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Are Environmental Toxins Ageing?

Why are some 75-year-olds downright spry while others can barely get around? Part of the explanation, say the authors of research published in Trends in Molecular Medicine, is differences from one person to the next in exposure to harmful substances in the environment, chemicals such as benzene, cigarette smoke,and even stress.

While your birth date can tell you your chronological age, that might mean little in terms of the biological age of your body and cells. The researchers say that what we need now is a better understanding of the chemicals involved in ageing and biomarkers to measure their effects.

The rate of physiologic, or molecular, ageing differs between individuals in part because of exposure to ‘gerontogens’, i.e., environmental factors that affect ageing. We believe just as an understanding of carcinogens has informed cancer biology, so will an understanding of gerontogens benefit the study of ageing. By identifying and avoiding gerontogens, we will be able to influence aging and life expectancy at a public health level.”

In the future, blood tests evaluating biomarkers of molecular age might be used to understand differences amongst individuals in aging rates. Those tests might measure key pathways involved in the process of cellular senescence or chemical modifications to DNA.

From a public health perspective, cigarette smoke is likely the most important gerontogen. Cigarettes are linked with cancers but also with atherosclerosis, pulmonary fibrosis, and other diseases associated with age. UV radiation from the sun makes us older too, and the researchers recently showed that chemotherapy treatment is also a strong gerontogen.

Sorrentino J A et al., Defining the toxicology of aging. Trends in Molecular Medicine, 2014; DOI:10.1016/j.molmed.2014.04.004

Categories: Healthy Aging