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Your Income May Be Changing Your Genes, Epigenetic Markers Show

Epigenetic Markers, Income and Aging

The Epigenetics of Economics – A Groundbreaking Recent Epigenetic Study by Ronald Simons et al Has Revealed A Significant Link Between Epigenetic Markers Indicative of Accelerated Aging, and Income

But, before we examine the links between these epigenetic markers and income, we’ll need to set the table for you. The Medical studies over the years have found many links between low income and higher risks for various diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. And, there has always been a well-documented inverse relationship between income and mortality.

These links can be attributed to many factors, including diet, access to exercise, sleep deprivation, and general stress that results from worrying about income. But, one thing that all of these factors have in common is that they are all chronic, meaning that they persist as long as income remains low. To explore these connections, many studies have chosen to test the links between income and aging by examining telomere length. [1]

Telomeres; the Caps that Protect our DNA

Telomeres are long stretches of DNA located at the end of our chromosomes. They protect our genetic information from degradation, and they are what allow our cells to divide. If you compare a chromosome to a shoelace, telomeres would be the plastic tips at the end. They protect the rest of the lace from getting worn down, and make it easier to tie knots. Telomere degradation has long since been implicated as a major cause of biological aging, as every time a cell divides, the length of its telomeres shortens. [1]

Despite the biological implications of telomere degradation, many of the studies linking them with socioeconomic status have only ever found modest connections, and sometimes observe inconsistent results, which indicate that we still have much to learn about the length of telomeres, and its relationship with chronic stress and aging. These inconsistencies demonstrate the need for a better understanding of the molecular basis of aging. One such method of understanding may come from an epigenetic analysis. 

Epigenetics and Aging, More Accurate

There has been a growing body of research that has reported associations between epigenetics and aging. One of the most prominent areas of epigenetics is DNA methylation or the addition of methyl groups to DNA. [4] Generally, increased levels of methylation of a gene cause decreased expression of that gene. This process is especially important because DNA methylation can occur as a result of environmental factors, essentially allowing your environment to change your genes. Furthermore, DNA methylation has been shown to be hereditary, meaning that these modifications can persist within one’s own lifetime, and can even be inherited from parent to child.

Researchers have identified over 450,000 specific methylation sites that are associated with biological aging. Although the function of these sites is still not completely clear, they can then be used to compare relative aging amongst different sets individuals. These sites can be used as a measure of molecular aging that may be more accurate than telomere length. [2] 

Socioeconomic Status and Income: Accelerated Aging, Epigenetic Markers Suggest

A recent study, conducted by Ronald Simons et al., sought to examine links between epigenetic markers indicative of accelerated aging, and income. In order to do this, they investigated a population of middle-aged black women living in the United States. Middle age was chosen, because it has been reported to be an optimal time period of economic-related stress, due to having to provide for many different generations at one point in time.

Furthermore, black women were chosen for this study because high rates of incarceration, and low rates of employment for black men, often forces much of the economic responsibility of a household onto their shoulders. After correcting for various factors such as education, financial pressure, and location, the study found a significant correlation between lower income and accelerated aging. Furthermore, the study also found a significant link between higher income and decelerated aging. [3]

Implications

While studies such as these have little hope for developing new medical technologies, they are important for understanding the biological effect that income can have on a person’s health on the molecular level. Undoubtedly, the mechanisms and pathology that relate aging and the systematic methylation of the genome are yet to be completely elucidated. Future studies in this field promise to unveil exciting results that will better allow us to understand the basis for senescence.

Understanding the Impacts of Income Inequality and How to Reverse Unfavorable Genetic Expressions

This study is particularly important because of the heritability of epigenetic modifications. A person who undergoes stress to financial pressures may undergo modifications to their genome that can persist throughout their lifetime. Furthermore, these modifications may even by inherited by their children.

In a time when things when income inequality is a highly debated political topic, it is increasingly important to understand the systemic mechanisms which affect those who have lived their whole lives in poverty, in the hopes that this better understanding will lead to more effective solutions and even perhaps reversing unfavorable genetic expressions.

References:

[1] http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/chromosomes/telomeres/
[2] http://www.cell.com/molecular-cell/abstract/S1097-2765(12)00893-
[3] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027795361530263X
[4] https://conceptualrevolutions.com/2016/01/24/rna-modifications-mapped-major-epigenetic-breakthrough/
[4] https://conceptualrevolutions.com/2015/12/26/epigenetic-modification-revealed-major-scientific-breakthrough/ 

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    By: Nicholas Morano

    Nicholas Morano received his B.S. in biochemistry from Binghamton University, where he worked as an undergraduate researcher studying the genetics of drosophila melanogaster. He is currently working on his PhD. in biochemistry at Albert Einstein’s College of Medicine, where he is studying nucleic acids for the purpose of developing new technologies and new therapeutics.

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