Rough socio-economic milieu causes premature ageing

Washington, June 21 (IANS) People who live in neighbourhoods with high crime, noise and vandalism are biologically more than a decade older than those who do not, new study says.

Living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods has an unfavourable impact on mental and physical health.

“Our team examined whether these environments also have a direct impact on cellular health,” said Mijung Park, assistant professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing.

“We found that, indeed, biological ageing processes could be influenced by socioeconomic conditions,” park added.

The team focused on telomeres, which are stretches of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that often are compared to caps on shoelaces because they protect the DNA strands from damage.

Telomeres get trimmed each time the cell divides because they are not fully copied by enzyme mechanisms, and it is thought that aging occurs when the telomeres become too short for DNA replication and cell division to proceed normally.

“Telomere shortening can be accelerated with exposure to biological or psychological stresses such as cancer, anxiety and depression,” Park said.

The team examined telomere length in white blood cells of 2,902 Dutch individuals and determined the quality of the neighbourhoods in which they resided using measures of perceived neighbourhood disorder, fear of crime and noise.

The telomeres of people reporting poor neighbourhood quality were significantly shorter than telomeres of those who did not.

“The differences in telomere length between the two groups were comparable to 12 years in chronological age,” Park said.

“It’s possible that their cells are chronically activated in response to psychological and physiological stresses created by disadvantaged socioeconomic, political and emotional circumstances,” Park said.

The findings were published online today in PLOS One.

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