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

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

Abstract: The epigenetic clocks of those who indulged in unhealthy behaviors as teenagers were 1.7 to 3.3 years older than individuals who led 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 who are at risk of developing unhealthy habits associated with accelerated biological aging and suggest interventions to prevent poor health outcomes later on.

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

“Activities such as 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 link between behavior and cellular aging in 824 twins who participated in the Finn Twin Study12.

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

One group had high body mass index scores – an approximate measure of whether a person is at a healthy weight, based on their height and body mass. The second group smoked regularly, drank alcohol excessively 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 experienced accelerated biological aging and looked for any link between unhealthy behaviors and faster aging.

Overall, the clocks show that individuals in the two groups classified as having unhealthy behaviors were, on average, 1.7 to 3.3 years older than individuals who led 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 was 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.”

Genetics may explain the link between unhealthy teenage lifestyles and accelerated biological aging
Overall, the clocks show that individuals in the two groups classified as having unhealthy behaviors were, on average, 1.7 to 3.3 years older than individuals who led healthier lifestyles during adolescence. The image is in the public domain

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

Additional research is 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 are 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 news about epigenetics and neurodevelopmental research

Author: Emily Packer
Source: eLife
Contact: Emily Packer – eLife
Picture: The 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” 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 research aims to investigate the role of adolescent lifestyle in biological aging.

Methods:

The 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 epigenetic measures of 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 along with lifestyle behavior patterns were assessed using quantitative genetic modeling.

The 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 that is shared with adolescent lifestyle is explained by common genetic factors.

Findings:

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/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute ( grant HL104125), EC MC ITN project EPITRAIN (JK and MO), research funds of the University of Helsinki (MO), Sigrid Juselius Foundation (JK and MO), Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation (6868), Juho Vainio Foundation (ES) and Päivikki Foundation and Sakari Sohlberg (ES).

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