MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Morgan Elyse Levine, PhD
Department of Human Genetics
University of California, Los Angeles
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: From an evolutionary perspective, aging and reproduction are two processes that are linked. For instance, in order to maximize fitness, an individual has to survive and remain healthy enough to:
1) reproduce and
2) insure offspring survive to reproductive age.
Thus, the rate of aging is tied to a species’ timing of reproductive senescence and necessary length of parental involvement. There is also evidence that among humans, women with longer reproductive stages (later age at menopause, ability to conceive at older ages) are more likely to live to age 100, which we hypothesize is because they age slower.
Using an epigenetic biomarker believed to capture biological aging (previously developed by the Principle Investigator of this study, Steve Horvath), we tested whether age at menopause, surgical menopause, and use of menopausal hormone therapies were associated with a woman’s aging rate.
We found that the blood of women who experienced menopause at earlier ages (especially those who underwent surgical menopause) was “older” than expected, suggesting they were aging faster on a biological level than women who experienced menopause at later ages. We also found that buccal epithelium samples (cells that line the inside of the cheek) were epigenetically younger than expected (signifying slower aging) for post-menopausal women who had taken menopausal hormone therapy, compared to post-menopausal women who had never taken any form of menopausal hormone therapy.
Finally, we had a number of results that suggested that the previously mentioned findings were a result of the process of menopause directly speeding up the aging process—rather than the alternative explanation, which would have been that women who aged faster experience menopause earlier.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: If readers experienced menopause earlier than expected (average age is 51) or underwent surgical menopause, they may want to be more proactive about their health.
The aging process is one of the biggest risk factors for many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, most cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and frailty. Thus, a faster aging rate due to earlier menopause could increase a person’s risk of developing these conditions. It is also possible that while the benefits/risks of menopausal hormone therapy are still be investigated, use of such therapies may be advantageous for certain women. In the future, it is possible that tests like our epigenetic biomarker of aging could be used for personalized medicine—to decide who would benefit from various therapies and who would not.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: In moving forward it will be important to track the aging rate of women across time—both before and after menopause. We also plan to compare aging rates in more tissues and cells to see if there are particular ones that are more affected by menopause and menopausal hormone therapies. This may have implications for health and disease, since different disease risks may be tied to aging rates in specific tissues and cells. Finally, clinical trials that utilize biomarkers of aging, will be important to understand how response to therapies varies across individuals. For instance, menopausal hormone therapy may only be beneficial for women who experience a rapid acceleration of the aging process in certain tissue after menopause.
MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.
Morgan E. Levine, Ake T. Lu, Brian H. Chen, Dena G. Hernandez, Andrew B. Singleton, Luigi Ferrucci, Stefania Bandinelli, Elias Salfati, JoAnn E. Manson, Austin Quach, Cynthia D. J. Kusters, Diana Kuh, Andrew Wong, Andrew E. Teschendorff, Martin Widschwendter, Beate R. Ritz, Devin Absher, Themistocles L. Assimes, and Steve Horvath.Menopause accelerates biological aging. PNAS, July 2016 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1604558113
Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.
More Medical Research Interviews on MedicalResearch.com