The study, led by researchers at Duke University School of Medicine, North Carolina in the US, found that young individuals of the same chronological age varied in their ‘biological ageing’ (declining integrity of multiple organ systems). And already, before midlife, those who were ageing more rapidly were less physically able, showed cognitive decline and brain ageing, self-reported worse health, and looked older.
The team developed and validated two methods by which ageing can be measured in young adults, one cross-sectional and one longitudinal. The longitudinal method measured physiological deterioration across multiple organ systems including pulmonary, periodontal, cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, and immune function. They applied these methods to assess biological ageing in participants who had not yet developed age-related diseases.
According to the Guardian, the results showed that for some, the past dozen years had taken no obvious toll on their body’s biology. However others were not so fortunate: ‘A good many participants had biological ages in the 50s, while one, described by scientists as an “extreme case”, had a biological age of 61 years old. That meant that for every birthday over the past dozen years, their body had aged three years.’
The study results refute scepticism about whether ageing processes can be detected in young adults who do not yet have chronic diseases. And this is significant because if the ageing process can be quantified in people in their 30s then it opens a new door for anti-ageing therapies focused on young rather than older people. The authors say that currently the science of ‘healthspan extension’ may be focused on the wrong end of the lifespan: ‘Rather than only studying old humans, geroscience should also study the young’. One of the authors, Daniel Belsky from Duke University in North Carolina, told the Guardian that studying ageing in younger people gives researchers the best chance of teasing apart the ‘biological changes that drive ageing from those that underpin specific diseases’.
According to iflscience.com, the researchers now plan to examine the different factors in each person’s life – such as lifestyle, family history, etc. – to explore what may have contribute to these dramatic differences in the ageing process.