A new study has suggested that underprivileged people may be more vulnerable to disease and the effects of aging because their hormones are out of balance.
Scientists were aware that those less fortunate tended to die earlier and are ‘biologically older’ than the rich. Those living in more affluent areas live an average of eight years longer than those living in the poorest regions.
However, now researchers at University College London believe they have found a possible reason for the difference.
The scientists have been monitoring 1,880 British men and women since 1946 and have discovered that hormones in disadvantaged people, which are critical to healthy ageing, are significantly out of balance by the time they reach age 60-64.
Men with the lowest household income (defined as less than £6,000 a year) had ten per cent lower testosterone than men who earned £30,000 a year or higher.
Low testosterone has been linked to weight gain, loss of muscle, bone thinning and depression.
However, daughters of unskilled workers were found to have testosterone levels 15 per cent higher than the daughters of professionals. In women, too much testosterone is linked to early puberty, infertility and other health problems.
Those with the lowest education in both sexes had depleted levels of an insulin-like growth factor, which has been linked to poor brain function, an increased risk of cancer and heart problems.
Professor Diana Kuh, of the Medical Research Council’s Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at UCL said the hormonal differences demonstrated how socioeconomic factors can literally ‘get under the skin’ and impact our health.
Professor Kuh said:
In the UK, substantial health inequalities exist; those in less socioeconomically advantaged circumstances have worse health,
We found that socioeconomic disadvantage across life, based on father’s social class and on the study member’s education, social class and income, was associated with an adverse hormone profile.
These hormones are thought to work together to ensure healthy development and also have many different roles in regulating health in older age.
So our findings suggest that these socioeconomic differences in hormone systems may play a role in explaining social inequalities in health as we age.
Hormones may be affected by exposure across life to stress and adverse events, health problems and obesity, and unhealthy lifestyles such as physical inactivity, poor diet, and smoking.
Scientists also believe that the psychological stresses of having less security, being bossed around, having lower self-esteem and less access to social support networks cause an increased rate of molecular damage.
Living in an area of high crime is also thought to accelerate ageing.
Dr David Bann, of the Institute of Education at UCL said:
Our study shows that people from a disadvantaged background are biologically different which could explain health inequalities.
These hormone levels change with age, so it could potentially explain difference rates of ageing.
The November figures showed that the gap in life expectancy between the richest and poorest people in the country is growing… great.