Obesity vs. Smoking
Which is Worse for You ... Obesity or Smoking?
It has previously been stated by a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) spokesperson that, "A nation with an expanding waistline is in far better shape than one with a cigarette in its mouth."
And while smoking is certainly dangerous to one's health, when it comes to choosing the less harmful of two evils: Obesity does appear to be worse when it comes to accelerating the aging process and decreasing the time that you will remain on this planet.
Study of Telomeres
Researchers compared the length of telomeres -- the ends of chromosomes -- in the white blood cells of some 1,100 women ages 18-76. When a cell divides, its telomere loses a small piece of DNA; when it becomes too short, cells can no longer divide. Thus, telomere shortening acts as a sign of aging, counting down the cellular generations.
After calculating the amount of telomere shortening in the women, researchers compared the chromosomes based on lifestyle factors such as smoking habits and obesity. The results showed:
* Obese women were almost nine years older, genetically, than their counterparts.
* Those who smoked aged about half as slowly (4.6 years) as obese patients.
* Both obesity and smoking worked synergistically to age a patient even faster -- by at least a decade -- than a lean non-smoker.
What's more, the effects are set in stone. In other words, while losing weight and quitting smoking reduce the rate of telomere loss, it cannot restore them.
Role of Free Radicals
Researchers speculate telomere damage is probably done by free radicals. That's because both smoking and obesity cause oxidative stress, a source of free radicals. Free radicals play a role in DNA mutations, and there is some evidence that mutations in telomeres cause larger chunks than normal to be lost during cell division.
Further, animal studies have not established any simple relationship between telomere length and lifespan; therefore, it's possible that shortened telomeres are merely a sign of how much free radical damage cells have suffered, rather than a direct cause of aging.