Elissa Epel, PhD, Wendy Mendes, PhD, and Aric Prather, PhD, University of California, San Francisco
Competition Sponsor: U.S. National Academy of Medicine
There have been remarkable discoveries about life extension in lower organisms such as worms using hormetic stress. Hormetic stress includes short term moderate stressors (such as temperature stress, or hypoxia) that trigger natural endogenous mechanisms of healing and repair. Hormetic stress has positive effects in cells and in organisms as well. Hormesis provides an incredible opportunity to promote lifespan in humans. However, besides exercise, there are no studies we are aware of examining hormesis effects on aging biology in humans. This is in part because there have not been well developed programs for inducing hormetic stress. We propose to compare a program of daily hormetic stress (hyperventilation, hypoxia, and cold exposure). Initial published evidence suggests this method may improve immune function but vagal tone and key biomarkers of aging have not been examined. Vagal tone, an index of parasympathetic activity, is an integrative regulator of salutary processes and is linked to healthy longevity globally. We propose to examine if daily exposure of hormetic stress for one month leads to an increase in resting vagal tone, as well as secondary changes such as greater baroreceptor sensitivity, and slower aging in immune cells (less inflammation, slowed epigenetic clocks, higher telomerase) and more resilient responses to acute psychological stress. We will compare this to high intensity exercise and a sham control group. If one month of hormetic stress shows improvement of vagal tone and indices of homeostatic capacity, this highly disseminable intervention has tremendous implications for slowing human aging.
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