According to research conducted at UCLA, HIV has a “early and considerable” impact on the aging process of infected people, hastening the onset of the biochemical changes in the body linked with aging within the first three years after infection.
The findings suggest that an individual’s life expectancy may be reduced by around five years due to HIV infection when compared to a person who is not affected.
According to SciTechDaily, the study’s principal author, retired UCLA professor Elizabeth Crabb Breen, stated, “Our research indicates that as early as the first months and years of HIV infection, the virus already puts in action an accelerated aging process at the DNA level.”
“This highlights the significance of avoiding HIV infection in the first place and the vital relevance of early HIV diagnosis and knowledge of aging concerns.”
HIV and the antiretroviral medications used to treat it have both been associated in the past to an increased risk of developing age-related conditions such heart and renal disease, frailty syndrome, and cognitive decline.
Blood samples from 102 males were analyzed, some from up to six months before they contracted HIV, and others from two to three years thereafter. Samples from 102 healthy males of the same age group were taken at the same time and placed side by side with the infected ones. The authors claim their study is the first to directly compare infected and uninfected individuals.
Epigenetic DNA methylation, through which cells regulate which genes are active during physiological transitions, was the primary focus of the studies. Some disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, are thought to be caused by epigenetic modifications brought on by exposure to toxic chemicals or by specific patterns of human behavior.
Five indicators of epigenetic aging were studied. There are four basic types of epigenetic “clocks,” each with its own unique method for estimating biological aging relative to chronological aging. The length of telomeres was evaluated in the fifth category. These are the caps at the end of each chromosome that shorten with age due to cell division.
Without antiretroviral therapy, those with HIV aged significantly faster across all four measures of the epigenetic clock, by a range of 1.9 to 4.8 years, and they also had telomere shortening. Non-infected people did not show the same rate of aging acceleration over this study’s time period.
Unfortunately, the researchers said, there is no agreement on what comprises or may be classified as normal aging.