SDB is a common disorder that results in oxidative stress and inflammation and is associated with several age-related health disorders. However, it hasn’t been well studied with respect to epigenetic aging.
“To our knowledge, this study is the first empirical study that has linked sleep-disordered breathing with epigenetic age acceleration,” Xiaoyu Li, ScD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, told Medscape Medical News.
Women Particularly Vulnerable
The study included 622 adults (mean age 69 years, 53% women) from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). All participants underwent polysomnography; DNA methylation, a marker for epigenetic age acceleration, was measured in blood samples.
Age acceleration measures were calculated as residuals from the regression of each epigenetic age on chronologic age. The association of each SDB trait with age acceleration was estimated using linear regression, controlling for sociodemographics, health behaviors, body mass index, and study site.
Increasing SDB severity and sleep disruption were associated with epigenetic age acceleration, independent of measured confounders, Li reported.
Specifically, each standard deviation increase in the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), a measure of SDB severity, was associated with the equivalent of 215 days of biological age acceleration. In addition, each standard deviation increase in the arousal index, a measure of sleep disruption, was associated with the equivalent of 321 days of age acceleration.
“The study findings show that more severe SDB is associated with greater epigenetic age acceleration and that stronger associations were shown in women than in men, despite women having less severe SDB,” Li told Medscape Medical News.
“While women are often considered to be a lower risk for health conditions related to SDB, our findings suggest increased biological susceptibility,” Li added. “Our data provide biological evidence supporting adverse physiological and health effects of untreated SDB. These results highlight the potential for SDB treatment to improve age-related chronic conditions, such as dementia, and longevity, especially among women.”
Commenting on the findings for Medscape Medical News, American Academy of Sleep Medicine spokesperson Nitun Verma, MD, said while the findings are “intuitive, this study does a nice job of starting to quantify it, and it’s helpful to be able to tell someone that they may age faster if they have untreated sleep apnea. That might also help with adherence to treatment.”
“SDB is a very significant condition that affects almost every organ in the body,” he emphasized. “For sleep apnea that has almost as much impact and prevalence as diabetes, they should stand together on the same stage. This is a march towards that.”