A University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study is the first to scientifically prove that Latinos age at a slower rate that other ethnic groups. Investigators hope the findings will eventually allow other ethnic groups to tap into the Latino fountain of youth.
“Latinos live longer than Caucasians, despite experiencing higher rates of diabetes and other diseases. Scientists refer to this as the ‘Hispanic paradox,'” said lead author Steve Horvath, a professor of human genetics.
“Our study helps explain this by demonstrating that Latinos age more slowly at the molecular level.”
Current findings appear in the journal Genome Biology.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinos in the U.S. live an average of three years longer than Caucasians, with a life expectancy of 82 versus 79.
Prior research, published in the American Journal of Public Health (2013) reported that at any age, healthy Latino adults face a 30 percent lower risk of death than other racial groups.
The UCLA team used several biomarkers, including an “epigenetic clock” developed by Horvath in 2013, to track an epigenetic shift linked to aging in the genome. Epigenetics is the study of changes to the DNA molecule that influence which genes are active but don’t alter the DNA sequence itself.
Horvath and his colleagues analyzed 18 sets of data on DNA samples from nearly 6,000 people.
The participants represented seven different ethnicities: two African groups, African-Americans, Caucasians, East Asians, Latinos, and an indigenous people who are genetically related to Latinos. Called the Tsimane, the latter group lives in Bolivia.
When the scientists examined the DNA from blood-which reveals the health of a person’s immune system — they were struck by differences linked to ethnicity.
In particular, the scientists noticed that, after accounting for differences in cell composition, the blood of Latinos and the Tsimane aged more slowly than other groups.
According to Horvath, the UCLA research points to an epigenetic explanation for Latinos’ longer life spans. For example, the biological clock measured Latino women’s age as 2.4 years younger than non-Latino women of the same age after menopause.
“We suspect that Latinos’ slower aging rate helps neutralize their higher health risks, particularly those related to obesity and inflammation,” said Horvath, who is also a professor of biostatistics at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA.
“Our findings strongly suggest that genetic or environmental factors linked to ethnicity may influence how quickly a person ages and how long they live.”
The Tsimane aged even more slowly than Latinos. The biological clock calculated the age of their blood as two years younger than Latinos and four years younger than Caucasians. The finding reflects the group’s minimal signs of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, or clogged arteries.
“Despite frequent infections, the Tsimane people show very little evidence of the chronic diseases that commonly afflict modern society,” observed coauthor Michael Gurven, a professor of anthropology at University of California, Santa Barbara. “Our findings provide an interesting molecular explanation for their robust health.”
In another finding, the researchers learned that men’s blood and brain tissue ages faster than women’s from the same ethnic groups.
The discovery could explain why women have a higher life expectancy than men.
Horvath and his colleagues next plan to study the aging rate of other human tissues and to identify the molecular mechanism that protects Latinos from aging.