April 24th, 2019

Smoking is for the aged: study

By Lethbridge Herald on February 11, 2019.

University of Lethbridge researcher Olga Kovalchuk found in her new study that smoking speeds up the biological clock, making people look older than their chronological age. Herald photo by Greg Bobinec @GBobinecHerald

Tim Kalinowski
Lethbridge Herald
Smoking leads to a much higher risk of cardio-vascular disease, lung disease and cancer, but that message hasn’t stopped millennials and others in the younger generations from taking up the habit at an alarming rate, says Olga Kovalchuk, a professor in the University of Lethbridge’s Department of Biological Sciences. She is hoping a new study she co-led recently published in “Nature-Scientific Reports,” which shows smokers not only look older, but are in fact biologically older because of the habit, will resonate.
“When we smoke we are putting all these chemicals into our body, and our body has to respond to them,” she explains. “It has to allocate resources to deal with the consequences of that exposure. And since our body doesn’t have unlimited resources, we are starting to stretch thin some of those resources. As a result, we age.”
The study used an artificial intelligence program to analyze data collected on different blood chemistries to cross-check the calendar age of persons who smoked against what the AI program determined to be their biological age. The program found that women who smoked registered as two times older biologically speaking over their calendar age. Men registered at 1.5 times their calendar age when they smoked.
“Using machine learning we can actually identify individuals who smoke register as biologically older than they are,” states Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk hopes the report published in “Nature,” and the widespread attention her study has received, will help smokers realize the risks associated with cigarettes are more than skin deep.
“For us to be able to publish this report,” says Kovalchuk, “we are really hoping it will reach not only the scientific community, but also our message will get across to the general public. And it may be used in a good, new way to establish a different kind of smoking cessation campaign. If we can prevent the cancers from happening with a message that will resonate, specifically with millennials and what are they concerned about, their looks, then let’s use this information.”
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