Since the beginning of human history, we have been trying to find ways to stay young. Yet aging is inevitable, and there seems no way to reverse the process. Each of us is born with an internal biological clock, figuratively speaking, that determines our life span. If we knew how the clock worked, we could understand more about how we age, and eventually, we might find the secret to the mythical fountain of youth.
Why do we age?
The human body is made up of cells. Each cell is like a Lego block and builds various organs for different functions. Cells divide to produce new cells for the growth and repair of body tissues. But cell division is not limitless: on average, human cells can divide only about 50 to 70 times. Afterward, cells will enter a senescence phase when they no longer divide. At this point, the cells may die, or stay in the body as malfunctioning cells. This causes our bodies to deteriorate and age.
What happens at the cellular level?
To understand the aging process, we need to look deep inside our cells. Inside each cell, there is a compartment called a nucleus, which contains many strands of chromosomes. Chromosomes contain the genetic materials that control cell division. At both ends, chromosomes are protected by caps of telomeres. Imagine a shoelace: the telomeres resemble the plastic tips on the ends of the shoelace that prevent it from fraying.
In our cells, telomeres act as buffers to protect the chromosomes from damage. But every time the cell divides, the telomeres are shortened. At birth, we have long telomeres, but as we grow older and our cells continue to divide, our telomeres become shorter and shorter. Each time a telomere gets shorter, the chromosomes are less protected and finally, the chromosomes are exposed to damage, and cell division stops. We age because of our cells age.
What accelerates aging?
As our telomeres get shorter, our ‘internal biological clock’ ticks. The shortening process is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. We inherit the DNA that determines the initial length of our telomeres from our parents. But there are also various environmental factors at play. The most prominent of these is psychological stress.
Is there any way to slow down aging?
It may seem that, because we cannot control the shortening of our telomeres, we must all grow old eventually. But although it’s true that we cannot escape from aging, we can slow down the process. A small pilot study by the University of California, San Francisco, showed for the first time that lifestyle changes lead to longer telomeres. Individuals on a vegetarian diet, who took moderate exercise and reduced stress by meeting regularly with a social support group, were found to have longer telomeres. This shows that we can actually do something to lengthen our telomeres and slow down aging.
Here is a new study which proved that De-Ageing actually exists
Scientists have finally reversed the process of aging, a new study suggests. Volunteers who were given a cocktail of drugs for a year actually “aged backward”, losing an average of 2.5 years from their biological ages, according to the new study. The research showed that the marks on their genomes that represent their “epigenetic clock”, as well as their immune systems, actually improved despite the passing of time. The scientists involved in the study were shocked by the results. They were expecting only to see slowing down of the clock, but not a reversal which actually felt like a kind of futuristic.
The research study was done with a very limited number of nine participants who took the drug cocktail, and there was no control group. Participants were given a growth hormone and two diabetes medications. Scientists then monitored the test subjects’ epigenetic clocks, to understand the effect on how they aged.
The epigenetic clock is measured by the body’s epigenome – a record of chemical changes to an organism’s DNA. As people age, chemical modifications or tags are added to people’s DNA, and those change throughout their lives, so by looking at those tags a person’s biological age can be measured.
Researchers had actually intended to look at how the growth hormone would change the tissue in the thymus gland, which helps with the body’s immune functions and sits in the chest. It normally shrinks after puberty but they hoped to see whether it could be pushed to regrow, by giving participants the growth hormone.
It was only as a secondary consideration that researchers then checked how the drugs changed their epigenetic clocks. The study had finished when the analysis began. Scientists looked at four different measures of the epigenetic clock to understand the differing ages of each of the patients. And they found that every one of them had reversed significantly, so significantly that he is optimistic about the results, despite the limited number of participants.
Scientists now hope to test the same effects with more people, through a controlled study, and with different age groups, ethnicities and women. The changes could still be seen in the blood of six participants who provided samples long after the study finished.
Some of the drugs used in the cocktail are already being researched as ways of fighting age-related diseases. But the discovery of the combined effect of the three of them could have major implications for the ways that a variety of different drugs are tested.
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