phenomenon can be defined as the body’s ability to adapt to the environment’s physiology and psychology that progressively decreases ultimately leading to death. It is caused by a combination of internal factors and external factors. However, there are some signs that are considered premature if you start noticing them by the age of 35. These changes are unavoidable. It is worth mentioning that there are several ways to reverse or even reduce the signs of premature aging. Having a stressful lifestyle may trigger the process. A 2015 study 1 found that poor sleep quality can have an impact on skin health and is also responsible for premature aging. According to a 2012 study, excessive stress hormones can age your body faster.
Read More About Aging Here
Understanding Premature Aging
With age human beings become progressively vulnerable to several pathologies like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases that ultimately lead to death. It is important to understand that premature aging is different from progeria. Progeria 2 is a rare incurable condition wherein a child ages rapidly. Patients with progeria live till mid-teen to early 20s. This disease can also lead to heart complications that may be fatal. A person with progerias may also be at a heightened risk of stroke.
Premature aging may also affect the mental state of an individual and cause depression or anxiety. Older people are found to experience a loss of interest in life, neglect in physical appearance and hygiene. They are also found to express recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. Evidence 3 suggests that some natural body changes associated with this process may increase the risk of experiencing depression. Females who live alone and fail to socially interact with people often experience paraphrenia 4 , which is a mental condition characterized by paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, occurring without the depletion of intellect or personality.
Causes Of Premature Aging
There are several factors that can have a direct effect on the human body. Some of these include:
- Sun exposure and tanning
- Lack of sleep
- Poor sleeping habits
- Excessive stress
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive sugar intake
- Lack of a healthy diet
- Unhealthy lifestyle
- Excess alcohol intake
- Excess caffeine intake
- Toxins and pollution in the environment
Prevention Of Premature Aging
Aging is an inevitable process. However, there may be certain things you can do to prevent or reverse premature aging. Unhealthy food habits, sleeping patterns, or constant exposure to sunlight may accelerate the process. A 2010 study 5 found that participants who quit smoking noticed that their skin looked younger. Hence, if you notice any premature signs, it is important to make changes in your lifestyle and habits. A person coping with this condition may consider the following:
1. Skin Aging
The skin 6 is the largest organ of the human body. A 2006 study 7 suggests that the skin not only protects the human body from environmental damage and avoids water loss from the body, it also has a certain cosmetic effect. Skin aging can be divided into two subcategories namely:
A. Chronological aging
This form 8 is caused by internal factors and occurs naturally. It is difficult to reverse the chronological aging process. It usually starts to appear after a certain age. Chronological aging is mainly characterized by dry skin, dullness, lack of elasticity, and fine wrinkles.
This form is caused by external factors and exposure to sunlight. According to a 2015 study 9 , it occurs “primarily due to solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which alters DNA, cellular antioxidant balance, signal transduction pathways, immunology, and the extracellular matrix (ECM).” It is possible to delay the photo-aging process, unlike chronological aging. A nutritious diet and a healthy sleeping pattern are excellent ways to delay the process. Some of the conditions caused by photoaging include:
Sunspots are characterized by small brown spots present especially on the cheeks and nose and are caused by constant exposure to the sun. The UV radiation from the sun stimulates the production of skin cells known as melanocytes. Melanocytes 10 are responsible for the production of melanin that gives the skin its color. Sunspots occur when there is a disruption in melanin production. Sunspots are harmless but may sometimes cause low self-esteem in some people. It may also be present in areas such as hands, arms, shoulders, back, or feet.
In case you notice any sunspots, it is essential to see a dermatologist to rule out any other skin conditions. Premature aging can be visible in the form of sunspots. In order to reverse or prevent the process, it is essential to make some lifestyle changes. Sunspots are common for people above 50. Some of the things you can do if you have sunspots are:
- Wear a sunscreen with SPF 30 to protect yourself from UV Rays
- Reduce direct sunlight exposure
- Use aloe vera, Vit c serum, or products with alpha hydroxy acid to treat sunspots
- Use medicines such as Topical creams, Hydroquinone or Tretinoin
In case these aren’t effective, you may also resort to clinical treatments. These include:
- Pulsed light therapy
- Chemical peels
- Laser resurfacing
Hyperpigmentation is a condition where patches of skin tend to appear darker than the skin surrounding it. This occurs when the skin produces more melanin. Hyperpigmentation 11 is a harmless condition and can usually be found on the face, arms, or legs. This form of photo aging is caused due to extreme exposure to sunlight. Some of the things you can do in case of inflammation or hyperpigmentation are as follows:
- Use sunscreen with at least SPF 30
- Moisturize with products that contain Vitamin C or retinoids
- Topical creams such as hydroquinone or azelaic acid
There are several home remedies that an individual can use to reverse hyperpigmentation. A 2018 study 12 suggests that following natural treatments are helpful to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Aloe vera may be helpful in lightening hyperpigmentation. A 2014 research study 13 found that licorice extract can also have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and skin whitening effects that can reduce hyperpigmentation.
Many people resort to cosmetic procedures if these methods aren’t effective. These can include:
- Laser therapy
- Intense pulsed light 14
iii. Dry or Itchy Skin
Dry skin is a common condition characterized by fine flakes, cracking, and dry patches. It is more common during the winter months and drier climates. If you have dry or flaky skin, it may be beneficial to consult a dermatologist in order to rule out any other skin conditions. Once you know that it is a sign of premature aging, you can adopt some lifestyle changes to reverse the process. Some of the things you can do are:
- Drink more water to keep yourself hydrated
- Moisturize regularly
- Take short baths with warm water
- Avoid spending a lot of time in dry air
- Use topical corticosteroids such as Hydrocortisone or Pramosone
- Use a gentle soap or skin cleanser
- Use natural ingredients such as coconut oil or aloe vera
iv. Wrinkles or Saggy Skin
Sagging refers to the gradual loss of skin elasticity. A 1989 study 15 found that the skin maintains its thickness and extensibility up to the 7th decade. Collagen and elastin are the two essential compounds that give the skin its youthful shape and appearance. Extreme sun exposure and hereditary factors can cause your skin to lose its elasticity. Some people experience wrinkles or saggy skin in their early 40s. These may be signs of premature aging. However, there are several things you can do in case you are experiencing wrinkles or saggy skin. They include:
- Wear a sunscreen with SPF 30
- Limit sun exposure by wearing hats and clothes that cover your hands
- Quit smoking
- Drink enough water
- Moisturise regularly
- Use products 16 with green tea extracts, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, retinoids and antioxidants
- Reduce stress
- Eat a healthy diet full of antioxidants and healthy fats
- Regular exercise
There are several clinical procedures that can be adopted in case these methods prove to be ineffective. These can make your skin appear less wrinkled and more lifted. They include:
- Botox or dermal fillers
- Facelift or Neck Lift
- Laser resurfacing
2. Other Premature Aging Signs
Some of the other signs of premature aging may include the following aspects:
A. Gaunt Hands
Gaunt hands are a condition characterized by translucent, fragile skin with visible veins. The uppermost layer of the skin appears thinner and contains fewer structuring proteins such as collagen. Aged skin undergoes progressive structural and functional degeneration. Hence, depletion of collagen in the skin can cause wrinkles. A 2005 study 17 pointed out that the thickness of the skin starts to deplete in the sixth decade of human life. In case you notice signs of your skin being translucent, it is essential to make some lifestyle changes to reverse this condition. Some of the changes that you can adopt for gaunt hands are:
- Moisturize regularly
- Apply sunscreen on your hands
- Wear gloves while doing the dishes
- Consult a dermatologist if it persists
- Use Vit C serums or creams to boost collagen production
People may adopt clinical treatments, in case these changes prove to be ineffective. They are:
- Chemical peels
- Dermal fillers
- Laser treatment.
B. Hair Loss
Most people experience hair loss due to aging. The natural process causes the hair to become thin and then fall out, allowing new hair to grow in its place. If your hair is falling out or getting thinner it may be a sign of premature aging. Some people may also experience premature grey hairs. Most women spot their first grey hair in their 30s or 40s. A study 18 pointed out that stress can cause hair to gray prematurely by affecting the stem cells responsible for regenerating hair pigment. Some of the things you can do to reverse or prevent this are:
- Have a healthy and nutritious diet
- Take a multivitamin or vitamin supplement that helps your body make keratin
- Avoid stress and worry
- Avoid heated styling tools
- Air dry your hair to avoid damage
- Exercise regularly
- Consult a doctor to get professional advice
C. Memory Loss
A 2006 research study 19 suggests that stress hormones can be a contributing factor to age our brain and immune system. People who are constantly stressed have higher chances of developing dementia and memory loss. Excessive stress damages cells in the immune system. Chronic long-term stress can wear out the body and lead to premature aging. There are certain things you can do to prevent premature memory loss. They are:
- Practice mindfulness such as yoga or meditation
- Look for positivity during challenging times
- Exercise regularly
- Have a healthy sleep schedule
- Avoid electronics before bed to ensure a sound sleep
- Engage in social interaction
- Manage stress
- Mental exercises such as puzzles or games
- Read books or magazines that challenge you intellectually
- Engage in trying out new activities
Reversing Premature Aging
It is impossible to stop the aging process whether it’s premature or otherwise. The best we can do is slow the process or prevent them by making certain lifestyle changes and adopting good habits. It is important to consult a professional to rule out any other underlying condition that is triggering the premature process. Eating a healthy diet, following a sleep schedule, and exercising regularly can go a long way in curbing this issue.References:
- Oyetakin-White P, Suggs A, Koo B, Matsui MS, Yarosh D, Cooper KD, Baron ED. Does poor sleep quality affect skin ageing? Clin Exp Dermatol. 2015 Jan;40(1):17-22. doi: 10.1111/ced.12455. Epub 2014 Sep 30. PMID: 25266053.
- Sinha, J. K., Ghosh, S., & Raghunath, M. (2014). Progeria: a rare genetic premature ageing disorder. The Indian journal of medical research, 139(5), 667–674.
- Fiske, A., Wetherell, J. L., & Gatz, M. (2009). Depression in older adults. Annual review of clinical psychology, 5, 363–389. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.032408.153621
- Ravindran AV, Yatham LN, Munro A. Paraphrenia redefined. Can J Psychiatry. 1999 Mar;44(2):133-7. doi: 10.1177/070674379904400202. PMID: 10097832.
- Serri R, Romano MC, Sparavigna A. “Quitting smoking rejuvenates the skin”: results of a pilot project on smoking cessation conducted in Milan, Italy. Skinmed. 2010 Jan-Feb;8(1):23-9. PMID: 20839421.
- Gilchrest BA. Skin aging and photoaging: an overview. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1989 Sep;21(3 Pt 2):610-3. doi: 10.1016/s0190-9622(89)70227-9. PMID: 2476468.
- Blanpain C, Fuchs E. Epidermal stem cells of the skin. Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 2006;22:339-73. doi: 10.1146/annurev.cellbio.22.010305.104357. PMID: 16824012; PMCID: PMC2405915.
- Longo, V. D., & Fabrizio, P. (2012). Chronological aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Sub-cellular biochemistry, 57, 101–121. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-2561-4_5
- Bosch, R., Philips, N., Suárez-Pérez, J. A., Juarranz, A., Devmurari, A., Chalensouk-Khaosaat, J., & González, S. (2015). Mechanisms of Photoaging and Cutaneous Photocarcinogenesis, and Photoprotective Strategies with Phytochemicals. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 4(2), 248–268. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox4020248
- Cichorek, M., Wachulska, M., Stasiewicz, A., & Tymińska, A. (2013). Skin melanocytes: biology and development. Postepy dermatologii i alergologii, 30(1), 30–41. https://doi.org/10.5114/pdia.2013.33376
- Nieuweboer-Krobotova L. Hyperpigmentation: types, diagnostics and targeted treatment options. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2013 Jan;27 Suppl 1:2-4. doi: 10.1111/jdv.12048. PMID: 23205538.
- Hollinger, J. C., Angra, K., & Halder, R. M. (2018). Are Natural Ingredients Effective in the Management of Hyperpigmentation? A Systematic Review. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 11(2), 28–37.
- Simmler, C., Pauli, G. F., & Chen, S. N. (2013). Phytochemistry and biological properties of glabridin. Fitoterapia, 90, 160–184. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fitote.2013.07.003
- Babilas P, Schreml S, Szeimies RM, Landthaler M. Intense pulsed light (IPL): a review. Lasers Surg Med. 2010 Feb;42(2):93-104. doi: 10.1002/lsm.20877. PMID: 20166155.
- Escoffier C, de Rigal J, Rochefort A, Vasselet R, Lévêque JL, Agache PG. Age-related mechanical properties of human skin: an in vivo study. J Invest Dermatol. 1989 Sep;93(3):353-7. PMID: 2768836.
- Ganceviciene, R., Liakou, A. I., Theodoridis, A., Makrantonaki, E., & Zouboulis, C. C. (2012). Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermato-endocrinology, 4(3), 308–319. https://doi.org/10.4161/derm.22804
- Waller JM, Maibach HI. Age and skin structure and function, a quantitative approach (I): blood flow, pH, thickness, and ultrasound echogenicity. Skin Res Technol. 2005 Nov;11(4):221-35. doi: 10.1111/j.0909-725X.2005.00151.x. PMID: 16221138.
- How stress causes gray hair. (2020). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-stress-causes-gray-hair
- Segerstrom, S. C., & Miller, G. E. (2004). Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychological bulletin, 130(4), 601–630. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601