Cecilie Svanes, a professor at the Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Bergen (UiB), revealed three developmental factors that influence the aging of the lungs. The professor enumerates smoking during pregnancy, experiencing a severe respiratory infection at a young age and being born during the winter months as early life factors that affect the lungs.
The study, published in the journal PlosONE, involved investigating people between 40 and 70 years. Svanes explains that early life development influences the system that maintains the body and repairs damage and affects people’s tolerance to exposure to certain toxicities in later life.
Svanes asserts that the rapid decline in lung function results to a rapid aging process and this only becomes apparent if the risk factors have been a part of an individual’s early life.
“We can put it this way: smoking is dangerous for everyone, but these people are far more vulnerable to its effects. We can also imagine that they would be particularly vulnerable also to other factors, such as air pollution,” Svanes adds.
The researchers say that their study, which is made in the preparatory stages of the Aging Lungs in European Cohorts (ALEC) project funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, will pave the way for preventive health care. Since the resources for prevention remain to be limited, this will enable experts to focus on the ones who are most vulnerable.
“If you get a 50-year-old to quit smoking, it is beneficial. If you get him/her to stop as a teenager, it is even better. But if the mother refrains from smoking before he/she is conceived, it might play an even bigger role for future overall health,” says Svanes.
Eventually, these management strategies will even out the differences among the population and improve the health of the poorest people in the world. The researchers want to repeat the study in a larger population sample to gather more insight of the subject.