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Genetics may explain the link between unhealthy teenage lifestyles and accelerated biological aging

Genetics may explain the link between unhealthy teenage lifestyles and accelerated biological aging

Summary: The epigenetic clocks of those who indulged in unhealthy behaviors as teenagers were 1.7 to 3.3 years older than individuals who reported healthier lifestyles as teenagers.

Source: eLife

Biological aging is the result of damage to cells and tissues in the body that accumulates over time. The results of the study could lead to new ways of identifying young people at risk of developing unhealthy habits that are associated with accelerated biological aging and suggest interventions to prevent poor health outcomes later.

“Unhealthy lifestyles during adolescence when cells divide rapidly can have lasting adverse effects,” says lead author Anna Kankaanpää, PhD researcher at the Gerontology Research Center and Faculty of Sports and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

“Activities like drinking or smoking, for example, can contribute to increased biological aging and related health conditions such as heart or lung disease and premature death.”

To measure the effects of unhealthy teenage behavior on aging at the cellular level, Kankaanpää and colleagues analyzed the relationship between behavior and cellular aging in 824 twins who participated in the Finn Twin12 study.

The participants were between the ages of 21 and 25 and completed surveys about their behavior at ages 12, 14 and 17. Most teenagers reported generally healthy, active lifestyles, but the researchers classified two groups as having unhealthy lifestyles.

One group had high body mass index scores – a rough measure of whether a person is at a healthy weight, based on their height and body mass. The second group regularly smoked, drank alcohol and did not exercise regularly.

The team measured DNA methylation, the addition of chemical marks to DNA that can turn gene expression on or off, in blood samples taken from the participants. They used several algorithms or “epigenetic clocks” – biochemical tests based on DNA methylation levels – to determine whether individuals were experiencing accelerated biological aging, and looked at whether there was any link between unhealthy behaviors and faster aging.

Overall, the clocks indicated that people in the two groups who were classified as having unhealthy behaviors were, on average, 1.7 to 3.3 years older than people who reported healthier lifestyles during adolescence. This is equivalent to aging about 2 to 3 weeks faster each calendar year.

The results varied depending on which epigenetic clock they used, but the link between lifestyle and accelerated aging is primarily due to shared genetics.

“Previous twin studies have shown that lifestyle and biological aging are largely heritable,” says Kankaanpää. “Our study suggests that genetics may underlie the link between unhealthy behaviors and accelerated aging.”

This shows a teenager sitting on the side of the road with a bottle of beer
Overall, the clocks indicated that people in the two groups who were classified as having unhealthy behaviors were, on average, 1.7 to 3.3 years older than people who reported healthier lifestyles during adolescence. Image is in the public domain

The study benefits from a large sample size, extended follow-up of participants, and the inclusion of individuals with a common genetic background. However, because the teens self-reported their activities, the authors say some may have misreported engaging in healthy behaviors to appear more virtuous, which may have skewed some of the results.

More studies are needed to fully elucidate the role genetics play in lifestyle habits and how these habits in turn affect adolescent biological aging. Genes that contribute to obesity or substance use can directly cause accelerated biological aging, or genes can indirectly accelerate aging by contributing to harmful behaviors that cause cell damage.

“Learning more about the aging process and the role of genetics in it can help us identify individuals early in life who may be at risk for unhealthy behaviors during adolescence or who may be prone to faster aging and related diseases later in life,” concludes senior author Elina Sillanpää , associate professor at the Gerontological Research Center of the University of Jyväskylä.

“Early identification of at-risk individuals may allow for earlier intervention to change behavior and prevent poor health outcomes later in life.”

About this epigenetics and neurodevelopmental research news

Author: Emily Packer
Source: eLife
Contact: Emily Packer – eLife
picture: Image is in the public domain

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Original Research: Open access.
The role of adolescent lifestyle habits in biological aging: a prospective twin study” by Anna Kankaanpää et al. eLife


Abstract

The role of adolescent lifestyle habits in biological aging: a prospective twin study

Background:

Adolescence is a phase of rapid growth and development. Exposures during puberty can have long-term health effects later in life. This study aims to investigate the role of adolescent lifestyle in biological aging.

Methods:

Study participants came from the longitudinal FinnTwin12 study (n = 5114). Adolescent lifestyle factors, including body mass index (BMI), leisure-time physical activity, smoking, and alcohol use, were based on self-reports and measured at ages 12, 14, and 17 years. For a subsample, blood-based DNA methylation (DNAm) was used to assess biological aging with six measures of epigenetic aging in young adulthood (21–25 years, n = 824). Latent class analysis was conducted to identify patterns of lifestyle behavior in adolescence, and differences between subgroups in later biological aging were studied. Genetic and environmental influences on biological aging in common with lifestyle behavior patterns were assessed using quantitative genetic modeling.

Results:

We identified five subgroups of participants with different patterns of adolescent behavior. When the DNAm GrimAge, DunedinPoAm and DunedinPACE estimators were used, the unhealthiest lifestyle class and the high BMI class of participants were biologically older than the healthier lifestyle class. Differences in lifestyle factors persisted into young adulthood. Most of the variation in biological aging shared with adolescent lifestyle is explained by shared genetic factors.

Conclusions:

These findings suggest that an unhealthy lifestyle during puberty is associated with accelerated biological aging in young adulthood. Genetic pleiotropy can largely explain the observed associations.

financing:

This work was supported by the Academy of Finland (213506, 265240, 263278, 312073 to JK, 297908 to MO and 341750, 346509 to ES), EC FP5 GenomEUtwin (JK), National Institutes of Health, Lungod and He Blo Institute (grant HL104125). EC MC ITN project EPITRAIN (JK and MO), University of Helsinki Research Funds (MO), Sigrid Juselius Foundation (JK and MO), Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation (6868), Juho Vainio Foundation (ES) and Päivikki and Sakari Sohlberg Foundation (ES ).



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