Smoking Tobacco Accelerates Aging Process by Altering DNA
Monday, December 21, 2015
Although it is clear that smoking tobacco and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol are leading causes of death and disease, experts have been uncertain about how these substances affect the process of biological aging.
In a new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers examined the effects of smoking and drinking on a process called “DNA methylation.” When this complex process is disturbed, it can lead to signs of aging, such as wrinkled skin and graying hair.
In their study, researchers examined data from two different ethnic groups. One group included 656 Europeans; the other included 180 African Americans.
The researchers discovered that even at low levels of exposure, cigarette smoking strongly accelerated the aging process. Alcohol appeared to accelerate aging at the lowest levels of consumption as well as at the highest levels. However, moderate levels of alcohol consumption appeared to slightly slow the aging process, noted the researchers.
“Smoking at all levels leads to accelerated aging. With respect to alcohol, however, the response is more nuanced. It is quite clear that moderate levels of drinking are associated with slower aging,” said study co-author Robert A. Philibert, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Director, Psychiatric Genetics Lab, University of Iowa. “It’s possible that people who can moderate their drinking tend to have good impulse control and that good control is also associated with better diet, exercise, and other healthy habits,” he explained. Alternatively, it may be that the direct effects of drinking alcohol in moderation are responsible for slowing the aging process, he noted.
What does “drinking in moderation” mean for older adults? According to the National Institute on Aging, people over the age of 65 should have no more than seven drinks a week and no more than three drinks on any one day. Older adults who take certain medicines or who have certain health conditions may need to drink less or not at all.
One drink is equal to the following:
- One 12-ounce can or bottle of regular beer, ale or wine cooler.
- One 8- or 9- ounce can or bottle of malt liquor.
- One 5-ounce glass of red or white wine.
- One 1.5 ounce shot glass of hard liquor, such as gin, rum, vodka, whiskey. The label on the bottle will say 80-proof or less.
This summary is from “Methylomic Aging as a Window of Lifestyle Impact: Tobacco and Alcohol Use Alter the Rate of Biological Aging.” It appears online ahead of print in the December 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Steven R.H. Beach, PhD; Meeshanthini V. Dogan, MS; Man-Kit Lei, PhD; Carolyn E. Cutrona, PhD; Meg Gerrard, PhD; Frederick X. Gibbons, PhD; Ronald L. Simons, PhD; Gene H. Brody, PhD; and Robert A. Philibert, MD, PhD.