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Why Epigenetic Age is Important: 3 Examples

“Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young. “This quote by Dorothy Canfield Fisher makes a valid point. Stay young at heart, and you are never old. Here’s a counterpoint; if you knew how long you would live, would thing change anything?

Jay Harold wants you to be aware of emerging research that may play an important role in healthcare. Epigenetics is an area that holds great promise to improve the lives of many people.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has provided a glimpse into the future of lifespan prediction with a summary of research by Harrison Wein, Ph.D. The research indicates certain DNA changes can better predict a person’s life expectancy than traditional risk factors such as age. Dr. Steve Horvath2, a professor of human genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA has done groundbreaking research into epigenetics. He leads a group of researchers  working in the area of epigenetics.

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This is a significant information! 

Our DNA changes as we age. Some of these changes are epigenetic—they modify DNA without altering the genetic sequence itself. Epigenetic changes affect how genes are turned on and off, or expressed, and thus help regulate how cells in different parts of the body use the same genetic code. Previous studies have shown that levels of one type of epigenetic modification, called DNA methylation, roughly reflect a person’s age.

Recent work suggests that epigenetic age might also be associated with health outcomes independent of chronological age.

The researchers analyzed DNA in blood samples from more than 13,000 people, including non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics, and African Americans. Many of the samples came from large NIH-funded studies, including the Framingham Heart Study and the Women’s Health Initiative. The researchers were funded in part by NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA). The team also included scientists from NIA and NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). The study appeared on September 28, 2016, in Aging.

The researchers tested different models of epigenetic age. Different cell types—even similar ones like various blood cell types—have different epigenetic patterns. As people get older, the mix of immune cells in their blood shifts. When these age-related changes to blood cell composition were factored in, the researchers’ epigenetic age model predicted mortality (death) from all causes better than previous measures of epigenetic age. The relationship between epigenetic age and death was significant in both sexes and across all the ethnic groups in the study.

Why Epigenetic Age is Important: 3 Examples

Epigenetic age might also be associated with health outcomes.

“Our findings show that the epigenetic clock was able to predict the lifespans of Caucasians, Hispanics, and African-Americans in these cohorts, even after adjusting for traditional risk factors like age, gender, smoking, body-mass index, and disease history,” says NIA’s Dr. Brian Chen, the study’s first author.

These results support the notion that epigenetic age captures some aspect of biological aging over and above chronological age and other risk factors. “Our research reveals valuable clues into what causes human aging, marking a first step toward developing targeted methods to slow the process,” Horvath says.

Examples of Epigenetic Age (Clock)

Insights from Dr. Horvath’s research include:

  1. “Healthy breast tissue is about two to three years older than the rest of a woman’s body,” he said. “If a woman has breast cancer, the healthy tissue next to the tumor is an average of 12 years older than the rest of her body.”
  2. Results may explain why breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Given that the clock ranked tumor tissue an average of 36 years older than healthy tissue, it could also explain why age is a major risk factor for many cancers in both genders.
  3. The clock’s ticking rate isn’t constant,” he explained. “It ticks much faster when we’re born and growing from children into teenagers, then slows to a constant rate when we reach 20.”

Risk Factors that are more Important Epigenetic Factors

The precise roles that epigenetic factors play in aging and death remain unknown and require further study. It’s important to note that many risk factors, including smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure, have stronger effects on mortality than epigenetic age.

Five of the 6 Leading Causes of Death by Black American Males in 2010 can be traced back to smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure risk factors.

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”  Marcus Aurelius’ quote is a guide on living.

Enjoyed this post? Share it and read more here.  Questions?  “Ask the Pharmacist a Question!”  Jay Harold is always looking out for your health and wealth.



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