Does menopause speed up aging in women? Two recent studies from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) indicate a possible link between menopause, insomnia and epigenetic age acceleration.
"Epigenetics" has to do with any process that changes gene activity without altering the DNA sequence, and causes modifications that can be passed on to other cells. Epigenetic processes are natural, but sometimes can cause negative effects.
Steve Horvath, professor of human genetics and biostatistics at UCLA, was senior author of both studies. Each study used the epigenetic clock developed by Horvath and discussed in this 2013 issue of Genome Biology.
Horvath's epigenetic clock was used to measure biological aging, the age a woman reaches menopause, as well as the association between them.
Horvath said that his team's research posits that "the loss of hormones that accompany menopause accelerates or increases biologic age.”
His research findings suggested that aging processes of the cells of menopausal women accelerated by 6 percent, as compared to women who hadn't reached menopause.
He is optimistic that in the future, hormone therapies may slow the aging process for women. He didn't recommend the present form of hormone replacement therapy as a fountain of youth, but says he thinks there's a good chance the future may hold low-level hormone therapies that can slow aging.
Research showed that menopause may cause the epigenetic aging process in blood to accelerate. Age when menopause is reached and when epigenetic age speeds up have a "common genetic signature," according to Horvath.
Horvath and first author Morgan Levine studied methylation (chemical biomarker linked to aging). The program looked at common causes of death and disability as well as women's quality of life after menopause.
Horvath was also senior author of the UCLA study which focused on sleep and aging. Research found that postmenopausal women having five insomnia symptoms were biologically almost two years older than those without insomnia.
Judith Carroll, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, was first author of the sleep study. She said that women with issues preventing them from getting a good night's sleep tend to be older biologically than those who sleep well.
Findings highlight the importance of getting sufficient sleep and encourages people who don't sleep well to seek medical help, Carroll said.
Insomnia as well as other sleep issues can cause faster aging, which can also result in greater risk for cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses, according to Carroll.
These studies theorize that biological age is a more important focus than chronological age. The health and "age" of cells and tissue are better indicators of a person's age than their actual age, Horvath said.
Horvath hopes that in the future the epigenetic clock can be used to facilitate treatments like menopausal hormone therapy or insomnia therapies.
The sleep study received support from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institute on Aging, and National Institute on Drug Abuse, as well as the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology.
The menopause study received funding from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Institute on Aging.
Reviewed July 29, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
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