Every so often, it’s refreshing to run across new research that reveals what ought to be pretty much obvious. It’s not really about validating my worldview (which is important, I’ll admit); it’s more about realizing that I could maybe have a post-retirement career as an empirical scientist.
I’m referring to a new study out of the University of Iowa showing (gasp!) that smoking and excessive alcohol consumption will accelerate the aging process.
The study, led by Robert Philibert, MD, PhD, looked at patterns of what’s called DNA methylation — how genes are expressed in response to environmental exposure — and found that measuring those response rates produced more reliable data than what study participants reported about their personal behavior (Duh!).
When The Guy in the White Coat asked me whether I consumed more than three drinks a day during a normal week, how do you suppose I responded? My point exactly.
When Philibert, Meeshanthini Dogan, MS, and their team got past the faulty recall of study participants and dug more deeply into the actual genetic response to their behavior, they were able to discern the debilitating effects of smoking and drinking on a person’s longevity.
“These new tools allow us to monitor smoking and alcohol use in an objective way, and to understand their effects quantitatively,” Dogan said in a statement released by the university.
There’s plenty of denial embedded in the minds of smokers and drinkers. An old friend of mine, who spent most of his working hours walking streets and checking electric meters (I know, this is a primordial anecdote) used to rationalize that all that walking negated any of the ill effects of smoking. And it’s often said that a little alcohol is a good thing; indeed, Philibert’s research found that one or two drinks a day was actually beneficial. But this new study, as obvious as it may seem, does serve to remind us that these two habits can make us older a bit faster than we might prefer.
As Philibert puts it, “Being able to objectively identify future smokers and heavy alcohol users when they are young, before major health issues arise, can help providers and public health practitioners prevent future problems, improve quality of life, and reduce later medical costs.”
All true, but I probably could’ve figured that out for myself.