A look into why the human race ages and what can be done to lessen the effects of ageing. With the right clinical trials, there is now evidence we may be able to extend our lifespan to at least one thousand years of age.
For decades the human race has tried to find solutions to the prospect of aging. We all want to look younger and live longer. We apply skin creams, anti-aging moisturizers and face masks to smooth out wrinkles. We take vitamins, collagen supplements, CoQ10 and a whole array of other products which are designed solely with the purpose of slowing our aging and prolonging our youthful good looks. All of these may shortly become redundant. It seems that the possibility of living forever is nearly within our reach.
The human body is not programmed to die, it simply burns itself out. Aging is caused by nothing more than damage to organs, tissues and cells. It is when these vital elements break down due to wear and tear that we die. Approximately 90 percent of all deaths are caused by aging. Even now, in this day and age, humans are able to live to an incredible 120 years of age. In the 1930's the average life expectancy was just 60 years of age. In 80 years of technology we have doubled our longevity.
So what exactly is aging? Cells, our most basic building block, reach a crisis point at some time in our later years when cell death is greater than cell production. This affects our bodies in two ways. We will be unable to repair damage as effectively or quickly as we could in our youth, and our immune system will be left more susceptible to infections.
There is a good reason why cancers are much more prevalent in older generations. When we are young our bodies have much more energy to seek out mutant cancerous cells and destroy them. Many adult deaths are caused by diseases that could have been easily conquered in earlier life.
Our hormones coordinate hundreds of processes in the body. They help to regulate the operations of our cells and organs. Too many hormones or too few will cause internal disruptions that often lead to illness. In our youth hormone production is at an all time high, but as we get older hormone levels drop drastically, which disrupts the body’s ability to take care of itself.
Free radicals help speed the aging process by ravaging our bodies internally. They are often made in response to environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke, pollution and over exposure to the sun's rays.. Free radicals erode our cells by exposing them to oxygen. These altered cells damage our DNA makeup by turning healthy cells mutant or by killing them completely. Usually they are only a problem as we get older because that is when our bodies don’t have enough resources left to heal themselves quickly and efficiently.
The amount of collagen we produce is another factor. This declines as we progress through our lives. Collagen is a protein which connects and supports vital parts of our bodies like skin, bone, muscles, cartilage and tendons. It makes up 25% of the total amount of proteins held in our bodies. Collagen is like glue. Without this protein we would literally fall apart. It works together with elastin to provide form and elasticity. When we are young collagen is very flexible. Age shrinks our supply of collagen and makes it much harder. This is why our skin appears to shrivel and our movements become much less graceful in older age.
Finally, let’s talk about waste products. Working cells produce waste and over a period of time so much molecular garbage builds up that the body cannot possibly get rid of it all. It is thought that cell waste interferes with cell performance and over time leads to its destruction.
So why are we living longer than our ancestors? The reason we are now living longer is because of a number of dramatic improvements to our lifestyle. These have been especially noticeable in public health, nutrition and medicine. Most people have been vaccinated against an array of previously fatal childhood diseases and antibiotics are a great remedy for bacteria based illnesses. There are also fewer smokers in society as we are becoming more and more aware of the associated health risks.
Aging is currently thought of as unavoidable and inevitable, but the rate at which we age is not. Biological age and chronological age do not necessarily go hand in hand. Factors which affect the speed of our aging process are the environment we live in, the type food we consume, our weight, how much we exercise, exposure to harmful diseases and chemicals and of course, our genetic blueprint.
Genes also have their say in the matter of aging. If our parents and grandparents before them lived to a ripe old age, then it's a good sign that we will too. Similarly, if any of our close relatives have died of a stroke or had a heart attack, we may be genetically predisposed to these types of conditions. There is no need to despair if we feel we have been dealt an unpleasant blow when our genes were being handed out. A healthy lifestyle coupled with modern technology can be your defence against developing any number of debilitating conditions.
Can the aging process be slowed? Yes, by following a few practical steps. We should all be eating at least three regular meals a day and keeping a balanced diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables. Frequent exercise of at least 30 minutes per day is widely recommended and watching your weight is important as excess fat puts a strain on our body’s resources. Other advice includes sleeping at least 7 to 8 hours a day, keeping our minds busy, having a medical check-up at least once a year, limiting our alcohol intake and maintaining an active social life. Perhaps the most important of all the recommendations is to keep a positive mental attitude and if all else fails, have a very good sense of humour.
Is there a possibility we could increase our lifespan dramatically? In theory, maximum lifespan could be achieved by reducing free radicals in our body, replacement of damaged tissue/organs and molecular repair of our cells. Stem cell research and nanotechnology are going a long way to make this dream a reality.
Aubrey de Grey, a computer scientist, geneticist and self taught bio gerontologist has much to say on the matter of aging. His approach to aging is called ‘Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS)’, which would have us believe that aging is a disease and not inevitable as we may have thought. He claims that as medicine becomes more and more powerful we will be able to address aging in much the same way that we address other diseases and complaints today. His work isn’t just a humble theory. Each method that will hopefully increase lifespan in humans is already either working in preliminary form or existing already in technologies that just need to be combined together. He fully expects people now in their 60’s to live well beyond the age of 100 with better therapies that will be able to repair the molecular and cellular damage that builds up in our bodies as we age.
He is confident that with the right clinical trials, the idea of extending your life could become a reality within as little as 20 years. This isn't a failsafe means to prevent death. Lives will still be lost due to such things as accidents, murder, poison and incurable diseases.
De Grey thinks that curing cancer will be the hardest part of the aging process to fix. Often, the latter stages of aging result in an accumulation of mutant cells, all trying to avoid whatever repair strategies our bodies try to throw at them. He believes there is a respectable chance of truly defeating cancer once and for all with the right technology.
So will this carry hope for people already alive and aging today? It certainly does. He predicts that the first person to live to 1000 will already be around the age of 60 today.
It may only be approximately 50 years before the average life expectancy rises dramatically to a few thousand years or more. These are only estimates of course, but it is beginning to be seen that the science fiction of living a healthy and fruitful life past the age of 80 is no more. Time is on our side at last it seems.
If this technology becomes a reality, there are many tough questions that will need to be addressed. It will be claimed unnatural and unethical by religious groups all over the world. We couldn't continue with a birth rate as prolific as ours is today without the world becoming over populated very quickly. Then we have to ask: do people want to live for thousands of years? What sort of price tag would this entail? Are we playing God in a very dangerous way? These are debates which may be getting aired sooner than we think.
The hunt for the Philosopher’s Stone has been a centuries old one and the most sought after prize was the elixir of life. Many a good scientist has died in the quest for discovering the liquid brew of eternal youth and immortality. While we haven’t yet discovered the secret of everlasting life, we may well have given ourselves many additional years in which to search for it. One day, it may come to pass that we are a thousand years young, not old.
For other articles on anti-aging by this author see CoQ10, Liquid Collagen, Coral Calcium for Aging and The Facts About Super Foods.
Source: www.sens.org, Aubrey de Grey
If you enjoyed this you may also enjoy: The Benefits and Effects of Immortality by Eva Coombs