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Exposure to Toxins can Speed up Aging, Study Reports

Update Date: May 28, 2014 12:04 PM EDT

Aging is an inevitable process for everyone. However, aging affects people's mental and physical skills differently. In a new study, researchers examined a potential explanation as to why some people age well while others do not. The team discovered that exposure to environmental toxins can speed up people's biological age.

"Aging is a complex process that reflects the interplay of genetic and environmental factors. In humans, this intricacy underlies a considerable heterogeneity in the pace of physiological aging: while one disease-free 75 year old may play singles tennis and volunteer at pre-school, another may require a walker and be dependent on care providers," the authors wrote.

For this study, the researchers focused on the effects of environmental chemicals such as benzene and cigarette smoke, and stress on people's biological age. Biological age is determined by examining the age of the body and its cells. The researchers found that increased exposure to these substances and to stress aged the body at a faster rate.

"The rate of physiologic, or molecular, aging differs between individuals in part because of exposure to 'gerontogens', i.e., environmental factors that affect aging," said Norman Sharpless from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "We believe just as an understanding of carcinogens has informed cancer biology, so will an understanding of gerontogens benefit the study of aging. By identifying and avoiding gerontogens, we will be able to influence aging and life expectancy at a public health level."

The research team hopes that future testing centered on analyzing these particular biomarkers can help better explain why people age differently. The team added that more research could unveil just how much these toxins affect and accelerate aging.

"We believe the comparison of molecular markers of aging to clinical outcomes should begin in earnest," Sharpless said

The study, "Defining the toxicology of aging," was published in the Cell Press Journal, Trends in Molecular Medicine.

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