Is This the End of Aging? How We Can Hold Back the Years

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There are,
it seems, medical breakthroughs nearly every week to help us combat
one of the harsh facts of life: aging.

Last week,
researchers at Durham University reported that hormone replacement
therapy (HRT) in women, designed to replace sex hormones such as
oestrogen which fall with age, has been shown to help the brains
of middle-aged women work like those of younger women.

And an Oxford
University study revealed that a daily aspirin in middle age could
help ward off heart disease and cancer over the age of 45 – when
the risk of cancer goes up substantially.
Indeed, not only are we keeping healthier for longer, we feel younger,

A recent study
of more than 10,000 people revealed that more than 40 per cent of
today’s over-50s feel at least a decade younger than their actual

This is borne
out by radiant actresses Dame Helen Mirren, 65, Joanna Lumley, 64,
and Felicity Kendal, 64, who are hardly examples of what one thinks
of as an Old Age Pensioner.
By 2020, a quarter of the UK’s population will be more than 60-years-old,
with 40 per cent of these over 75. By 2030 within Western Europe,
nearly half the population will be over 50.

According to
Newcastle University’s Institute for Aging and Health, for the
past 200 years life expectancy in the Western world has been increasing
at the incredible rate of five hours per day.

So are our
minds and bodies aging at the same rate as they always have done,
or are we staving off the aging process? Is it actually possible
to decrease our chronological age at a cellular level?

‘There is a
genuine physical premise for having younger bodies than your chronological
age,’ says Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s
College, London, who is convinced that fit and healthy 50- or 60-year-olds
could have the biological age of a 40-year-old.

‘Aging is
the process of the body’s repair mechanisms gone wrong,’ says Prof
Spector, who is studying aging in 2,500 twins, perfect for separating
nature from nurture.

He hopes that
by studying the aging of their skin, bone, heart muscle and eyes,
he can discover genes that determine how fast we age, to develop
anti-aging drugs.

‘We are continually
fighting inflammation and oxidative stress – which is where
excess hydrogen ions, a natural by-product of energy production,
float around the body and damage the cells. As we get older we have
less effective defences.’

One way in
which biological age (as opposed to chronological age) can be measured
is using markers called telomeres.

‘Every cell
in the body has genes, which are carried on chromosomes. At the
end of each chromosome is the telomere. As we age, this starts to
shorten and fray, leading to cell damage.’

Average telomere
levels can be measured in blood tests on our white blood cells.

and aging is not an exact science,’ says Prof Spector.

‘To an extent
the rate of aging and our baseline levels of telomeres are controlled
by genes. But smokers tend to have eight years less of telomeres,
and obese or unfit people will have theirs shortened by four to
eight years.’

Although it
is impossible to repair them, we can halt their retreat by changing

‘There is increasing
evidence that aging and health in later life could be related to
events in childhood, in utero or even in our grandparents,’ says
Prof Spector.

‘Social class
is another factor. The more money worries you have, the more chronic
stress you are under.’

In the study
of identical twins it was revealed that the one who married a solicitor
had aged less than the one married to a plumber.

Dr Pat Sutlieff,
a GP, has been practising for 33 years and she agrees with the hypothesis
that we can hold back the years.

Before retiring
in June, aged 61, she was seeing patients in the early stages of
potentially life-threatening diseases which she was able to treat,
therefore delaying years of debilitating ill-health.

‘Because we
have access to more treatments, the pattern of disease is changing,’
she says.

‘And there
are the beneficial effects of good diet and regular exercise in
delaying the development of heart disease and stroke.’

She also believes
the initiatives to stop people smoking have produced a reduction
in heart disease problems.

the rest of the article

29, 2010

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