The effects of aging: can they be reversed?

WRINKLES, grey hair and poorer physical and cognitive health: these are some of the common manifestations of aging. But could it be possible to reverse the aging process in the future? Studies are increasingly suggesting so. In simple terms, aging is defined as the process of becoming older, which involves a number of biological mechanisms that lead to deterioration of health – both cognitive and physical – over time.
Of course, aging is inevitable. While many of us would like to stop the clock and avoid blowing out those birthday candles – an unsubtle reminder that we are another year older – it is beyond the realms of medical science. What may be within reach one day, however, are ways to reduce or reverse the effects of aging, and we’re not talking about anti-aging face creams or cosmetic surgery.
Increasingly, studies have focused on strategies that could combat aging at its core – the cellular processes that contribute to age-related diseases and changes in our physical appearance as we become older. In this spotlight, we explore the biological causes of aging, investigate what strategies researchers are proposing to fight the effects of aging, and look at what you can do to boost your chances of healthy aging.
Many researchers believe the effects of aging are a result of numerous genetic and environmental factors, and these effects vary from person to person. The genetic aging theory suggests that, just like hair colour and height, our lifespan is influenced by the genes we inherit from our parents. Such a theory may ring true; studies have shown that children of parents who have a long lifespan are more likely to live a longer life themselves.
And research from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute – published in 2013 – suggested that the aging process is influenced by mitochondrial DNA that we inherit from our mothers. The team found that female mouse models passed mutations in mitochondrial DNA – which they accumulated through environmental exposures during their lifetime – to offspring, which reduced their lifespan.
But while evidence for the genetic aging theory is strong, the fact remains that healthy aging and longevity is largely influenced by our environment – that is, what we eat, how much we exercise, where we live and the compounds and toxins we are exposed to throughout our lifetime. Our DNA accumulates damage from environmental exposures as we age. While cells are capable of repairing most of this damage, sometimes it is beyond repair.
This most often occurs as a result of oxidative stress, where the body does not possess enough antioxidants to fix the damage caused by free radicals – uncharged molecules that cause DNA damage. Oxidative stress has been identified as a key player in the aging process. Another major cause of DNA damage is the shortening of telomeres.

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