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Ageing process starts in young adults

Tuesday July 7th, 2015

Just 18 biological measures can be combined to see how quickly people age, according to a new study.

A large long-term human health study, based on data from the Dunedin Study found that signs of ageing were apparent from the age of 26.

The New Zealand study that has tracked more than 1,000 people born in 1972-73 in the same town from birth to the present.

Writing in the latest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research team from the US, UK, Israel and New Zealand says that a panel of 18 biological measures can be combined to determine if people age faster or slower than their peers.

First author Dan Belsky, assistant professor of geriatrics in Duke University's Center for Aging, Durham, NC, USA, said because the ageing progress shows in human organs earlier than it does in eyes, joints and hair, the team measured the functions of kidneys, liver, lungs, metabolic and immune systems of the participants of the Dunedin Study.

They also measured HDL cholesterol, cardiorespiratory fitness, lung function and the length of the telomeres, which are protective caps at the end of chromosomes that shorten with age, dental health and the condition of the tiny blood vessels at the back of the eyes.

Based on a subset of these biomarkers, the research team set a “biological age” for each participant, which ranged from under 30 to nearly 60 in the 38-year-olds.

The researchers, who reported on 954 of the original 1,037 Dunedin participants, then returned to the archival data for each participant and looked at 18 biomarkers that were measured when the participants were age 26, and again when they were 32 and 38, to calculate that individual's pace of ageing.

While most participants clustered around an ageing rate of one year per year, others aged three years per chronological year, while many aged at zero years per year.

The ultimate goal is to be able to intervene in the ageing process, rather than addressing killers like heart disease or cancer in isolation, said Belsky.

“As we get older, our risk grows for all kinds of different diseases,” he said. “To prevent multiple diseases simultaneously, ageing itself has to be the target. Otherwise, it's a game of whack-a-mole.”

Belsky D, Caspi A et al. Quantification of biological aging in young adults. PNAS 7 July, 2015; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1506264112

Tags: Australia | General Health | UK News

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1At 10/07/2015 02:07am PRice wrote

There were three areas I expected to see covered that weren’t addressed in this study: - Where were the links back to all of the measurements and predictions researchers made at the beginning of the study when these subjects were age 3? Other studies of these same subjects made such links, but it appears that only the cognitive testing link was made in this study. Are we really supposed to believe here in 2015 that scientists can’t determine any early-life causes for these dramatic later-life effects? - Where were the psychological tests? Are we also to believe that the subjects’ states of mind had nothing to do with their physical measurements? - I didn’t see any effort to use newer measures such as using the degree of epigenetic DNA methylation as a proxy to measure biological age. I would expect that these subjects’ historical tissue samples may have been available. The reviewer certainly was familiar with newer measures.

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