The Process of Aging -Biological Aging-Part IV

(11/9/06)- For many years scientists have been aware of the fact that in cutting calorie intake, the biological forces of the aging process can be slowed down. Even as early as the 1930s scientist saw that calorie restrictions (CR) caused animals' life spans to be increased by 30% to 40%. In the last several years scientists have been seeking to expand the CR theories to humans as to their life health and life spans.

The most prominent of this research is being done with a substance in red wines known as resveratrol. Three years ago, scientists at the Harvard Medical School, led by David Sinclair, reported that it had boosted yeast cells' life span by 70% via a mechanism resembling CR. He later co-authored a study showing that resveratrol.boosts life span in fruit flies and roundworms.

Two groups of scientists are now studying the question as to whether or not resveratrol can expand life span in mice. The amount of resveratrol used in these studies is far in excess of the amount of the substance that one can get from a glass of red wine. In fact you would have to drink about several hundred glasses of red wine a day before it could have any effect on your life span, even if this substance is proven to be effective. available as a dietary supplement but there have not been any clinical trials to show whether or not it is helpful in extending life span.

(?)-As we reviewed the first three parts of this series, it became clear that there are a number of items that we did not make explicit about the aging process. While these statements are known by all, they have vast significance for the process of aging.

First and foremost, is the objective fact that biological aging affects everybody, evidencing itself overtly and covertly at different ages and in different organs and systems depending on a whole series of cascading effects. Secondly, it is a deleterious process, involving the functioning of cells and therefore organs and finally the organism itself. Thirdly, this process is subtle in most cases, usually manifesting itself when the changes become extreme, or not until the system as a whole is stressed. Fourthly, it is not known if the process of aging is a disease or a natural process of the organism i.e. is there a built in general death factor or if all disease is conquered would we achieve immortality.

As we age, the amount of stress required to cause a breakdown in the health of the organism falls. (This axiom is related to a definition of aging cited by Alex Comfort: Aging is characterized by failure to maintain homeostasis under conditions of physical stress, a failure which is associated with a decrease in viability and an increase in vulnerability of the individual.) See part III of this series for discussion of stress factors..

We also know that age-related changes that do occur have a limiting effect on a number of bodily functions. Changes in the lens of the eye lead to presbyopia; changes in the cochlea of the ear lead to presbyacusis; a reduction in the accuracy of maintaining posture increases the amount of sway in the standing positions etc.

The big research dilemma revolves around distinguishing between changes, which are associated with normal aging and those which are due to external or internal pathological effects. Osteoporosis is a good example of this problem. As every reader must know, this disorder predisposes an individual to bone fractures. It is generally regarded as an age-related disease, particularly severe in post- menopausal women. However, there are also a number of pathological conditions that predispose one to this disorder or are associated with the development of osteoporosis such as prolonged immobility, poor nutrition, and excessive alcohol intake or corticosteroid treatment.

Another prominent example of etiology is impairment in body temperature control. It is partly assumed to be due to the aging process but it may be made worse by cerebrovascular disease or the dementing process such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

Postural hypotension is another of those problems that have both age-related and pathological sources. What appears to happen in most of the age-related vulnerabilities is that physiological systems decline with age resulting in a shift in the accuracy of the body to control the chemical and cellular environment and thus leaving individuals more prone to diseases of aging. (Again see Part III of this series where we discuss the cumulative effects of stress on cellular division and the process of senescence.)

In fact, if one were to look at the presenting medical problems of the elderly, six symptoms would stand out: mental confusion, respiratory problems, incontinence, postural instability and falls, immobility and social breakdown. While they are problems of the elderly, no one has definitively shown robust evidence that they are age-related. It is mainly beyond the age of 75 and more particularly 85 years that frailty and the dependence associated with chronic illness becomes apparent. Yet, generally, these changes were going on for many years, at levels below which we are able to detect and associate conclusively with the age-related deterioration process. Conversations with medical personnel suggest that healthy elderly people quite often have laboratory test results which are slightly abnormal, but are not deemed significant. While there are many chance factors that may account for these "abnormalities", they may be precursors of cell or system age-related changes leading to expression of disease at a much later date. The sooner we identify signs of a disorder, the more likely treatment will be effective.

This leads us to the "health strategy" we suggest for all people: A medical checkup should include a full blood work-up, a biochemical profile, an estimate of serum electrolytes, a urine analysis for protein and sugar, and a baseline cardiogram and chest radiograph. By establishing a measurement baseline, future check-ups will alert you to changes that may be soft signs of deteriorating or degenerative processes. At the same time, the physician/patient relationship should be a collaborative one in which the doctor gathers and disseminates information and the patient is active in applying the healing, using knowledge of their needs in synergistic fashion with the information received. In this way the patient is empowered in the most important aspect of life, the patient's health.

A look at life expectancy charts indicates an increase of life expectancy throughout the twentieth century. This is associated with the external improvements in health including the improvement in hygiene and nutrition and the conquest of certain infectious diseases by the process of clean water, vaccination, antibiotics and other forms of medical treatment. While more can be done with explicit factors of illness, the balance is now fully in the corner of implicit factors including but not limited to a healthy life style.

This should not be construed as shifting the onus of responsibility to the individual. Achievement of health always is a collaborative process involving the individual, treating health professionals, industry and the government. The latter needs to play an important role in monitoring the environment, encouraging research and providing care to individuals in need of service.

Developing a unifying theory of aging is an important goal of the geriatric field. As one reviews the literature on theory of aging, one becomes aware of almost 100 theories which could be broken down to two main categories which tend to be mutually exclusive, but both probably contain parts of a meta-theory.

The first category relates to programming theories and involves genetic coding, incorporating the concept that progressive expression of the appropriate genes throughout life leads to the changes of aging and ultimately to death.

The second category, error theories, contend that environmental influences on the organism lead to errors in gene transcription and protein synthesis and that the steady accumulation of these errors are the cause of aging and death. Over a period of time, the organism is exposed to a series of stresses that lead to malfunctioning similar to what occurs in machinery over time i.e. structural stress.

Future parts of this series will discuss theories of aging in detail to give our readers knowledge, the most powerful tool one could have in their armentarium.

Please e-mail us any questions that you may have, and we will respond as quickly as we can. If you have no objection, we may post your question and our answer in our question and answer section of this site

Go Back to Article I of Articles on Aging Mortality risk factors
Go Back to Article II of Articles on Aging Gender differentiation
The Aging Process-Part III-Cellular Senescence
Continued in Part V -Arteriosclerosis
The Aging Process-Part VI-Aging in Males
The Aging Process-Part VII-Aging in Women
The Aging Process-Part VIII-Infectious Disease
Process of Aging-Part IX-DHEA
The Aging Process-Part X-Skin, Skeleton and Brain
The Aging Process:-Part XI-Apotosis and the Elderly 
The Aging Process-Part XII-Biomarkers for Aging
The Aging Process- Part XIII- Body Odors


by Harold Rubin, M.S., ABD, CRC, Guest Lecturer
updated November 9, 2006

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