Loneliness, Epigenetic Age Acceleration, and Chronic Health Conditions

Colin D. Freilich, Kristian E. Markon, Steve W. Cole, Robert F. Krueger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Having associations with a range of adverse physical health outcomes including mortality, loneliness is increasingly recognized as a pressing public health concern, but the mechanisms studied to date do not yet explain all loneliness-related health risk. We sought to evaluate whether epigenetic influences on DNA methylation could help explain the relationship between loneliness and health. To do so, we first estimated associations between loneliness and epigenetic age acceleration (EAA) in a subsample of participants in the study of midlife in the United States (n = 1, 310), before testing whether EAA mediated and/or moderated the association between loneliness and the onset of chronic health conditions in older adulthood (n = 445 completing longitudinal follow-ups). Greater loneliness was weakly associated with greater EAA in the Horvath, DunedinPACE, and GrimAge measures after accounting for demographic (0.08 ≤ β ≤ 0.11) and behavioral (0.06 ≤ β ≤ 0.08) covariates. Loneliness also predicted increases in chronic condition counts and these effects were more pronounced for individuals with higher DunedinPACE EAA values (interaction term β = 0.09, p =.009), suggesting possible synergistic impacts. EAA measures appear to be promising in helping to understand individual variations in the health impacts of loneliness, but the specific mechanisms involved require further research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychology and aging
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 American Psychological Association

Keywords

  • biological embedding
  • epigenetic age acceleration
  • epigenetic clock
  • loneliness

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