HomeHealthRNA could be the key to age-related diseases

RNA could be the key to age-related diseases

Researchers have found a potential link between mental health conditions and the onset of age-related diseases such as cancer. And the common factor tying the two together appears to be damaged RNA. 

It’s been known for some time that RNA damage accelerates the ageing process. New research undertaken at the Psychiatric Centre Copenhagen in Denmark shows that those with mental health conditions also have higher levels of RNA damage.

The link was made by analysing levels of oxidative stress markers in urine samples over a six-year period (2007-13). Those with a mental health condition had elevated amounts of a particular marker of RNA damage. Potentially, then, preventing or minimising this damage could deliver improved mental health as well as better health in later life.

I know about DNA, but what is RNA?

While we might not be experts in DNA, most of us know the term. Anyone who watches crime TV shows – true or fictional – knows DNA can play a vital role in identifying a perpetrator. And it’s increasingly seen on shows investigating family trees, too. 

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid) are both essential for all known forms of life. It is widely accepted by scientists that all life on earth was once purely based on the simpler single-stranded RNA molecule. At a later point in the evolutionary time scale, the more sophisticated double-stranded DNA molecule came along.

DNA took over the role of storing biological information, but RNA is still very much a key component of human life. Among its other ‘duties’, it transcribes and delivers genetic instructions and regulates the activity of genes during development.

Basically, then, if RNA is damaged, it can cause adverse health developments. Understanding the cause of this damage is a step towards prevention of illness, both mental and physical.

The Psychiatric Centre Copenhagen research team’s six-year suite of data showed those with a mental health condition had 9 per cent higher levels of the stress marker. The stress to these markers occurs when highly reactive compounds containing oxygen damage cells.

Participants were also tracked beyond the six years until the end of May 2023. In doing so researchers found those with elevated marker levels were also more likely to die during this time. Those with high levels of the RNA marker and a mental health condition were almost twice as likely to die as those with low levels and no mental health condition.

Why the marker stresses occur remains a mystery so far, said Associate Professor Anders Jørgensen, lead author of the study. “We can only guess. But overall, the level of factors that could cause oxidative stress … are usually higher in people with psychiatric illness.”

Smoking and obesity are among those factors, but there are many others that could play a role in damaging RNA. Identifying those that have the biggest effect is critical for improving mental health, says University of Edinburgh’s Dr Jasmin Wertz. 

Dr Wertz, who was not part of the study, said, “So, how much impact can we have by helping reduce their smoking? Getting them to exercise more?”

Further RNA research in coming years may provide answers to those questions.

What age-related diseases are you most concerned about? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: What longevity experts do every day for a longer, healthier life

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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