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Study shows environment’s pivotal role in healthy aging and disease prevention

In a recent study published in Nature Aging, scientists discuss latest geroscience tools and methods to check how environmental exposures can impact the trajectory of aging and formulate strategies to delay or prevent disabilities and diseases attributed to aging.



Study: To advertise healthy aging, deal with the environment. Image Credit: polkadot_photo / Shutterstock.com

Background

The danger of diverse diseases, similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Alzheimer’s disease, ischemic stroke, myocarditis, and musculoskeletal diseases, exponentially increases with advancing age.

Subclinical processes decrease with age, including response speed, muscle strength, wound healing, memory performance, organ system functions, and immunity. This aging-associated decline in physiological processes is more pronounced in some individuals than others, with a healthy lifespan often linked to wealth.

Since genetics account for lower than 50% of the variation in chronic disease risk and lower than 10% of the variation in longevity, the environment appears to be certainly one of the first contributors to the disparity in healthy aging. Geroscience is the study of the processes and mechanisms, including those related to the environment, that determine and influence the progress and pace of biological processes involved in aging and increase the chance of age-related disorders and diseases.

Emerging molecular tools and methods will be used to measure the biological and environmental processes underlying aging to ultimately form informed policies and programs that promote equitable, healthy aging.

Environmental aspects and aging

The non-genetic aspects and exposures that influence human bodies and will be modified through individual-level behaviors and government or policy-level interventions are defined because the environment. The environment includes the social, biological, chemical, and physical points of our surroundings, all of which might directly or not directly affect human health.

Environmental toxins that enter the body through contaminated food, air, or water constitute direct pathways. A recent assessment of the worldwide disease burden indicates that environmental exposure to toxins through polluted air is the fourth major explanation for mortality. Actually, environmental toxins are certainly one of the most important aspects leading to disability-adjusted life years involving kidney disease, heart problems, and various chronic respiratory diseases.

The high concentration of ambient particulate matter has also been linked to a rise in coronary artery calcification. The ingestion of heavy metals similar to cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and lead that enter the environment through vehicle exhausts, in addition to agricultural and industrial sources, also significantly increases the chance of heart problems. Exposure to heavy metals has also been linked to neurodegenerative diseases similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

In contrast, social and economic aspects, similar to financial instability, political or civil unrest, or the dearth of secure neighborhoods, that cause immense psychological stress constitute the indirect pathways that incite toxic biological responses. For instance, several studies have reported that individuals who live in additional disadvantageous areas are at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those living in relatively less disadvantageous areas.

The shortage of healthy food options, secure walking spaces, in addition to dark and quiet periods at night can impact healthy food habits, physical activity, and sleep quality, respectively, which might increase the chance of metabolic, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Molecular geroscience tools

The event of molecular tools like algorithms that may integrate clinical information from assays and tests to quantify indicators of aging can significantly improve the scope of geroscience and elucidate aspects that influence longevity and aging. Epigenetic clocks are algorithms that mix information from chemical tags like deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) methylation inside the genome to estimate biological age and monitor the age-related deterioration of biological processes and systems.

Epigenetic clocks have also been used to check the impact of environmental parameters on older adults. For instance, one study conducted in Australia using epigenetic clocks found that a slight increase in particulate matter was linked to a half-year increase in epigenetic age. Epigenetic clocks have also been used to check the roles of socioeconomic disparities, racial discrimination, and childhood adversity in accelerated aging amongst young people.

Integrating epigenetic clocks with molecular measurements similar to proteomic and metabolomic markers may help decipher the impact of environmental exposures in shaping the trajectories of aging from the early stages of life. This information can then be used to tell policies and methods to enhance therapeutic options for and potentially prevent age-associated diseases and disorders.

Conclusions

The researchers of the present study discussed the assorted ways through which environmental exposures can increase the chance of age-associated disorders and diseases. The researchers also discussed using molecular tools similar to epigenetic clocks together with metabolic and proteomic markers to check the impact of environmental aspects on aging trajectories.

Taken together, an improved understanding of the role of environmental exposures in age-related degeneration may help formulate higher prevention and treatment strategies.

Journal reference:

  • Belsky, D. W., & Baccarelli, A. A. (2023). To advertise healthy aging, deal with the environment. Nature Aging. doi:10.1038/s43587023005187
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