Heavy Smoking, Drinking Linked to Accelerated Aging

Heavy Smoking, Drinking Linked to Accelerated Aging

By Paul Gaita 10/19/15

Researchers identified a definitive link at the cellular level.

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Cigarette and alcohol use have long been linked to premature aging in users, but a new study shows that heavy use of both substances can causes changes at the cellular level which accelerate the aging process.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa and other institutions, looked at patterns of methylation, a biochemical process that controls a wide range of body functions, including genetic expression, and DNA modification.

Researchers first reviewed previous studies which identified methylation levels at two areas in the human genome. Two locations where levels were linked closely to cigarette and alcohol use, and another 71 locations which could determine a person’s biological age, as opposed to their chronological age.

By calculating the difference between biological and chronological age, researchers were able to determine how these two substances might cause premature aging. Their findings revealed that very low or very high consumption of alcohol had the greatest impact on age acceleration, while exposure to smoke at all levels had a similar effect.

Moderate alcohol use was seen to produce a more “normal” rate of aging. “These new tools allow us to monitor smoking and alcohol use in an objective way, and to understand their effects quantitatively,” said doctoral student and study co-author Meeshanthini Dogan, M.S.

The researchers hope that their research will help to not only aid future researchers in determining how methylation patterns react to lifestyle changes, but also prove useful in other tests to determine future patterns of alcohol and smoking abuse.

As study co-author Robert A. Philibert, M.D, Ph.D noted, “Being able to objectively identify future smokers and heavy alcohol users when they are young, before major health issues arise, can help providers and public health practitioners prevent future problems, improve quality of life, and reduce later medical costs.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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