The following is part of a 3-part blog that considers how we can live long enough to live forever. In part 1, we will discuss why we age in the first place – what happens to our bodies and what is actually causing those symptoms. Part 2 will analyze what we can take into our own hands now to prevent and even reverse those symptoms. Finally, in part 3, we’ll take a look at what scientists are actively discovering and researching that will tackle the aging process head on and prevent us from aging past a detrimental point.
Why We Age
When we think of aging we often imagine our hair graying, getting weathered wrinkles across our face and needing a wooden cane to support a frail and immobile body. But have you ever thought why this happens to us? What is causing these changes and what is the process?
The human body is incredibly complex and so is the course of aging – there are many different factors and implications, all happening at once and over an extended time frame, that we don’t give too much thought to.
In this 3-part series, we will discuss why we age and how we can live long enough to live forever. So to start, let’s review what is happening to our bodies when we age. Starting at the surface and our largest organ – our skin. We eventually produce less collagen and elastin as we age so our skin becomes thinner, wrinkly, drier and loses elasticity. Our bones become more apparent because the fat layer beneath our skin and our muscles begin to diminish.
Our muscles diminish because of a lack of blood flow due to our heart valves thickening – resulting in less room for blood. This of course causes all of our other organs to function less properly and even aids in the process of our bones losing mass and important minerals; causing them to be more brittle and you less mobile – which in turn accelerates the diminishing of your muscles even more.
Your mobility is taken down a notch more as your brain and spinal cords wither; affecting our posture, response times, and memory. Our brains continue to impede our well-being by not properly releasing the hormones that affect organ function – which leads to a slew of more issues.
Here’s an interesting thought – if a new disease came to be and mirrored all of these symptoms, I’d imagine society would band together and throw every resource imaginable to find a cure. Only until very recently are scientist and health professionals beginning to view aging as a sickness that should and can be cured.
Even after considering all of these symptoms, we still haven’t talked about why they are occurring in the first place. So what is causing these debilitating realities that infect us all?
let’s drill down to the root cause of the aging process, our very building blocks: our cells. As we age, our cells lose their ability to function normally, which causes all of our tissues and organs to not function correctly. Below are a few of the microscopic deformities that plague your entire body as you get older:
- Shortening Telomeres: A cell needs to divide in order for our bodies to function normally and for us to survive. Not only that, but the cell needs to start in good health and continue to divide. Inside our cells reside chromosomes that are protected with a bit of DNA called a telomore. Imagine the plastic tip on the end of your shoelace (the telomere) – if the plastic tip came off, the lace would unravel. Each time a cell divides, these telomeres get shorter and shorter until the cell stops dividing. In fact, each cell only has a limited number of times it can divide until cell division stops, a phenomenon known as the Hayflick Limit. An increase in cells regenerating at a slower rate results in the side affects of aging and other age related diseases.
- Senescent Cells: After a cell has stopped dividing it normally dies. However some cells stop dividing and still resist death, a state known as senescence. These senescent cells then damage the healthy cells near it – resulting in inflammation that can lead to cancer and other diseases.
- Autophagy Jam-Up: Autography is the process of cells destroying damaged components of the cell (they basically eat themselves). This is a normal and healthy function, as it helps the cell detoxify, repair, and regenerate tissues. Over time, however, this process “jams up” and the trash that should’ve been destroyed builds up and overwhelms your cells.
- Apoptosis Failure: Apoptosis is the death of cells that normally occurs as part of an organism’s development. This is a normal function and cells can even trigger apoptosis when they recognize viruses or gene mutations to keep the damage from spreading. Nevertheless, as we age we accumulate cellular damage and too few cells die. This is essentially what cancer is – cells multiplying instead of self-destructing.
- DNA Damage: Our DNA is constantly facing damage from internal sources and external influences, such as diet, activity, sleep, stress, etc. As we age, this damage piles up and our cells can’t repair them all.
These are only a handful of circumstances that happen on a cellular basis and trigger age related symptoms and diseases. As complex as they are, scientists are not only beginning to understand each process more, but also how to slow down and even reverse the damage that cells undergo.
In the upcoming part 2 of this series “How to live long enough to live forever”, I will discuss the internal and environmental factors that promote cellular damage and the factors that prevent and even help your cells function as normally and healthy as possible. I’ll focus heavily on the implications that you can influence today, such as the diet, type of physical activity, quality and quantity of sleep, and managing of stress that all drastically impact your cells health and behavior.
Following that, I’ll explain the treatments and research that scientists are performing today that intervene with the processes that damage our cells and DNA – thus stopping the aging process in it’s tracks.
The goal of each of these approaches is to extend the human health span, not just the human life span – meaning we will be able to enjoy more high-quality years of life. After all, who would want to age and die if you and your loved ones could remain comfortable, mobile, and agile? As Ray Kurzweil puts it, “I think people are kidding themselves when they say they are comfortable with death.”