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Weather-related disasters make consumers age faster, study finds

Experts say traumatic events can increase inflammation and disease risk

Hurricane or storm concept from space
Photo (c) InterNetwork Media - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Arizona State University explored the effect that surviving natural disasters may have on consumers’ biological aging. According to their findings, weather-related events may speed up the aging process, including increasing the risk of disease markers and inflammation. 

“While everyone ages, we don’t all age at the same rate, and our lived experiences, both negative and positive, can alter this pace of aging,” said researcher Noah Snyder-Mackler.

“One negative life experience, surviving an extreme event, can lead to chronic inflammation and the early onset of some age-related diseases, like heart disease. But we still don’t know exactly how these events get embedded in our bodies leading to negative health effects that may not show up until decades after the event itself.” 

The long-term impacts on aging

The researchers conducted their experiment in Puerto Rico following the events of Hurricane Maria in 2017. The team was able to use data from the Caribbean Primate Research Center to compare how the immune cells, physiology, and genetic make-up of macaque monkeys looked four years before Hurricane Maria and one year after. 

The study showed that the survival rate of the monkeys didn’t change before or after the hurricane. However, the biggest changes came on a cellular level. The researchers learned that living through the category 4 hurricane increased the aging process on a biological level for the monkeys. 

“From this study, we have measured the molecular changes associated with aging, including disruptions of protein-folding genes, greater inflammatory immune cell marker gene expression, and older biological aging,” said researcher Marina Watowich. “On average, monkeys who lived through the Hurricane had immune gene expression profiles that had aged two extra years, or approximately seven to eight years of human lifespan.” 

Ultimately, the study showed that 4% of the monkeys’ genes related to immune cells were changed after the hurricane. Following the storm, the cells related to promoting a healthy immune response weren’t as strong and the cells related to inflammation got stronger. 

The researchers explained that macaque monkeys are biologically very similar to humans. While the monkeys don’t live as long, they age at a similar rate as humans. The team believes that these findings could certainly apply to humans and that monkeys aren’t the only species living with the long-term effects of natural disasters. 

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