Toxic Substances Make You Older

Environmental toxins play a significant part in your molecular aging, according to new research.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say toxins that affect the rate of such aging include benzene, cigarette smoke and even stress. Molecular age refers to the age of the body’s cells, and is different from chronological age.

“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 UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center Director Ned Sharpless. “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.”

Cigarette smoke is likely the most important gerontogen, Sharpless said. Cigarettes are linked not only with cancers but with age-associated diseases such atherosclerosis and pulmonary fibrosis. UV radiation from the sun is another gerontogen, and Sharpless and his colleagues recently showed that chemotherapy treatment is also a strong gerontogen.

A concerted research effort is needed, the researchers said, to further understand gerontogens. Sharpless said that research could discover whether toxicity from surgery or chemotherapy could be predicted.

The findings were published in the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine.

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