Death is one of the few fundamental inevitabilities of human existence. This event is both fear-invoking and inspiring. This understanding, it seems, shares a shadowy symbiotic relationship with our daily lives. The inevitable outcome of death generates the concept of a limited "time horizon" and creates value in passing time. Each of us, individually, marches toward the dusk of our "time horizon".
But... how far is our horizon? And, why do we march there?
These questions are neither new nor are they original. They are profound questions that have inspired human existence on many levels - from the Ancient Chinese Quest for the Elixer of Life to modern-day Botox Injections. Each facet seemingly an answer, or part of an answer, to the unbiased end result of death. After uncountably many thousands of years of asking this question, only now is science developing the ability to understand the nature of the problem and develop potential solutions.
The most current scientific theories of aging have two central types of theoretical aging processes: damage-based aging processes (2); and programmed aging processes (3).
Damage-based Theories of Aging are centered around the idea of a systematic decrease in body functionality due to the accumulation of the normal toxic by-products of metabolism or inefficient repair/defensive systems. Programmed Theories of Aging, on the other hand, center around the idea that aging is a genetically-determined, programmed process unique to each individual. The problem is that both theories have a large volume of experimental data to support their claims; further, new studies are constantly coming up with fresh data to support both hypotheses.In biological systems, especially long-term longitudinal systems, the answers are often hard to determine and are clearly never one-sided.
For example in a recent study, professors Malkin and Kobyliansky of the University of Tel Aviv have been able to isolate biological markers in bones, based upon genetics, which have shown a high degree of reliability in predicting a person’s lifespan and general functionality 6. According to this study, a person’s general lifespan can be predicted by their metric termed “the osseographic score” (OSS), but, it is not deterministic – this number can be used to help one supplement with vitamins, minerals, exercise routines, medicines and other sources, to improve bodily functionality even in advanced stages of aging. This study, the results and the strong benefits demonstrate that genetic markers can serve as metaphorical guideposts to direct age-inhibiting treatment. While the basis of this treatment scheme hinges upon genetics being the dominant factor in aging, it clearly draws upon both theories to achieve results.
Contrarily, another series of recent studies suggest strong evidence for the damage-based theory of aging by almost fully stopping the age-related decline in function in the livers of mice. The mechanism used in these experiments was a genetic doubling of "protein clearance" channels.(1). This, in turn, allowed the protein by-products to be cleared from the liver cells much more efficiently. As the "treated" mice aged compared to the control group, their liver did not accumulate these by-products and was able to "stay younger, longer".
This study certainly supports the Damage-based Theory of Aging as the liver progressively degrades in performance through the accumulation of metabolic protein remnants. There is also an indication of similar mechanisms on the scale of the whole body, as evidenced by Resveratrol studies.
Resveratrol (a compound found in the skin of red grapes) has been shown to decrease the age-related decline in functionality of heart, eye, liver, bone and muscle systems. The studies, conducted over a period of four years at the National Institute of Health (NIH) have shown a significant improvement in the functionality of organs over time when subject to daily (or semi-daily) doses of Resveratrol (5). The mechanism by which Resveratrol works is similar to the liver function studies in mice. While there are genetic factors which influence metabolic efficiency, they were minor in scope compared to the control damage-related mechanisms. But... again... this study supports both hypotheses.
The experimental data seems to indicate that the Damage-based Theory of Aging presents mechanisms of aging which are dominant over the Programmed Theory of Aging.
How do we use this information to slow down our own aging process?
Due to the long-term nature of the problem, the answers are not fully developed at the moment; however, when they are, they are certain to be far from what one would anticipate these answers to be. The subtlety of the aging process is the result of minute changes over enormously long periods of time, relatively speaking. These changes are so gradual, that laboratory measurement (at this time) is neigh impossible. It is far too difficult to separate the minute important mechanisms from the minute negligible mechanisms - especially, since the importance of these mechanisms only becomes apparent after inordinately long periods of time (if at all!). This failing of answers, it seems, lies squarely on the back of the methods with which Medical Science uses to probe these questions - that is, the Scientific Method. Even with this method, focused on an inappropriate time-scale, answers are beginning to be developed to mechanisms which are being experimentally uncovered.
There are some early-indications that the answers, when they are fully developed, will be very invasive to modern lifestyles. For example, the reason that skin develops wrinkles is due to a loss of elasticity caused by small damage to DNA, which accumulates over time, from exposure to UVA and UVB rays from the Sun (4). While there is no 100% certain answer to this issue, it is well known that commercial Sunblock absorbs a high percentage of these types of ultraviolet rays – thus, the solution is to always use Sunblock when outside and re-applying it every 2 hours when in the Sun.
How invasive is that solution to your current style of life?
Would YOU trade YOUR current lifestyle for a series of changes which may, or may not, increase your lifespan?
Experimental results suggest that the pathway to inhibiting the accumulation of other types of damage throughout the body are likely to be similar in style – all massively invasive to our current style of living.
Are Humans, as a species, really prepared to accept the implications of living to age 200 (or beyond) if we are not ready to make such sacrifices?
(1) IOL Medical News. Scientists Stop Mice Livers from Ageing. 11 August 2008. 05 September 2008 <http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=117&art_id=nw20080811091619993C197218>.
(2) Pedro de Magalhaes, Joao. Damage-Based Theories of Aging. 2007. 05 September 2008 <http://www.senescence.info/causes.html>.
(3) Programmed Theories of Aging. 2007. 05 September 2008 <http://www.senescence.info/programmed.html>.
(4) ScienceDaily - Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Sunburn Alert: UVB Does More Damage To DNA Than UVA. 1 July 2008. 05 September 2008 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080701092141.htm>.
(5) ScienceDaily - NIH/National Institute of Health on Aging. Resveratrol, Found In Red Wine, Wards Off Effects Of Age On Heart, Bones, Eyes And Muscle. 3 July 2008. 05 September 2008 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080703120402.htm>.
(6) ScienceDaily - Tel Aviv University. How Fast You'll Age Is Written In Your Bones. 10 April 2008. 05 September 2008 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080409150054.htm>.