Researchers have used a new and improved kind of biological clock and discovered that Latinos actually age more slowly than any other ethnic groups in the United States.
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These findings could lead to great understandings in the changes that we go through as we age, including epigenetic changes, which are external factors that influence our DNA. It could also be an answer as to why Latinos seem have greater longevity in the face of health problems.
"Latinos live longer than Caucasians, despite experiencing higher rates of diabetes and other diseases. Scientists refer to this as the 'Hispanic paradox,'" says geneticist and biostatistician Steve Horvath from UCLA. "Our study helps explain this by demonstrating that Latinos age more slowly at the molecular level."
Recent counts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Latinos live, on average, three years longer than Caucasians.
A study published in 2013 found that, despite the fact that they have more inflammation and chronic diseases, they enjoy a 30% lower risk of death at all ages when compared to other groups. The team examined sets of DNA from more than 5,000 people across seven different ethnicities, including Latinos, Caucasians, Africans, African-Americans, East Asians, and an indigenous people of lowland Bolivia called the Tsimane, who are genetically related to Latinos.
Using the age-predicting system Horvath-developed in 2013, which predicts how DNA changes as we age, researchers found that Latinos have a body that is biologically younger than non-Latinos. There is no change when looking at lifestyle factors like socioeconomic status or education levels.
One example says that after menopause, Latino women's bodies are 2.4 years younger than non-Latino women of the same age.
It is that youthfulness that researchers thing helps Latinos fight off those chronic diseases.
"We suspect that Latinos' slower ageing rate helps neutralize their higher health risks, particularly those related to obesity and inflammation," says Horvath. "Our findings strongly suggest that genetic or environmental factors linked to ethnicity may influence how quickly a person ages and how long they live."
Still, the study suggests that while the Latinos are "younger" than others in the US, they are outdone by the Tsimane, who age extremely slowly.
According to the calculations, Tsimane blood is two years younger than Latino blood. It probably has to do with their common ancestors as to why they are both younger.
"This result sheds light on what is frequently called the Hispanic paradox," Horvath told Melissa Healy at the Los Angeles Times. "It suggests that what gives Hispanics their advantage is really their Native American ancestry, because they share ancestry with these indigenous Americans."
They discovered that men's blood and brain tissue age faster than women's do, which would explain why they usually don't live as long.
Next the researchers hope to look at other kinds of human tissue into their study. The hope is that at some stage in the future, they will be able to slow down the process of ageing for everyone.
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The findings are reported in Genome Biology.