Study shows that access to early childhood treatment could have lasting effects and prevent premature adult aging
Researchers in New Zealand have found that people who experienced “daily smoking status, obesity, or a psychological disorder diagnosis” beginning early in life were “biologically older” at midlife than those who did not. The findings suggest that early access to treatments for these health concerns could decrease risk for “accelerated biological aging,” according to the study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
Although these findings do not currently provide a path to a diagnostic test for clinical laboratories, this study is yet another example of how researchers are increasingly using broad swaths of healthcare data to help identify people at risk for certain healthcare conditions.
Such research often presents opportunities for medical laboratories to participate in healthcare Big Data analysis, which in turn helps healthcare providers make precision medicine diagnoses for individual patients.
Study Assessments and Clinical Laboratory Biomarkers
Researchers from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit (DMHDRU) at University of Otago analyzed the health and behaviors of 910 people (54% men, 46% women) born in Dunedin, New Zealand, between April 1, 1972, and March 31, 1973, through age 45.
The scientists found that participants who had one of three health conditions as an adolescent—obesity, smoking daily, or psychological disorder (anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression)—showed advanced signs of aging at age 45 when compared to others without those conditions, CNN reported.
The signs included:
- Walking 11.2 centimeters per second slower.
- Brain appears 2.5 years older.
- Face appears four years older.
At age 11, 13, and 15, the Dunedin Study participants were assessed by pulmonary specialists and others for asthma, cigarette smoking, and obesity, Fox News reported.
According to an earlier DMHDRU statement, the biomarkers used at this point in the study included:
- Glycated hemoglobin
- Forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1)
- Forced vital capacity ratio (FEV1/FVC)
- Cardiorespiratory fitness (VO2Max)
- Blood pressure (mean arterial pressure)
- Total cholesterol
- High density lipoprotein (HDL)
- Apolipoprotein B100/A1 ratio
- C-reactive protein
- Creatinine clearance
- Urea nitrate
- Waist-hip ratio
- Body mass index (BMI)
- Leukocyte telomere (LTL)
- Periodontal disease
- White blood cell count
The researchers also tracked asthma’s effects but concluded it did not contribute to aging, probably due to availability of asthma treatments, the authors wrote in their study published in JAMA Pediatrics, titled, “Association of Treatable Health Conditions During Adolescence with Accelerated Aging at Midlife.”
“Participants who had smoked daily, had obesity, or had a psychological disorder diagnosis during adolescence were biologically older at midlife compared with participants without these conditions. Participants with asthma were not biologically older at midlife compared with those without asthma,” the researchers wrote. These findings led the researchers to certain conclusions about receiving early treatments, CNN reported.
“No participants in this cohort were prescribed stimulants for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors were not yet in use for adolescent depression and anxiety during the study period. Whereas 81.1% of the adolescents with asthma received some type of treatment, which could have mitigated the implications for biological aging,” the authors wrote in their study.
“Our paper reaffirms that those are important treatments and those kinds of investments younger in the lifespan could net big benefits in terms of both health and the cost of healthcare later on as well,” Kyle Bourassa, PhD, told CNN. Bourassa is the study’s First Author and a clinical psychology researcher and advanced research fellow at the Durham VA Health Care System.
Clinical Laboratories Curate Massive Amounts of Healthcare Data
For pathologists and medical laboratory scientists, the University of Otago study is a reminder that clinical laboratories provide a critical tool to diagnostics professionals: housing, sharing, and analyzing data that contribute to precision medicine diagnoses.
The DMHDRU researchers’ findings also highlight the importance of access to common treatments offered early in life for some people to reduce risk of accelerated aging and disease.
—Donna Marie Pocius