LivingAnother reason to avoid tobacco during pregnancy and childhood:...

Another reason to avoid tobacco during pregnancy and childhood: smoke accelerates biological aging

Exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy and the first few years of life can greatly alter our metabolism and determine our health status later in adult life. It can also accelerate biological aging , which has been associated with an increased risk of developing metabolic, cardiovascular, or neurodegenerative diseases.

This has been demonstrated by a new Spanish study by the Barcelona Institute of Global Health (ISGlobal), the first to analyze the associations between a large number of environmental exposures in early childhood.

Relationship between biological and chronological age

Some studies have shown an association between an acceleration in epigenetic aging and certain environmental exposures, but most were done in adults and focus on only one type of exposure. This study is the first to associate exposure at an early age (83 environmental exposures in the prenatal period and 103 in the first years of life) and the epigenetic age of 1,173 girls and boys between 6 and 11 years of age from the HELIX project. Coordinated by Martine Vrijheid, a researcher at ISGlobal, it comprises six birth cohorts in six European countries, including Spain.

At the cellular level, aging is a continuous process that begins from the first years of life, and can be measured thanks to epigenetic clocks, which measure the levels of DNA methylation in certain regions of our genome to infer the biological age of a person .

As explained by Mariona Bustamante, ISGlobal researcher and author of the study, “the epigenetic clock allows us to assess whether the biological age of an individual is greater or less than their chronological age.”

Promote “healthy aging” from the first years of life

“The association between epigenetic age and exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy and the first years of life coincides with previous results in the adult population.”

These are the words of the author of the study who adds that epigenetic modifications could affect pathways involved in inflammation, the elimination of toxins and the cell cycle, with a subsequent impact on health.

Paula de Prado-Bert, first author of the study, acknowledges that “we need to investigate further to understand these results”, but since these associations do not demonstrate causality, both this and future exposome studies in the first years of life will allow establishing health policies to reduce certain environmental exposures and promote “healthy aging” from the earliest stages of life.

Photos | iStock

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