- Richard Faragher y Lynne Cox
- The Conversation*
Most people want to live a long and happy life, or at least avoid a short and miserable one. If you find yourself in that majority, you’re in luck. Over the past decade, there has been a quiet revolution in research on our understanding of the biology of aging.
The challenge is to turn this knowledge into advice and treatment that we can benefit from. Here we break the myth that lengthening healthy life expectancy is science fiction and show that it is science fact instead.
1. Nutrition and lifestyle
There is a lot of evidence of the benefits of doing boring things, like eating right.
A study of large groups of ordinary people shows that maintaining weight, not smoking, restricting alcohol to moderate amounts, and eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day can increase your life expectancy by seven to 14 years compared to someone who smokes, drinks too much, and is overweight.
Reduce calories even further, by about a third, the so-called dietary restriction, improves health and prolongs life in mice and monkeys, as long as they eat the right things, although that is something difficult to ask of human beings, who are constantly exposed to the temptation of food.
Less extreme versions of time-restricted or intermittent fasting (only eating for an eight-hour period each day or fasting for two days a week) are believed to reduce the risk of middle-aged people contracting age-related illnesses .
2. Physical activity
Globally, inactivity directly causes approximately the 10% of all premature deaths for chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and various cancers.
If everyone on Earth got enough exercise tomorrow, the effect would likely be an increase in healthy human life expectancy by nearly a year.
But how much exercise is optimal?
Very high levels are actually bad for you, not just in terms of torn muscles or ligament sprains. They can suppress the immune system and increase the risk of upper respiratory disease.
A bit more than 30 minutes a day moderate to vigorous physical activity is sufficient for most people. Not only does that make you stronger and fitter, it has been shown to reduce harmful inflammation and even improve mood.
3. Boost the immune system
No matter how fit you are and no matter how much you eat well, your immune system, unfortunately, becomes less effective as you get older. Poor responses to vaccination and the inability to fight infections are consequences of this “immunosenescence.”
It all starts to go downhill in early adulthood when the timo, a bowtie-shaped organ in the throat, begins to wither.
That sounds bad, but it’s even more alarming when you realize that the thymus is where immune agents called T cells learn to fight infection.
The closure of such an important educational center for T cells means they cannot learn to recognize new infections or fight cancer effectively in older people.
You can help, a bit, by making sure you have enough key vitamins in your body, especially A y D.
One promising area of research is looking at the signals the body sends to help make more immune cells, particularly a molecule called IL-7.
We may soon be able to produce drugs that contain this molecule, which could boost the immune system in older people.
Another approach is to use the dietary supplement spermidine to activate immune cells to eliminate their internal junk, such as damaged proteins. This both improves the immune system of the elderly and is now being tested as a way to get better responses to COVID-19 vaccines in older people.
4. Cell rejuvenation
The senescencia It is a toxic state that cells enter as we age, wreaking havoc throughout the body and generating low-grade inflammation and chronic disease, essentially causing biological aging.
In 2009, scientists showed that middle-aged mice lived longer and were healthier if they were given small amounts of a drug called rapamycin, which inhibits a key protein called mTOR It helps regulate the response of cells to nutrients, stress, hormones, and damage.
In the laboratory, drugs such as rapamycin (called mTOR inhibitors) make senescent (aging) human cells look and behave as if they were younger.
Although it is too early to prescribe these drugs for general use, a new clinical trial has just started to test whether low-dose rapamycin can actually slow aging in people.
Discovered in the soil of Easter Island in Chile, rapamycin has a significant mystique and has been hailed in the popular press as a possible “elixir of youth”. It can even improve the memory of mice with a dementia-like disease.
But all drugs have their pros and cons, and since too much rapamycin suppresses the immune system, many doctors are reluctant to even consider it to avoid age-related diseases.
However, dosage is critical, and newer drugs, such as RTB101, which work similarly to rapamycin, boost the immune system in older people and may even reduce the rates and severity of covid infection.
5. Get rid of old cells
Getting rid of senescent cells completely is another promising path.
A growing number of laboratory studies in mice using drugs to kill senescent cells, called “senolytics,” show general improvements in health, and because mice don’t die from disease, they also end up living longer.
The elimination of senescent cells also helps people. In a small clinical trial, people with severe pulmonary fibrosis reported an overall improvement, including how far and how fast they could walk, after being treated with senolytic drugs.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Diabetes and obesity, as well as infection with some bacteria and viruses, can trigger the formation of more senescent cells.
Senescent cells also make the lungs more susceptible to COVID infection, and COVID causes more cells to become senescent.
Importantly, getting rid of senescent cells in old mice helps them survive covid infection.
Aging and infection are a two-way street. Older people contract more infectious diseases as their immune systems begin to lose strength, while the infection accelerates aging through senescence.
Since aging and senescence are inextricably linked with chronic and infectious diseases in older people, treating senescence is likely to improve health across the board.
It’s exciting that some of these new treatments are already looking good in clinical trials and may be available to all of us soon.
* Richard Faragher is Professor of Biogerontology at the University of Brighton, UK. Lynne Cox is Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Oxford, UK
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.