Exposure to tobacco smoke early in life may speed up the aging process

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Experts say exposure to smoke in utero may affect long-term health

A new study conducted by researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) explored the long-term health risks associated with early exposure to tobacco smoke.

According to their findings, secondhand smoke exposure during childhood or while in utero may speed up consumers’ biological aging process. 

“The epigenetic clock allows us to assess whether someone’s biological age is older or younger than his or her chronological age,” said researcher Mariona Bustamante. “The positive association between epigenetic age acceleration and exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy and early childhood go in line with previous results obtained in the adult population.” 

How smoke affects aging

For the study, the researchers assessed the epigenetic age of more than 1,100 children involved in the Human Early Life Exposome (HELIX) project. They looked closely at those who were exposed to tobacco smoke in the womb and during childhood, and then they compared the results to those with no such exposure. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that tobacco smoke exposure at these two important developmental junctures in life was associated with more rapid biological aging. Though the participants weren’t older than 11 during the study, the team still found that their bodies were aging at a faster rate. 

These findings are concerning because a faster aging process at this age can have consequences for health in later life. The researchers explained that smoke exposure from such a young age can impact long-term cell function, increase inflammation throughout the body, and affect several other body processes. 

“As aging is considered a public health issue worldwide, new evidence in childhood populations might drive new policies to reduce environmental exposures and promote a “healthy aging” from early stages of life,” the researchers wrote.

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