The concept of “accelerated aging” was first introduced after researchers started studying biological markers of aging and realized that sometimes the age that is detected in the laboratory does not concur with the actual age of a person. By definition, the “chronological age” measures the time elapsed since birth. Accordingly, individuals born on the same day will share the same chronological age throughout life, regardless of lifestyle, disease, or health. In contrast, individuals of identical chronological age may have different “biological ages”, which reflect the decline in the function of tissues and the organism.
Of note, the problem is not to have your chronological and biological ages out of sync; the problem is when you have a biological age that is actually older than your chronological age (“premature aging”). The ultimate goal of our research is to find ways to prevent premature aging, since it may increase the risk for aging-related diseases and contribute to an early decline in physical function. Thankfully, several strategies that have been scientifically suggested to prevent accelerated aging to some extent, including caloric restriction , healthier eating habits, exercising, having a good night’s sleep, avoiding drugs, tobacco, and alcohol.
The fact that some medical conditions can contribute to accelerated aging is not really new to Medicine. Doctors have been aware of rare genetic disorders known to cause premature aging and shorten life expectancy for years. What is fairly novel is the fact that common chronic diseases can also contribute to accelerated aging mechanisms. For instance, there is evidence to suggest that this is the case for some types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, heart failure, diabetes, liver cirrhosis, among others. With the support from the UTHealth Consortium on Aging and of The University of Texas Houston Retiree Organization (UTHRO), the Translational Psychiatry Program has been studying how psychiatric disorders, specifically bipolar disorder, can also contribute to accelerated aging. We have evidence that some patients with bipolar disorder show features of accelerated biological aging compared to healthy people . While this is something that’s not carved in stone, still needs to be replicated by other research groups, and may not be true for all patients, it emphasizes the importance of carefully thinking of anti-aging strategies for these patients.
As discussed before, we could all be taking the effort to maintain healthier eating habits, exercise, prevent smoking habits, etc, and according to our studies this may be particularly important for patients with chronic conditions, such as bipolar disorder. Overall, we should be mindful that our lifestyle choices may be contributing to our biological age, especially if we already have a pre-existing condition that may make us more vulnerable to accelerated aging mechanisms.
 Balasubramanian P, Howell PR, Anderson RM. Aging and Caloric Restriction Research: A Biological Perspective With Translational Potential. EBioMedicine. 2017;21:37-44.
 Fries GR, Bauer IE, Scaini G, Wu MJ, Kazimi IF, Valvassori SS, Zunta-Soares G, Walss-Bass C, Soares JC, Quevedo J. Accelerated epigenetic aging and mitochondrial DNA copy number in bipolar disorder. Transl Psychiatry. 2017;7(12):1283.
Gabriel R. Fries, PhD, is an Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and a researcher in the Translational Psychiatry Program. His research focuses on the epigenetic basis of mood disorders, with a particular interest in bipolar disorder and molecular mechanisms of stress.