Look older? Might be your genes, study says – USA TODAY

6 months ago Comments Off on Look older? Might be your genes, study says – USA TODAY

Seniors who insist they feel far younger than they look have been vindicated: scientists have found a genetic combination that makes people look older than their true age.

Certain varieties of the so-called MC1R gene add as much as two years to the face, researchers report in this week’s Current Biology. Oddly, the newfound genetic varieties don’t do their dirty work by etching crows’ feet or sprinkling liver spots.

Instead the culprit forms of MC1R make people look older in some undefined way that scientists don’t yet understand. It’s possible that the gene affects facial structure, such as lip height. Or perhaps it deepens the crease between the nose and the corners of the mouth.

However it acts, the gene is “linked with how old you look and not necessarily with how old you are,” says study co-author Manfred Kayser of Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands. And that’s important for more than vanity’s sake, he adds, because “there is a link between how old you look and how healthy you are.”

Earlier research pointed to pieces of the genetic code related to spotty skin and to the damage wrought by sun exposure. But the scientists behind the new finding wanted to study the genetics of “perceived age,” the age a person looks to others, says study co-author David Gunn, a scientist at Unilever. The company makes personal-care products.

The researchers directed teams of people to estimate the ages of 2,700 Dutch seniors. Then the scientists looked for stretches of DNA common to the study subjects whose perceived age was older than their true age. To confirm their findings, the scientists repeated the exercise with 600 additional Dutch seniors and some 1,200 British seniors.

The results pointed to MC1R, known previously as a gene for red hair and freckles. It’s also involved in DNA repair in the skin, which may be the role that allows it to add years to the face.

Erwin Tschachler of Austria’s Medical University of Vienna, who was not involved in the current study, says the new research is well done and confirms his own work connecting MC1R and the leathery skin created by exposure to the sun.

But another scientist points out that the study doesn’t account for smoking or body-mass index. Both can affect wrinkles, notes Anne Chang of Stanford University Medical School.

Study author Gunn of Unilever hopes that by learning what happens inside the skin of people who look older than their years, “we can come up with things which will help people age as best they can.” But he warns that only half a person’s perceived age can be chalked up to genetics. In other research, he found that smoking, more sun exposure, and poor care of one’s teeth also make people look older.

“Blaming it all on your genes – that doesn’t work,” Keyser agrees. “You may look two years older because of your MC1R variant but if, on top of that, you smoke, you’re most likely looking even older.”

Look older? Might be your genes, study says – USA TODAY

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