A study in which data from 1,420 people have been analyzed has associated the fact of live for rent with a faster biological aging compared to people who owned their home, but what is more striking is that it has found that this association is stronger than that established with other social and economic factors that could also accelerate aging, such as being in unemployment compared to having a job, or being an ex-smoker compared to never having smoked.
The work has been carried out by researchers from the Australian Housing Research Center at the University of Adelaide (Australia) and the University of Essex (United Kingdom), who have used data on housing and DNA methylation from the Longitudinal Household Study of the United Kingdom United Kingdom and that of the British Household Panel Survey. To estimate the biological aging of the participants, they analyzed blood samples to observe the DNA methylationthat is, chemical changes that can alter the expression of genes.
This epigenetic information is influenced by environmental factors and renting could be related to negative aspects for physical and mental health, such as cold, mold, overcrowding, an increased risk of injury or stress, among others. However, as the study is observational, no specific causes have been found apart from this possible correlation, nor has a cause-effect relationship been established, so the simple fact of being a tenant does not make you older, but rather other factors would be related to this situation those that would be harmful.
“Financial stress, residential insecurity or exposure to pollutants within the home can lead to worse health”
The authors evaluated the impact of different factors that included, on the one hand, the material elements of the home itself – type of construction, availability of central heating, rural or urban location and environmental pollution, among others – and the relationship with the people who live there – housing costs, delays in payments or aid – and, on the other hand, personal characteristics of the participants (sex, nationality, level of education, type of diet, weight, habits, stress, etc.).
After analyzing the results in relation to biological aging, they found that paying rent in the private sector compared to owning a home outright, no mortgage, was the most determining factor for the appearance of signs of aging. The findings have been published in Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
Chronological age versus biological age
Once again it is demonstrated that aging does not only have to do with the chronological age of an individual, but also depends on the epigenetic clock which is affected by a multitude of factors, including lifestyle. “Biological aging (or epigenetic clock) is something like a clock that indicates what the age of your cells and your body would be and is a different concept from chronological aging (the age of a person). That is, a person can be 80 years old, but have cells that have features and behave like those of someone younger. In fact, there are studies that indicate that people who reach very old ages have very slow biological aging, that is, at a biological level their cells are like those of younger people (and that is probably why they have reached such advanced ages). “, Explain Teresa Rubio Tomasresearcher at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB) of Greece in statements collected by SMC Spain.
There are several ways to measure this biological aging through different characteristics of our cells, but studying DNA methylation is one of the most reliable. “Methylation age can reflect biological age, and the deviation from the actual chronological age, marked by your date of birth, is linked to lifestyle,” he explains. Mario Fernandez Fragascientist at the Health Research Institute of the Principality of Asturias (ISPA) at SMC Spain.
The expert considers that “this study is an interesting example of how our genes interact with the environment and chance to determine what we are at every moment of our lives. However, it must be taken into account that this is an observational study and, therefore, a cause-effect relationship is not demonstrated. Furthermore, although the authors have taken into account other variables (such as socioeconomic status), we cannot rule out that there are others involved that have not been taken into account.”
Social policies that benefit tenants
“Our results suggest that challenging housing circumstances negatively affect health through faster biological aging. However the biological aging is reversiblewhich highlights the important potential of changes in housing policies to improve health,” the authors write in their conclusions.
“Perhaps the most relevant thing about the study, in my opinion, is that having a mortgage does not affect biological aging positively or negatively, which is surprising, since a mortgage is usually a source of psychological stress”, highlights Teresa Rubio who adds: “I would like to ask the following question: is it possible in Spain to access (quality) housing without first having to go through a mortgage and without having problems paying it due to job instability? In any case, as I have already indicated, the study does not conclude that a mortgage accelerates biological aging, although (and this is relevant) having had problems paying it does accelerate it. Hence, the study proposes more facilities and aid to access quality housing.”
Pedro Gullón, social epidemiologist and doctor specializing in preventive medicine and public health at the University of Alcalá, points out, also in statements to SMC Spain, that “previous studies had already related how adverse housing conditions are related to worse health. This study provides knowledge about the biological mechanisms that may be behind it. They find that living in private rentals, continued delay in payments, or exposure to pollution are related to faster biological aging that, according to estimates, is about half the equivalent of tobacco or twice that estimated for the obesity. “This fits with the known literature where we know that financial stress, residential insecurity or exposure to pollutants within the home can lead to worse health.”
“It is an interesting study that continues in the line of previous studies and supports the implementation of social policies not only for ethical reasons (the right to housing), but because the delay in biological aging and, consequently, the diseases associated with biological aging, improves people’s quality of life and, therefore, represents a investment in preventive medicine“, concludes Teresa Rubio.