SOURCE: University of Pittsburgh, news release, June 18, 2015
TUESDAY, June 23, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Living in a bad neighborhood can accelerate aging, a new study suggests.
Researchers looked at more than 2,900 people in the Netherlands and found that those living in neighborhoods with high levels of noise, crime and vandalism were biologically 12 years older than those of similar chronological age living in other areas.
Previous research has found links between living in a bad neighborhood and poorer mental and physical health, wrote study author Mijung Park, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing.
"Our team examined whether these environments also have a direct impact on cellular health. We found that indeed, biological aging processes could be influenced by socioeconomic conditions," Park said in a university news release.
But, while the study found an association between living in a certain neighborhood and faster aging, it wasn't designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
Park and her colleagues focused on telomeres, the protective caps on the end of DNA strands on genes. Telomeres naturally shorten with age, but that process can be accelerated by physical or mental stress.
"The differences in telomere length between the two groups were comparable to 12 years in chronological age," Park said. That finding suggests that the harsher living environment of a bad neighborhood may hasten aging.
"It's possible that their cells are chronically activated in response to psychological and physiological stresses created by disadvantaged socioeconomic, political and emotional circumstances," she said.
The study was published online recently in the journal PLoS One.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about telomeres.