Epigenetics and Aging
Aging is an inevitable process that every single living organism on the planet needs to go through, including the human species. As humans, we experience a gradual rate of aging once we reach a certain age. This ultimately leads to the formation of wrinkly skin, fine lines, baggy skin, more fat and less muscle mass, physical weakness, and let us not forget the fact that age is also associated with many diseases.
Age, Disease, And Epigenetics
With advancing age, there are many diseases and disorders that may become present. Scientists have found that people are at a higher risk for certain conditions as they age – knowing about these diseases and their symptoms can help you better understand what to expect, and at the same time, give you an opportunity to act early on.
Some important conditions that you should be on the lookout for as you start to get older:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Cerebrovascular diseases
- Type 2 diabetes
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Over the last few decades, scientists all over the world have made advancements in a better understanding of why you are more likely to develop certain conditions when you become older. The answer often leads the scientists back to epigenetics.
Now, scientists are starting to focus on looking at how some conditions that are present in the younger population may cause a person to "age faster." This can help to provide better treatments that would ultimately prevent an acceleration of epigenetic aging.
The Role Of Genomics In Epigenetics
Before we dig deeper into this topic, it would be a good idea to touch the surface of what genomics is quick. Essentially, epigenetics is known to affect the genome of the human body. The genome really refers to the DNA that carries the body's genetic information.
For DNA to effectively alter the way that the body works and for the body to function correctly according to the DNA, a translation stage is needed. During this stage, DNA sequences are copied. The copied DNA sequences cause RNA to be formed.
Epigenetic Alterations Of Gene Expressions
Now that we have looked at what is affected by the process of epigenetics let’s move on to see how epigenetics causes an alteration of gene expression. It is important to note here that epigenetics refers to the expression of genes to be altered – this does not cause an alteration in the actual DNA sequence. This is why the DNA sequence is actually copied to ensure the formation of RNA, which then holds the information that would allow for the creation of proteins and, of course, be affected by epigenetics.
There are four different processes in the human body that may have an altering effect on gene expressions. These include:
- DNA Methylation
- Chromatin remodeling
- Histone modifications
- Specific RNA transcriptional alterations
The most common of these that are often targeted in scientific studies would be DNA Methylation.
Methylation is a term used to describe the attachment of a methyl chemical group to a cytosine base. The cytosine base is part of the body’s DNA structure. In turn, DNA condensation is achieved. The methylation process can turn on certain gene expressions, or it can block specific expressions from being read by cells in the body.
Potential Factors Behind Accelerated Epigenetic Aging
Scientists have clearly defined a link between accelerated epigenetic aging and premature death. While chronological aging does cause methylation to be reduced, ultimately leading to cellular dysfunction in the body, which is associated with age-related diseases, we should note here that biological aging or epigenetic aging seems to have a far greater impact.
Thus, it is crucial to determine potential influencing factors that may be causing an acceleration of epigenetic aging here. While scientists are still working hard to determine exactly what causes such an acceleration of methylation reduction, there are some breakthroughs that people can look at if they wish to improve their biological clock.
For example, in a study published in the Official Journal of the Clinical Epigenetics Society in 2017, scientists discovered a possible link between obesity and an acceleration in epigenetic aging. During the study, a large group of individuals was observed. Scientists explain that middle-aged individuals who are obese seem to have a significant acceleration in how quickly they are aging at a biological level. While the same findings were not observed in the elderly, this is still an important contributing factor that needs to be taken into account.
In another study, led by scientists from the Queensland University of Technology, scientists found that the presence of certain mental conditions may also cause a disruption in the way that methylation is supposed to work; thus imposing an acceleration in epigenetic aging as well. The study was conducted among veterans. The scientists reported that the stress implicated upon the DNA of the human and genes in general with the presence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) seemed to have a significant role to play in how fast the individual would be aging on an epigenetic level.
With this in mind, a person should understand that it is not only physiological factors that may cause them to age at a biological level. Psychological conditions, such as PTSD, would also cause problems with DNA methylation processes. In turn, this could alter the way that the body ages.
In order to reduce these accelerations in the rate at which the body ages epigenetically or biologically, it is crucial to consider the potential contributing factors first. These factors then need to be targeted. If a person is obese and suffers from a mental illness, they may have two factors causing them to age faster. Adopting a healthy diet and exercises to reduce obesity can help. Undergoing treatment to target their mental illness would, of course, have even more benefits to contribute.
Numerous studies have found links regarding certain factors that affect the epigenetics of the body and, in such a way, also contribute toward an accelerated rate of aging. Let’s take a look at a few of these studies – understanding them can equip the population with the knowledge and skills they would ultimately need to slow down their aging and could even hold the key to more effective anti-aging solutions.
Depression And Epigenetic Aging
Depression is a very common mental health condition that affects millions of people. Mental illness has been linked to a number of physical complications, including heart disease, obesity, and more. Now studies have further discovered that depression may also have an impact on the body's epigenetic aging. A study that was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry investigated the effects of depression on epigenetic aging. They found that those people who had been previously diagnosed with major depressive disorder were much more likely to have an acceleration in their epigenetic or biological aging than people who do not have such mental disorders.
Menopause, Insomnia, And Epigenetic Aging
Menopause is a phase that every woman has to go through – the average age at which a woman reaches menopause is 55, but in some cases, the symptoms can start much earlier. When symptoms of menopause start to develop, there are many complications that a woman may experience, and insomnia is one of them.
Insomnia refers to sleeping troubles. You may not be able to fall asleep at night, or you may find that you frequently wake up while you are sleeping. This leads to tiredness the next day and even puts you at a greater risk of being involved in an accident. According to recent studies6, insomnia associated with menopause may also cause faster biological aging.
Balancing Epigenetics For Better Cognitive Function With Age
Cognitive impairment and dysfunction – this is an issue often experienced as a person starts to get older. Disorders like Alzheimer's are known to aggravate further these issues that a person may be suffering from. While studies are still being conducted to see how the exact cognitive function is affected by epigenetic aging, one study did make some important discoveries.
Scientists recently discovered that by balancing the body's epigenetic among the aging population, specifically the balance in Tip60 HAT/HDAC2, this might actually help to reduce a person's risk of developing some of these age-related conditions that affect cognitive function – with a primary focus on Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, this type of strategy may even help to restore cognitive function in people who have already started to experience a decline in their mental performance and function.
Aging is a process that the human body goes through. There are two ways that age can truly be determined – this includes chronological aging and biological aging. When biological aging occurs faster than chronological aging, then DNA methylation will be reduced faster. In turn, this puts a person at a higher risk for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions at a premature age.
- Multiple Authors. DNA methylation-based biological aging and cancer risk and survival: a Pooled analysis of seven prospective studies. International Journal of Cancer. 15 Apr 2018.
- L. Perna, Y. Zhang, U. Mons, B. Holleczek, K.U. Saum, H. Brenner. Epigenetic age acceleration predicts cancer, cardiovascular, and all-cause mortality in a German case cohort. The Official journal of the Clinical Epigenetics Society. 3 Jun 2016.
- Multiple Authors. Accelerated DNA methylation aging and increased resilience in veterans: The biological cost for soldiering on. Neurobiology of Stress. 7 Apr 2018.
- Multiple Authors. Menopause accelerates biological aging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 16 Aug 2016.
- Multiple Authors. Restoring Tip60 HAT/HDAC2 Balance in the Neurogenerative Brain Relieves Epigenetic Transcriptional Repression and Reinstates Cognition. Journal of Neuroscience. 9 May 2018.