As we age, many changes occur in our body, we become brittle, our hair turns white, and our skin wrinkles. We also become more susceptible to disease and can lose our cognitive abilities.
Aging is generally considered an unavoidable part of life, but can it be delayed, prolonging our younger years? We asked 8 experts the question: “Can aging be delayed?” Interestingly, there was a “likely” consensus of 75 percent. This is what we found out.
What is aging?
All living things are made of cells. Scientists often grow cells in the laboratory to study them. In 1961, researcher Leonard Hayflick noted that, on average, a human cell can only divide 50 times before entering a hibernation-like state called “senescence.” It is believed that an accumulation of senescent cells in the body’s tissues could damage other cells and play a crucial role in aging.
There are many causes of aging and senescence at the cellular level. These include oxidative damage, accumulation of small errors in DNA, and telomere shortening. Essentially, the different components of the cell undergo widespread wear and tear throughout the life of the cell. At some point, this damage means that the cell can no longer function as it used to.
Can we delay the aging of cells?
While Hayflick noted that normal human cells had a finite lifespan, some cells can multiply indefinitely. These cells are usually cancers or have been genetically modified. By changing certain pathways in cells, such as the way they multiply or the maintenance of telomeres, we can overcome the normal aging process.
Therefore, aging can be delayed in cells and is done routinely to aid research. However, it is important to note that these cells are not the same as healthy cells found in the human body.
Can we delay the aging of animals?
Genetic manipulation can not only delay the aging of cells, but also of whole animals (also called “model organisms”). Experiments were started to delay aging in the nematode worm C. elegans. Because of how easy it is to work with these animals in the laboratory, scientists have found a wide range of pathways that can be modified to delay aging.
Interestingly, one of these pathways is related to metabolism and diet. Restricted diets have been found to slow aging in a wide range of animals, from flies to monkeys to dogs. Restricted calorie intake could put the body’s cells into a “protective” mode, slowing down aging.
Dr. Gerardo Ferbeyre, an anti-aging expert at the University of Montreal, notes that “[a]Although not everything that works in model organisms will likely work in humans, some of the insights that emerge from aging research may eventually lead to anti-aging therapies. “
Can aging be delayed in humans?
Professor Janet Thornton, an anti-aging expert at the European Institute of Bioinformatics, stresses that “[i]In humans, it is unethical to mutate, and there are so many conflicting forces at work that it is difficult to assess the impact of dietary restrictions. In the laboratory, the life span of worms can be multiplied by ten; in flies and mice, the maximum increase is only 1.5 times, but an equivalent measure is not available in humans. The human system is likely to be complex with many interconnects and buffering, so such extensions may not be accessible. “
Despite these complications, there are some drugs that are undergoing clinical trials to see if they can slow aging in humans. So far, it is unclear if these compounds will work.
Dr Marco Demaria from the University of Groningen says: “We have several lifestyle interventions that clearly influence the onset and progression of aging (diet and exercise are first on the list).” Many of the other experts suggested improving diet and exercise to slow aging. People who exercise regularly and lead healthy lifestyles tend to be more mobile and enjoy a better quality of life as they age.
Food to go:
While aging is probably inevitable for all living things, it is possible to delay it in cells and animals experimentally. For us humans, the best way to slow aging is to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly.
Article based on 8 expert answers to this question: “Can aging be delayed?”
This expert response was published in association with the independent fact-checking platform Metafact.io. Sign up for their weekly newsletter here.