Scientists Learn Why Smoking Causes People to Look Older

Thursday, February 2, 2012 16:44
Posted in category Anti-Aging

Smokers look older than non-smokers, and scientists have identified a skin protein called “matrix metalloprotienase-1 (MMP-1),” as a probable cause.

Smoking, like ultraviolet radiation, is known to have an aging effect on human skin. The mechanism by which sunlight ages skin relies on an increase in levels of MMP-1, a protein which degrades collagen in skin. Collagen accounts for about 70 percent of the dry weight of skin and confers many structural characteristics to it such as elasticity. Degradation of collagen results in wrinkled and lined skin.

Christine Lahmann, DiplBiol, Jorg Bergmann, PhD, Graham Harrison, BSc, and Antony Young, PhD published a research letter in the March 24 issue of the British medical journal The Lancet, in which they point to higher levels of MMP-1 as one cause for wrinkled skin in smokers.

The authors originally undertook a study to examine the effects of ultraviolet radiation on MMP-1 levels, but when they measured the concentration of m-RNA, the genetic material used to make MMP-1, as a relative indicator of MMP-1 protein concentration, they found that before any ultraviolet exposure, some subjects had no MMP-1, while in others the protein was readily detectable.

To explain this finding, the authors asked their subjects about their smoking histories and correlated their replies with the MMP-1 measurements. The study included 14 smokers (mean age 30 years) and 19 non-smokers (mean age 27 years). The smokers generally reported having between 10 and 20 cigarettes per day for 3 to 25 years.

The results indicate a strong positive association between smoking and MMP-1 concentrations. Before any ultraviolet radiation, 42 percent of non-smokers had detectable levels of MMP-1, whereas the authors detected MMP-1 in 86 percent of the smokers. Levels of other proteins which protect collagen from degradation did not increase with smoking.

“This is just one more reason not to smoke,” said Gilbert Ross, MD, Medical Director at the American Council on Science and Health. “While facial wrinkling is not as devastating a problem as lung cancer or heart disease, the two deadliest results of smoking, for young people especially the prospect of premature aging could be a real deterrent to taking up this addictive habit.”

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