In 400 BC, Hippocrates made an observation he thought was a secret to longevity. Obesity appeared to lead to an early death, so he thought restraint was the key to living longer. It would be over 2000 years before science would confirm his suspicions. In the 20th century, scientists made the link between calorie restriction and longer life. Yet, for most people, the thought of growing old conjures up images of debilitating disease and undue suffering in the final years. Today however, scientists are taking a new approach to the problem. They have determined that targeting the biological process of aging at the cellular level will pay off big with revolutionary new treatments.
Understanding the Biology of Aging to Fight Disease
More scientists like Dr. Lindsay Wu, organiser of the recent inaugural Australian Biology of Ageing Conference, are studying the biology of aging as a possible way to fight age-related diseases. There are similar cellular aging processes in diseases like Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. If they are successful in treating the process of aging at the cellular level, this research field could have a huge impact on the future treatment of diseases.
Steady progress on several fronts gives researchers optimism. Scientists at UNSW’s Laboratory for Ageing Research and at Harvard Medical School have isolated a compound in red wine that prolongs life in test animals. In New York, a drug trial tested on humans is for the first time targeting aging instead of a disease. Recently, scientists were able to target and kill aging cells in lab mice with remarkable results – the mice extended their lives over 30%.
The compound resveratrol, found in red wine was discovered by researcher David Sinclair in 2003. Sinclair’s research demonstrated that doses of resveratrol made SIRT1 molecules more active in small organisms, and extended their lifespan. His work went on to be published in the journal Science and is opening the way to future anti-aging drugs. Resveratrol is already commercially available as a supplement. Though not proven in humans yet, because of our long life spans, researcher David Sinclair swears it works and regularly uses the supplement.
Killing Aged Senescent Cells & Fixing Damaged DNA
Researchers are looking at ways to target age-damaged cells, called senescent cells. Normally, our immune system would destroy these cells, but as we grow older it slowly loses this function. As a result, our bodies accumulate senescent cells which also go on to damage adjacent healthy cells. This leads to a cascade of aging in our bodies resulting in chronic inflammation, a key signature of age-related diseases.
In a recently published report in the journal Nature, Doctor Darren Baker and his team at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine has a new strategy for dealing with aging cells. They are already developing compounds that can seek out and kill senescent cells in humans. He stressed the goal is to improve our health as we grow older, as well as extending our life spans.
A promising area of research is focused on fixing and maintaining our DNA. The goal here is to keep ourselves in a more youthful state by slowing down aging. Researchers have found a molecule called SIRT1, which has a significant role of keeping our DNA structure in a normal state. But as we grow older, this structure becomes loose and can alter the genetic code, which in turn can cause many diseases. The scientists are working on theories on how to energize this SIRT1 molecule to help keep our DNA tightly wound.
Healthy Eating & Exercise – the Key to Longevity
Calorie restriction and regular exercise both have proven to stimulate the sirtuins (SIRT1 to 4) and are responsible for the association of longevity in humans. Scientists have evidence that calorie restrictive diets are associated with longer lifespans. A low protein / high carb diet has been linked to living longer and healthier. This is the traditional diet of people on the Island of Okinawa Japan, known for the high percentage of centenarians.
Researchers are confident average lifespans between 100 to 150 years are achievable. However, Baker is more realistic, saying that everyone can take steps right now to live healthy and long lives. It’s all about the levels of damaged senescent cells in the body. There are fewer of these aged cells in people who exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. These are easy to achieve lifestyle changes. If you look after yourself, you may live long enough to take advantage of future anti-aging treatments.