Latinos age more slowly than any other ethnic group, a new study finds.
The term “Latino” is often used to refer to people with cultural ties to Latin America and people of nationalities within those bounds. A previous survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found three years ago that Latinos live an average of three years longer than Caucasians and, at any age, face a 30 percent lower risk of death than other racial groups.
"Latinos live longer than Caucasians, despite experiencing higher rates of diabetes and other diseases. Scientists refer to this as the 'Hispanic paradox,'" says the new study’s lead author Steve Horvath. "Our study helps explain this by demonstrating that Latinos age more slowly at the molecular level,” he adds.
In this study, which is the first of its kind, Horvath’s UCLA research team used several biomarkers, including an “epigenetic clock" Horvath developed to track an epigenetic shift linked to aging in the genome. Epigenetics is the study of changes to the DNA molecule that influence which genes are active but don't alter the DNA sequence itself.
His team analyzed 18 sets of data on DNA samples from nearly 6,000 people. The participants represented two African groups, African-Americans, Caucasians, East Asians, Latinos, and an indigenous Bolivian group genetically related to Latinos called the Tsimane.
When the scientists examined the DNA from blood, which reveals the health of a person's immune system, they were struck by differences linked to ethnicity. In particular, the scientists noticed that, after accounting for differences in cell composition, the blood of Latinos and the Tsimane aged more slowly than other groups.
The Tsimane aged even more slowly than Latinos; the biological clock calculated the age of their blood as two years younger than Latinos and four years younger than Caucasians.
"We suspect that Latinos' slower aging rate helps neutralize their higher health risks, particularly those related to obesity and inflammation," says Horvath, who is also a professor of biostatistics at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.
In another finding, the researchers learned that men's blood and brain tissue ages faster than women's from the same ethnic groups, which could explain why women have a higher life expectancy than men, he says.
These findings, published in the current issue of Genome Biology, may one day help scientists understand how to slow the aging process for everyone, says Horvath.
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