It's common knowledge today that smoking and drinking can have significant negative effects on your body, including prematurely aging you. A recent study from the American Society of Human Genetics has further corroborated this wisdom with research data confirming it.
Tobacco and alcohol can damage DNA
Researchers examined records from the publicly available Gene Expression Omnibus. They were able to determine that what we colloquially refer to as "aging" is affected by a DNA-level process called methylation that modifies DNA to determine how specific genes are expressed. This methylation process tends to follow predictable patterns, which is where the physical signs of aging come from. In fact, it can be possible to determine an estimate of a person's age just by examining his or her DNA based on specific patterns of methylation, which tend to occur on predictable timelines. This estimate yields what researchers call a person's "biological age," or how old a person's genes appear against the litmus test of methylation.
The researchers were able to locate two specific gene sites that they determined were particularly susceptible to methylation as spurred on by outside influence: specifically, tobacco smoke and alcohol. The methylation patterns occurring in these locations were so striking that the study authors noted that it was a more accurate determinant of a person's alcohol and tobacco habits than self-reported data from the individual directly.
Not surprisingly, the study found that tobacco use had the most drastic effect on methylation patterns, and thus smoking was associated with the most severe instances of premature aging. While extreme alcohol consumption was also associated with premature aging, researchers noted that moderate consumption - equivalent to one to two drinks a day - actually had a positive effect on a person's biological age. In fact, moderate alcohol consumption was actually associated with the healthiest aging - more so than minimal to no alcohol consumption.
"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," Robert A. Philibert, M.D., Ph.D., lead study author, wrote.
Effects of smoking on aging
Cigarettes have long been associated with premature aging, and one of the most prominent expressions of this is the effect tobacco has on your skin. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular tobacco use correlates strongly with premature aging of the skin and the development of wrinkles on a person's face and arms. The development of premature wrinkles corresponds to the length of time a person has been smoking, as well as the amount of tobacco he or she consumes.
The nicotine contained in cigarettes restricts blood vessels, reducing the flow of blood to your skin. This prevents your skin from getting the nutrients and oxygen it needs to stay supple and wrinkle-free. The source indicated that these effects can occur in someone who has been a regular smoker for as little as 10 years.