Searching for the fountain of youth
At aged nine, I first understood the meaning of ageing and death when my grandfather passed away. At nine, I realised humans cannot be immortal and I became fearful of growing up (old). Ageing is the process of changes occurring in cells and tissues with advancing age, that are responsible for the increased risk of disease and death.
The cause of ageing has been studied intensely. There is never a single cause of ageing, but rather combining many theories of ageing, complementary of others. One theory is that DNA damage is often the common basis of both ageing and cancer. Genetic damage, mutations, and epimutations, can cause abnormal gene expression. The DNA damage causes the cells to stop dividing or induces apoptosis (cell death), which then hinders regeneration. Other theories of ageing include the inflammation theory, immunologic theory and the mitochondrial theory.
Ageing is inevitable. The world’s population is ageing, which brings unprecedented challenges to the world’s economy and society.
Many companies out there are rushing to get a slice of this 'anti-ageing' market to develop the next diet, next drug, next treatment. Companies like Unity Biotechnology are working on triggering the death of senescent cells’, which secrete proteins that cause inflammation and causes the immune system to turn against normal tissues and damage them. This drug aims to treat osteoarthritis of the knee. But they also face issues like the fact that senescent cells play a role in wound healing as well as preventing cancer (cells go into senescence to avoid become cancerous).
There have also been studies showing that caloric restriction in mice can extend lifespan and delay the onset of certain diseases. But it is not known if caloric restrictions are effective in humans.
Understanding the ageing process is difficult and interventions are just beginning to sprout.
With all this talk about ageing, genes account for just 25 percent of longevity. The other 75 percent is lifestyle. Susan Pinker, a Canadian psychologist, shared in her 2017 TED talk that the secret to living longer may be our social life. The list goes (from the least priority to the most priority in helping us live longer): clean air, hypertension risk, weight gain, exercise, cardiac rehabilitation, flu vaccine, quitting alcohol, quitting smoking, close relationships and social integration. The top two indicators of living longer are features of our social life. First, our close relationships which are people you can call on for help, people who will stay with you in a crisis. Second, social integration is an indicator of how much we interact with people around us throughout our day; the barista, cleaner, postman. These social interactions are one of the strongest predictors of how long we’ll live.
So, time to start rekindling those connections and age better.