Is it possible to reduce the gap between chronological age and biological age? By definition, does aging have to imply chronic disease, suffering, dementia, frailty, and ebilitation? Could it be possible to live to 110 years of age and still be out and about with the energy to enjoy our great grandchildren without collapsing from shortness of breath or a fractured hip? That is what longevity medicine is all about. It is not about achieving immortality and it is certainly not about looking 21 when you are 92.
It is, however, about taking advantage of medical breakthroughs to live a healthy, vigorous life as long as we possibly can. This article will begin by giving a brief overview of the current theories of aging and will conclude with the latest trends in anti-aging research. Let us redefine the term “aging gracefully” to “aging gracefully and healthfully.”
There are many current theories on aging. Some of the major focus on aging has been placed on the eventual destruction or damage of DNA by oxidation. One such theory is the Telomerase Theory, which proposes that cells lose their ability to replicate appropriately. As this continues, cells become more and more damaged and the cumulative effect is cellular dysfunction, which is commonly known as “aging.” Telomeres are the unique sequence of nucleic acids or “the building blocks of life” that are a vital part of our genetic makeup.
So what if we could fix the telomeres or prevent them from breaking down? Well, we would essentially be able to reverse the natural aging process. The person who figures this out will surely be a Nobel laureate.
What Causes Aging:
What contributes to DNA damage? Oxidation, toxins such as smoking, pollution, certain disease states such as diabetes, which leads to glycosylation, and even states of extreme stress, contribute to DNA damage while potentially accelerating the aging process of our skin and body. Why stress? Our bodies produce excessive cortisol when in states of stress and the levels increase with normal aging. In excess, it is commonly believed that cortisol plays a significant role in damaging the hypothalamus, a key neuroendocrine organ in the brain. As such, it would seem logical to reverse or stop the aging process at a hormonal level, either by reducing the amount of excessive cortisol production or by finding a safe way to keep the hypothalamus functioning appropriately.
Likewise biochemically, our molecules like to remain “in a state of balance.” When they are not in balance, molecules tend to find that balance by stealing electrons from other molecules. This is known as the Free Radical Theory of Aging. However, as humans we generate free radicals all the time as a result of ATP or energy production in the mitochondria. So how can something essential to our survival be bad for us? There are different levels of free radicals resulting in different levels of damage. The idea is to control, as much as possible, the production of the bad free radicals within our bodies.
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Limiting free radical damage also ties in with the theory that we increase cellular damage by excessive consumption of calories. Since we need energy to burn calories and the production of energy leads to free radical formation, it follows that limiting caloric intake would result in extending the lifespan of a cell. Thus, maintaining the efficiency of the energy storehouses of our cells—the mitochondria, is also essential to preventing premature aging.
Finally, the Lipid Membrane Theory of Aging states that our cell membrane loses water and lipids as we age and gains lipofuscin. This is a toxin and its accumulation leads to premature cell damage and the inability of the cell to function optimally. Similarly, the Glycolsylation Theory states that excessive amounts of glucose cause cellular damage resulting in end organ damage.
Uncontrolled diabetics, for example, have up to 75% more glycolsylated proteins than normal individuals. These cross-linked proteins cannot function efficiently and result in more heart, kidney, and circulatory problems for diabetics, thus greatly shortening their lifespan. It is important to keep in mind that all these theories are interrelated and it is likely a combination of the above that leads to premature aging and cell damage.