Is a country full of smokers putting a greater strain on its health service than one full of expanding waistlines?
This is a question that researches have been studying recently.
They took 1100 women aged between 18-76 and studied the length of their telomeres.
A telomere is found at the end of a chromosome in white blood cells. Cells are dividing all the time but every time one does a small amount of DNA is lost from the telomere, shortening it. Eventually the telomere gets so short that it can no longer divide and instead of cell rejuvenation, cell degeneration takes place. In other words we begin to age. Therefore the length of the telomere is a good indication of the aging process.
The researches calculated the length and shortening of the telomere in the women and then compared that with lifestyle factors including smoking and obesity.
Obesity had the greatest aging effect adding nine years to their actual age.
Smoking added nearly five years.
The fastest aging was seen in the obese smokers, who were at least 10 years older than their leaner, non-smoking counterparts.
The most worrying part of all this is that the effects are set in stone. You can slow down the process by losing weight and stopping smoking but the telomeres that are lost are lost forever. There is no turning back the time you have lost.
Researches believe that the damage is caused by free radicals. Free radicals cause DNA mutations, which cause large chunks to disappear from the telomeres during cell division, much larger than normal. Smoking and obesity significantly increase free radicals in the body.
So back to the original question, which is worse smoking or obesity. I suppose obesity has the greatest effect on aging although they are both very bad. Don’t forget smoking has other health factors to consider such as lung disease. However if you are both obese and smoke then according to these findings, you are building up some real problems for the future.