SPECIAL TO THE DAILY NEWS
Saturday, April 18, 2015, 5:44 AM
And, they’re off!
The bid to capture the White House in 2016 is officially upon us and it got me to thinking: Is there a more stressful job in the world than being the President of the United States?
Most of us go through our daily lives feeling somewhat harried — but running a country and being responsible for over 300 million people?
Now, that’s stress.
If you could examine a time-lapse portrait of the men who have held the office from their first year of office to the last, the effects of all that weight are readily evident.
As they approached the end of their terms, Bill Clinton and George Bush — and now, Barack Obama as well — had a full head of gray hair and dark circles that stretched almost as far down as their chin.
This is no mere illusion; research has shown that stress impacts the president stronger than the average person, aging them twice as fast.
It has long been unclear if — or why — stress causes a person’s hair to turn gray. However, recent studies have provided some insight.
A 2013 New York University study, published in Nature Medicine, determined that there is a link between the two.
The researchers found that hormones produced in response to stress can deplete the melanocyte stem cells that dictate a person’s hair color and skin tone. They found that stress causes the stem cells to leave our hair follicles, leaving hair gray or white — and once it’s gone, it ain’t coming back.
There are other factors that contribute to graying hair, including environment and genetics, and now we know that stress can also play a part.
Stress is the body’s response to the things that make us feel angry and upset, frustrated and threatened. When they manifest themselves, we enter “fight-or-flight” mode as the body’s natural response.
The effects of that can be positive or negative. For the lucky ones among us, stress provides a boost that enables us to meet and overcome the challenge.
For the rest of us, stress can be overwhelming and make everything worse. The pressure begins to infiltrate every part of our lives, starting with our health and moods, our relationships and work.
What is “Fight-or-flight?” If we’re stressed, our brain signals the adrenal gland to produce hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, which increase our heart rate and quicken our breath. It causes our blood vessels to dilate, making blood flow quickly to the muscles in our legs (just in case we have to run).
Normally, our bodies should be able to relax after some time, but when stress persists or keeps coming back, it begins to affect our immune system, putting us at greater risk for heart disease, sleep disorders, digestive problems, depression, anxiety and memory impairment.
Studies have shown that high levels of cortisol are associated with an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. That’s because stress contributes to high blood pressure, cholesterol, stomach and bowel issues.
The effects of psychological stress on the body’s ability to regulate inflammation can promote the development and progression of many diseases, including cancer.
Long-term stress — the kind of brought on by the sustained, dizzying churn that comes with being the President of the United States — can cause harmful changes in our immune system. Another stress hormone, corticosteroid, can make our bodies less capable of fighting illnesses, and more prone to premature aging.
Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery, and an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team and the chief medical correspondent for am970 in New York City, where he is heard Sundays at 10 a.m.