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Unemployment may speed biological ageing in men

25 November 2013
Appeared in BioNews 732

Men who are unemployed for more than two years show genetic ageing at an accelerated rate.

A study carried out at Imperial College London and Finland's University of Oulu looked at DNA samples from 5,620 Finnish men and women.

Comparing the length of telomeres from people that had more than 500 days of unemployment over the last three years with those who had been steadily employed, researchers showed that being out of work for an extended period of time had an effect on DNA.

'Shorter telomeres are linked to higher risk of various age-related diseases and earlier death', said Dr Jess Buxton, a lead author on the study. 'Stressful life experiences in childhood and adulthood have previously been linked to accelerated telomere shortening. We have now shown that long-term unemployment may cause premature ageing too'.

Telomeres are lengths of DNA that function as caps to stop chromosomes unravelling or joining to other chromosomes. Shorter-than-average telomeres have previously been shown to be related to age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

While there may be many factors contributing to this result, the team made efforts to eliminate extenuating circumstances such as existing medical, social or behavioural problems that may have prevented the participants from working. Shorter-than-average telomeres were not observed in women, which may be because there were too few women in the sample group who were unemployed.

Dr Leena Ala-Mursula, from the University of Oulu, said: 'These findings raise concerns about the long-term effects of joblessness in early adulthood. Keeping people in work should be an essential part of general health promotion'.

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