A recent study has found that the cells of acne sufferers have longer telomeres and infers that this means those who experience acne may experience reduced aging. Although the use of a twin study helps bolster these findings, the reliance on telomeres for their conclusion leaves a lot to be wanting. Simply put, telomeres do not indicate what people think they do.
In Brief: Telomeres
A telomere is a sort of “cap” at the end of a chromosome. The caps help prevent damage and error during cell division. Telomeres shrink over time, and it is thought that their reduction and eventual loss contributes to cellular aging and cell death. The three things that telomere length is reliably associated with are age, race, and gender. Older people have shorter telomeres than younger people, whites have shorter telomeres than nonwhites, and males have shorter telomeres than females. It’s also important to note that telomere length is not reliably shown to correlate to a person’s actual life expectancy or measures of mortality.
The Acne Connection
The study looked at 1,205 female twins, about a quarter of whom reported having acne. The white blood cells of the girls were examined, and it was found that those who had acne generally had longer telomeres than those who did not. Using skin biopsies, they also found that the p53 gene pathway, which regulates programmed cell death, was also expressed less in acne sufferers. From this, the inference was drawn that telomere length was a potential explanation for anecdotal reports that those who have acne develop things like wrinkles or skin thinning later in life. A further leap is made by at least one report to suggest that this means those who have acne could live longer.
These inferences are, to be blunt, pure speculation. In order to make any kind of suggestion about skin aging rates or life expectancy, those would have to actually be monitored in the study. They were not, and so anything beyond the main conclusions cannot be said.
Women who have acne may be more likely to have longer telomeres. Women who have acne are anecdotally reported to develop signs of skin aging later in life. Even if we assume both points to be true, this does not mean they are connected. The body is complex and genes spectacularly so, which is why it’s important not to get carried away with assumptions.
Bodkin, H., “Acne Sufferers Live Longer, Study Suggests,” Telegraph web site, September 28, 2016; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/09/28/acne-sufferers-live-longer–research-suggests/, last accessed September 28, 2016.