Health & Fitness

UCLA study: Menopause makes women age faster?

Here’s a hot flash: Menopause can make you age faster.

In not-so-welcome news for women, two new UCLA studies indicate that menopause – and the insomnia it often causes – can speed up aging in women, possibly increasing a woman’s risk for aging-related disease and earlier death.

UCLA researchers tracked methylation, a chemical biomarker linked to aging, to analyze DNA samples from more than 3,100 women enrolled in four large studies. The researchers measured the biological age of cells from blood, saliva and inside the cheek, to compare each woman’s chronological age and her body’s biological age.

They discovered that menopause speeds up cellular aging by an average of 6 percent.

“That doesn’t sound like much but it adds up over a woman’s lifespan,” said Steve Horvath, professor of human genetics and biostatistics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in a statement.

Take, for example, a woman who enters early menopause at age 42. Eight years later, Horvath said, her body would be a full year older biologically than a 50-year-old woman who entered menopause at age 50.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the sleep study, researchers looked at 2,000 postmenopausal women with at least five insomnia symptoms, such as restless sleep, repeated nighttime waking, difficulty falling asleep and waking too early. Those women tended to be two years older biologically than women of similar chronological age who reported no symptoms.

“We can’t conclude definitively from our study that the insomnia symptoms lead to the increased epigenetic age, but these are powerful findings,” said study author Judith Carroll, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, in a statement. “However, our previous research did find that one night of partial sleep deprivation promoted cell damage that can increase susceptibility to biological aging, suggesting a causal connection.”

The sleep study was published in the online issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Both studies require additional research, the authors noted. “The big question is which menopausal hormone therapy offers the strongest anti-aging effect while limiting health risks,” Horvath said.

He said the diagnostic use of the body’s cellular “biological clock” can help evaluate the effectiveness of hormone therapy for menopause or behavioral treatments for insomnia. Carroll, for instance, is already investigating whether it’s possible to slow, or even reverse, biological age by changing health behaviors, such as getting better sleep.

Concussions growing fastest in adolescents

Concussions are getting diagnosed more often among all Americans, but especially adolescents, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

While recent research on concussions has been focused on sports-related brain injuries, the new study found that adolescents are showing the biggest increase overall.

“We were surprised to see that the increase in concussion cases over the past few years mainly were from adolescent patients ages 10 to 19,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Alan Zhang, a UCSF Health orthopaedic surgeon, in a statement.

Between 2007 and 2014, the study found, the incidence of overall concussions reported went up more than 60 percent, based on health records of roughly 8.8 million individuals, 65 and younger, who were enrolled in health plan Humana Inc.

The data showed 43,884 patients were diagnosed with a concussion, 55 percent of whom were male. The highest incidence was in the 15-to-19-year-old age group at 16.5 concussions per 1,000 patients, followed by adolescents ages 10-14 with 10.5 concussions per 1,000 patients.

The findings appear online in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.

Although symptoms in most concussion patients abate within weeks, some symptoms last for months, including depression, headache, dizziness and fogginess. In addition, multiple concussions may cause chronic, structural abnormalities in the brain.

The study’s authors recommended that priority be given to working with adolescents on education, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of concussions.

Claudia Buck: 916-321-1968, @Claudia_Buck