Dr Ghayur Ayub
WHEN I was working at Pakistan Medical Institute of Sciences (PIMS) Islamabad, I treated a religious scholar Alama Abidi. We became friends. I learnt a lot about daily matters linked directly to Islam. In one of our discussions, I asked him whether life could be prolonged. He answered in affirmative and supported his argument with an incident that one day the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was sitting with his companions when a Bedouin started cursing him. He was on his way to the nearby hill to collect logs. One of the companions got up to punish him. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) calmed him down and said that the man was going to die that day anyway. In the evening, that man was seen coming back with logs on his back. The companion who wanted to punish him asked the Holy Prophet (PBUH) how come he was still alive. Prophet told him to call the man. When the man approached them, he was asked to unload the logs. He did. A poisonous snake came out of it and started running. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) asked the man did he do anything good all day. He said while he was cutting logs he saw a poor man who was hungry and needed food. He shared his meal with him. The Prophet (PBUH) told his companions that his life was going to end that day by the snake but it was prolonged because of that charitable act he performed. Alama Sahib gave many examples from history where life was extended which included example of Noah whose life was also prolonged.
Recent scientific studies have shown that not only life span can be prolonged but youth can be incorporated in old age. With that, the concept of age has started to change by dividing it into calendar age and biological age. Up until now, the health enthusiasts rely only on diet and exercise to maintain a healthy life. They follow the definition of calendar-related old age which says “a progressive deterioration of physiological function, an intrinsic age-related process of loss of viability and increase in vulnerability.” A few parameters are attached to this type of old age, such as declining ability to respond to stress, loss of energy, wrinkling of skin, greying of hair, and increased risk of age-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart. Against these calendar age parameters, the researchers identified a few biomarkers such as; Glucose, Vitamin B3, Vitamin D, hsCRP (high-sensitive C Reactive Protein), ALT (Alanine Transaminase), Testosterone (for men), DHEAS- (Dehydroepiendrosterone sulfate for women), and BMI (Basic Metabolic Index) that can predict biological age of a person. Through these biomarkers they can tell us how many years we are older or younger than our calendar age. In other words, we might be 80 years old but our body would behave like a young person of 40.
It is because a change in biological age can affect calendar age. Concentrating on biological age, the researchers have discovered that a protein in living cells called Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD) works as machinery and keeps the cells young by repairing intracellular DNA. A regression in repair of DNA becomes the major cause of aging. In old age the NAD levels drop down by 50 percent or more. This drop occurs because a different protein blocks and interferes in the activity of NAD to repair DNA thus weakening the body’s defenses against age-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer. Researchers have found a molecule which can go in-between the two proteins letting NAD to keep the process of repair of DNA continue. As a result, old people can become energetic as if they were young. A leading researcher in this field, Professor David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School calls old age as a disease. He says that old age should be treated as disease just like we treat other diseases. In this way, we would be able to find a cure for the old age as we found cure for many diseases which were considered untreatable at one stage or another.
His research concentrated on intracellular environment and found out that intercommunication between nucleus and mitochondria play important role in in-built repair mechanisms of DNA that keeps the cells young. According to him, seven different types of proteins take part in ageing process. They are called Sirtuins which regulate important biological processes including the aging process. They can be activated by calorie restriction, restricting amino acids or sugar, or by increasing NAD levels. NAD stimulates Sirtuins. In this way, aging can be slowed or even reversed. It is interesting to know that Sirtuins are also activated by fasting which is one of the five pillars of Islam. So far the researchers like him are able to reverse DNA damage. If they continue in their success and they are confident they will, pretty soon it will be possible for humans to live hundreds of years. Their research is concentrated on bringing youth in old age, prolonging life, and curing or even preventing many old age related diseases. Some of the leading pharmaceutical industries are coordinating with them to produce drugs that would achieve those aims.
— The writer is a freelance columnist, based in United Kindgom.