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Class warfare

Hey, and guess what? The rich aren't dying. But everyone else is. The less money you make, the faster you age, and the sooner you die. New Scientist:

People from lower socio-economic groups are more likely to die earlier than people in non-manual jobs from heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Unhealthy habits such as lack of exercise, excess weight, smoking and poor diet account for around a third of these deaths.

Now, a study on white blood cells from 1552 female twins suggests that cells from women with more menial jobs age faster, even after taking these factors into account. On average, their cells were seven years "older" than those from women of the same chronological age with non-manual jobs.

Seven years cut off your lifespan as a penalty for not being rich? That's, well, the time to see a baby grow into a grandchild. For example.

The methodology:

To estimate cell ageing, Tim Spector of St Thomas' Hospital in London and his colleagues measured the lengths of telomeres, the repeating DNA motifs that cap and protect the ends of chromosomes. Telomeres grow shorter each time a cell divides, so the shorter the telomeres in a cell, the more times it has divided, and the more stress it is likely to have been under.

They found that telomeres were on average 140 DNA base pairs shorter in manual workers than in non-manual workers of the same age. Since around 20 base pairs of telomere DNA are lost on average each year, this makes the cells from the manual workers about seven years older.

Now, the usual check on identical twins:

In 17 pairs of twin sisters who married men at opposite ends of the social scale, their telomeres showed an average age difference of nine years, despite the women being genetically very similar.

Now, the theory to account for the seven-year differential:

Spector suggests that low status might drive cellular ageing because such people are under greater psychological stress. This could have subtle metabolic effects, exposing their cells to more oxidative damage, he says.

"The greater psychological stress of being in a low social class, with more people above you in the food chain and less control over your life, is the unseen hand [Uh, would that be the "invisible hand" of the magical marketplace?] that might mean more stress at cellular level," he says. "Oxidative stress does make telomeres shorten." He expects to see the same effect in men.

Angela Merkel sure knows about "hidden hands." And I bet she aged seven years in about thirty seconds....

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