It’s widely known that our homes play a vital role in our overall well-being, but did you know that certain housing issues might literally be aging you quicker?
Recent research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health hints that certain challenges like renting a private-sector home and exposure to pollution could be linked to accelerated biological aging, which refers to the wear and tear on our bodies’ cells and tissues.
The Tie Between Renting and Aging
Here’s an eyebrow-raiser: renting in the private sector might impact your biological aging almost double compared to being unemployed versus employed.
But wait, there’s a silver lining. These effects aren’t permanent and can be reversed, shining a spotlight on the potential role of housing policies in health improvement, according to researchers.
Our living conditions can affect both our mental and physical health in multiple ways, such as stress from housing costs and physical issues like cold and mold.
To dive deeper into how exactly these aspects impact us, the researchers worked with epigenetic information, social survey data, and indicators of biological aging, using something called DNA methylation in blood samples.
A Closer Look at the Data
Using data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study and responses from the British Household Panel Survey, researchers gathered information related to housing like building type, government financial support available to renters, and psychosocial factors like housing costs and payment arrears.
Additionally, health information was gathered from 1,420 survey respondents and blood samples were used for DNA methylation analysis, which helps understand the changes in the way genes work related to environmental factors and behaviors.
When piecing all the data together, they considered variables like sex, nationality, education level, socioeconomic status, diet, stress, financial hardship, urban environments, weight, and smoking. The age factor was also included since biological aging naturally speeds up as we age chronologically.
The Surprising Findings
The findings were pretty remarkable. Living in a privately rented home was linked to swifter biological aging.
The biological aging impact of renting privately, versus owning a home outright, was almost twice that of being unemployed instead of employed.
Even more, it was 50% greater than the aging impact between former smokers and those who never smoked.
Furthermore, when looking into historical housing situations, repeated instances of housing arrears (falling behind on payments) and exposure to pollution were also connected with accelerated biological aging.
On a brighter note, living in social housing, known for its lower cost and more stable tenure, showed no difference in biological aging compared to outright ownership, when other housing variables were considered.
Takeaways and A Grain of Salt
While these findings are compelling, it’s crucial to note that this is an observational study, so it can’t determine cause and effect.
There are also some limitations, such as a lack of up-to-date measures of housing quality and the DNA methylation data coming solely from white European respondents.
Nonetheless, the results hint that challenging housing circumstances might negatively influence health through accelerated biological aging.
And since biological aging can be reversed, this underscores the substantial potential for changes in housing policy to bolster health improvements.
Researchers believe their findings could be applicable to health and housing more broadly, especially in countries with similar housing policies.
They also emphasize that policies that alleviate stress and uncertainty tied to private renting – like ending specific eviction practices, controlling rent increases, and enhancing conditions – could potentially mitigate the negative impacts of private renting.
In essence, the policy decisions shaping the nature of private renting can potentially offer a pathway to not just a stable living condition but also a prospect for a healthier living by mitigating factors that contribute to accelerated biological aging.
It highlights an intersection where housing policy becomes not merely a socioeconomic matter but a direct contributor to public health.
And while there’s more to learn and explore, it’s a stark reminder that home is indeed where the heart (and health) is.
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The research findings can be found in the Journal of Epidemiology.