Why do some people age faster

Why some people age faster

Wrinkles, age spots, light hair: when we get older, you can tell by looking at us - whether we like it or not. But not everyone ages externally at the same rate. And it's not just genes to blame.

What makes us look old

Wrinkles, age spots, light hair: when we get older, you can tell by looking at us - whether we like it or not. But not everyone ages externally at the same rate. And it's not just genes to blame.

"Forever young" - The German band Alphaville wanted to stay forever young when they wrote the hit of the same name in the 1980s. "It's so hard to get older for no reason," sang frontman Marian Gold. A suffering that many people know - and that flushes billions into the coffers of the cosmetics industry every year.

Increasing wrinkles, age spots and thinning hair can not only be combated with creams and lotions. What many do not know: How quickly we outwardly age depends, in addition to our genes, to a large extent on how we behave, where we live and how we treat our environment.

The numbers are clear for changes in the skin, the largest visible organ. "20 to 30 percent of skin changes are caused by genetic factors. The remaining 70 to 80 percent are caused by environmental influences, for example UV radiation and air pollution," explains Jean Krutmann, head of the Leibniz Institute for Environmental Medicine Research.

If you want to understand why changes in our appearance are so closely related to the environment and behavior, you have to take a close look at the cells of the human body. "Aging never affects just one organ, the entire organism always ages. External changes are therefore related to the entire aging process and can be an indication of the state of our body," says Martin Denzel from the Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Aging.

If we eat a fatty diet, drink alcohol, smoke or lie in the sun too long, we expose our body to biological stress. This leads to molecular damage in both young and elderly people, for example in the DNA. Such damage occurs thousands of times every minute. But while a young body monitors them well and repairs them quickly, an older body is less and less able to do so. "Aging means that the body is less and less able to deal with stress. This is why DNA mutations accumulate in the body's cells. This means that organs can more easily fail or tumors develop," explains Denzel.

Such cell changes have two visible effects on the skin. "On the one hand, there are changes in the skin pigmentation. It becomes inhomogeneous and aging spots can appear. On the other hand, the skin's elasticity decreases, so wrinkles appear," says Krutmann. The difference between genetically determined and externally influenced skin aging can be seen with the naked eye. "Each of us gets fine wrinkles as we age. However, if we add environmental influences, the wrinkles become much deeper. More collagen, a protein in connective tissue, is then broken down."

In order to find out what the human skin suffers from in particular, what causes it to change and age, Krutmann and his colleagues carry out tests in the laboratory. While the harmful, even carcinogenic effects of UV radiation or tobacco smoke have already been well researched and proven, scientists are still at the beginning when it comes to air pollution. In Petri dishes, they bring real pieces of skin into contact with harmful substances. "If you coat the skin with airborne dust, you can quickly see a tan," says Krutmann. "Soot from diesel engines in particular has proven to be harmful." It has not yet been possible to research whether, in addition to these pigment changes, there is also an increased risk of skin cancer.

In addition to external effects on the skin, substances that we ingest through the mouth are also a major driver of visible aging. Only a few weeks ago one came in the trade journal Epidemiology & Community Health published study by the University of South Denmark to the result that heavy drinking and smoking can cause outward signs of physical aging. For example, wrinkles on the earlobes, the risk of so-called old arches around the pupils and yellowish-orange coating on the eyelids had increased significantly in the test subjects. The researchers had evaluated long-term data from 11,500 adults from the greater Copenhagen area.

Again and again it has been shown that people look old at different times despite similar environmental influences. The damaging effect of external factors also depends on the physical conditions. "People have different genetic makeup. There are people who live to be well over a hundred years old even though they have smoked or consumed alcohol," explains Denzel. These differences are often also visible. "The chronological and biological clocks can be decoupled. A young appearance can be an indication that a person has remained biologically young."

Even if the dream of eternal youth cannot be fully fulfilled, there are factors that influence the speed and visibility of our aging. While we cannot change our genes, alcohol and tobacco consumption, eating habits, sun protection and air quality are in our hands. If you believe the experts, nobody ages "without any reason" - not even the band Alphaville.

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