While some people feel more tired, experience joint pain or develop serious health conditions in older age, researchers believe many signs of ageing may actually be linked to a common and treatable gene disorder.
The new research, published in the BMJ Journal, identified a gene disorder linked with higher levels of disease in older people. When people have two copies of a faulty gene known as HFE C282Y, they develop a build-up of iron in the body that can damage vital organs such as the liver and heart.
Interestingly, this build-up of iron known as haemochromatosis can be prevented if detected early and is usually treated by regularly removing iron-rich blood from the system. Typical symptoms of haemochromatosis such as feeling tired or experiencing joint pain are often dismissed as normal signs of the ageing process.
To better understand the impact of the disorder, researchers compared levels of illness and death among people with and without the gene mutation. The study of 2,890 people aged between 40 and 70 analysed data from the UK Biobank.
Participants were monitored for an average of seven years and researchers discovered a haemochromatosis diagnosis in 21.7 per cent of men and 9.8 per cent of women with the HFEC282Y gene mutation. The study also found at the end of the follow-up period, one in five men and one in 10 women with the gene mutation had developed liver disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, compared with people without the mutation.
Researchers also estimated 1.6 per cent of all hip replacements and close to 6 per cent of liver cancers that occurred in male participants occurred in those with the HFEC282Y gene mutation. While it was an observational study, researchers said it was the largest study of its kind and that screening and improving early detection of the HFEC282Y gene could help prevent unnecessary disease in older age.
It follows a 2018 clinical trial which has found an experimental anti-ageing drug may have the potential to rejuvenate immune systems and protect older people from fatal respiratory infections.
The findings, published in the journal of Science Translational Medicine, found people over the age of 65 involved in the trail who received a combination therapy of two anti-ageing compounds weren’t as likely as people on placebos to experience infection. People on the mTOR inhibitors were half as likely to report infections and also increased participants’ responses to the flu vaccine.