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Friday, May 24, 2013

Children's organs aging ahead of time

Children's organs aging ahead of time

Ekatha Ann John TNN

Chennai: Toddlers with greying hair, an eight-yearold with high blood cholesterol, a pre-adolescent who has the physique of a 20-year-old — the signs are ominous. Biological clocks in children are ticking rapidly, and the rate at which their organs are aging is faster than their chronological age.
   The country's medical fraternity may take pride in improved life expectancy, but the spurt in lifestyle diseases, especially among children, has resulted in premature aging. This means that the increased life expectancy doesn't necessarily translate into improved quality of life.
   "Every organ in the human body has an age. When a child suffers from lifestyle diseases like cholesterol and diabetes, his or her organs take a beating. So, the functionality of an eight-year-old child's organs is that of a 30-year-old," said Dr Kousalya Nathan, a lifestyle and antiaging consultant, who is undertaking a study on premature and adolescent aging.
   Doctors say premature aging begins from the molecular level with wear and tear being witnessed in the DNA of children.
   "Cells of children are aging. This, in turn, is affecting their organs. The main cause is obesity, while the second is the sedentary lifestyle children lead," said Dr Nathan.
   Manifestations of these problems are evident with children as young as three sporting glasses, early signs of facial hair in boys, and early attainment of menarche. But doctors say there are no studies in India to establish it. "We are certainly treating more children with ailments usually associated with adults. Conditions such as cholesterol, type-2 diabetes and hypertension were seen in adults before. This could lead to stress on organs, but we are yet to do a comprehensive study on whether it induces aging," said Dr S Balasubramanian, senior paediatrics consultant, Kanchi Kamakoti CHILDS Trust Hospital in Chennai.


A Number Of Conditions Point To The Fact That Children's Organs Are
Aging Faster Than Their Years
Hypertension, high blood cholesterol in children Early onset of type-2 diabetes Wearing glasses at an early age Greying hair Earlier signs of facial hair in boys Age of attaining menarche
down to 7-10 years from 10-13 years a decade ago


Children's Organs Are Aging Faster As Stress And Changing Lifestyles Take A Toll

   Vignesh's parents took pride in their "cute" son, while his friends poked fun at his rotund figure. When the nine-year-old suddenly began to lose weight and his visits to the restroom became more frequent, they began to worry. He was taken to M V Hospital for Diabetes, where he was diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes, a condition normally seen in adults.
   "When diabetes sets in at such an early stage the child's blood vessels start stiffening, which happens only in older people. Technically, we are staring at a scenario where the child is aging much faster than his chronological age," said Dr Vijay Viswanathan, managing director of the hospital.
   Doctors say that children's bodies and organs are aging though they may be young in terms of years. Genetic factors account for a meagre 20% of premature aging, they say. The main reasons are environmental and dietary. Paediatric obesity, which is reaching epidemic proportions in the country, high stress levels, sedentary and changing lifestyles, and various chemicals used in food contribute to premature aging.
   "We live in an 'obesogenic' world (an environment that tends to make people fat). Lifestyle diseases which stem from obesity result in premature aging of organs in children," said Dr Kousalya Nathan, a lifestyle and anti-aging consultant. Dr Nathan and her team are working on a project to study premature and adolescent aging.
   Experts say they are noticing premature aging at the molecular and hormonal levels, which have an adverse impact on the organs. "For instance, the organs of an eight-year-old have the functionality of those of a 45-year-old," said Dr Nathan.
   Eating junk food or intake of reheated food results in toxicity in the cells, which shortens the telomeres (stretches of DNA that cap and protect the ends of chromosomes). When the telomere becomes shorter, the cells age faster.
   There is also evidence to show intrauterine stress can lead to earlier onset of chronic ailments. "The onset of complications relating to these problems occur earlier than normal, which is why we see people as young as 25 dying of heart attack," said Dr S Suresh, director of MediScan Systems, a centre for foetal care and genetics.
   "Even excessive use of shampoos and soaps, which have endocrine disrupting factors, could result in toxicity of cells," said medical geneticist Priya Kannan who works at Tamil Nadu Dr MGR Medical University.
   Some doctors, however, say it is difficult to call this "premature aging" as there are few scientific studies. "We do see children with grey hair, but I don't think it has anything to do with aging. We don't have hard evidence or data to prove it. If children are getting lifestyle diseases early it is because of environmental reasons and stress, but I can't say they result in premature aging," said Dr Guna Singh, National Coordinator of Indian Academy of Pediatrics in Chennai.
   Most doctors pinned the blame on diet and chemicals used in food products. "The food we eat has various chemicals that could adversely impact children and result in increasing toxicity," said Dr Swathi Padankatti, consultant pediatrician at Sundaram Medical Foundation.

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