Certain Ethnic Groups May Epigenetically Age Slower

Scientists have been curious about whether race or ethnicity directly impact molecular markers of aging. Could people of certain race be more likely to age faster or slower? A group of researchers from UCLA conducted a study that was the first of its kind, demonstrating that Latinos actually age more slowly than other ethnic groups. On average, Latinos live three years longer than Caucasians. Even though Latinos are shown to have longer lives, they actually experience a greater rate of diseases such as diabetes. This is referred to by scientists as the “Hispanic paradox” or “epidemiologic paradox.”

The study, published in Genome Biology, evaluated the “epigenetic clock “, among other biomarkers. “We recently developed the epigenetic clock, based on 353 CpGs, to measure the age, known as ‘DNA methylation age’ or ‘epigenetic age,’ of assorted human cell types,” the researchers described. This same epigenetic clock method developed by Steve Horvath in 2013 was used in a recent study that suggests menopause and insomnia might epigenetically speed up aging.

The team analyzed 18 sets of data from almost 6,000 individuals. The DNA samples came from people of seven ethnicities: African-American, two African groups, East Asians, Caucasians, Latinos and the Tsimane, an indigenous group that resides in Bolivia and genetically similar to Latinos.

After examining the DNA and accounting for varying cell composition, the scientists found that blood belonging to Tsimane and Latinos aged more slowly compared to other ethnic groups. By investigating the blood, the researchers were able to determine how healthy their immune systems were. According to the epigenetic clock, female Latino’s biological age was as nearly two and a half years younger than non-Latino women.

Lead author and professor of human genetics at UCLA, Steve Horvath, said, “We suspect that Latinos’ slower aging rate helps neutralize their higher health risks, particularly those related to obesity and inflammation. Our findings strongly suggest that genetic or environmental factors linked to ethnicity may influence how quickly a person ages and how long they live.”

Aging even more slowly than the Latinos, the blood of the Tsimane people was younger by two years. Furthermore, their blood was younger than Caucasians by an astounding four years. The Tsimane have minimal signs of diabetes, heart disease, clogged arteries, hypertension, or obesity.

“Despite frequent infections, the Tsimane people show very little evidence of the chronic diseases that commonly afflict modern society,” explained coauthor Michael Gurven, a professor of anthropology at UC Santa Barbara. “Our findings provide an interesting molecular explanation for their robust health.”

They also discovered that, among the same ethnic groups, blood and brain tissue from men ages faster than women. Measuring DNA methylation, the most well-known epigenetic mark, and comparing it among other groups to establish an “epigenetic age” could help us understand more about the mysteries of growing old. This gives us a glimpse into the molecular mechanisms that might protect Latinos, or other groups of people, from aging quickly. Might we, one day, be able to slow aging?


Source:  Horvath, S. et al. (2016). An epigenetic clock analysis of race/ethnicity, sex, and coronary heart disease. Genome Biology, 17 (1).

Reference: Schmidt, E. Latinos age slower than other ethnicities, UCLA study shows. UCLA Newsroom. 16 Aug 2016. Web.

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About Bailey Kirkpatrick 164 Articles
Bailey Kirkpatrick is a science writer with a background in epigenetics and psychology with a passion for conveying scientific concepts to the wider community. She enjoys speculating about the implications of epigenetics and how it might impact our perception of wellbeing and the development of novel preventative strategies. When she’s not combing through research articles, she also enjoys discovering new foods, taking nighttime strolls, and discussing current events over a barrel-aged sour beer or cold-brewed coffee.


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