The mechanisms of aging: lifestyle or genetics?
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The Author
Dr Claude Brodeur, Ph.D.

The Mechanisms of Aging
How long can we expect to live?

What's possible...100 years? 120 years? Are these reasonable numbers? The National Geographic recently devoted 30 pages of text and graphics to this most intriguing question: why are so many more people living longer and healthier lives than past generations? What does the future hold for the aging "baby boomer" generation (those born just after the end of World War II)?

Genetics or lifestyle? What are the major symptoms of aging? Can they be arrested, or at least slowed down? What part do genes play in aging, and what part lifestyle, location, nutrition, exercise or activity? How does the brain affect aging, and our mental processes? What part do hormones play in all this? Is there an aging hormone?

Genetics doesn't seem to be the whole answer, but good genes may give you an edge.

Nutrition is definitely an extremely important factor in life extension.

What makes some people so vulnerable to aging, while others remain so resilient for so long? How and why do we decline as we age? Is there anything we can do about it? These questions scientists are presently researching.

What about Alzheimer and aging? Alzheimer is preventable, at least theoretically. The memory loss and dementia of Alzheimer disease may be due not to the disorder itself but to tiny unnoticed strokes. Strokes are preventable. Something as simple as an aspirin a day might prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer in some people, not by curing it, but by preventing the strokes that do the bulk of the damage. Getting control of the "free radicals" may count for something. Watching what we eat and drink or don't eat or drink may be a factor? What about body types and appropriate diet for your body type? Controversial? Certainly! But there may be something to it. We need to find out.

Is there an aging mechanism?  If there is a universal mechanism responsible for aging, and hopefully there is, then we can perhaps put a brake on aging symptoms. Remember, the scientific study of aging is only about 50 years old.

No single hormone holds the secret to youthfulness, research studies so far indicate . Theoretically we can influence the upper limit of the life span of humans. 120 years is not an unreasonable expectation.

What about evolution?  "In most species individuals don't live very long after they've grown old and infertile. Once an animal has lost its capacity to have offspring, the prime directive of evolution, there is little incentive for nature to favor its continued survival," to quote the National Geographic's November 1997 issue.  Comment: this is more a philosophical issue at the moment than a researchable question?

Among expert researchers on aging, some disagree about the fundamental mechanism of aging. For some, aging is linked to genetic programming; for others, it is a matter mostly of physical wear and tear, especially exposure to oxygen.

What do we need to research? Some researchable topics related to aging would be:

  • how long will the cell continue to divide?
  • are free radicals responsible for physical and mental decline called aging?
  • what about the metabolic rate: the slower, the longer lived? Not in all species.
  • is aging controlled by a molecular program, a gene called age-1?
  • does it matter how long the parents lived?
  • are dietary factors like eating less, reducing caloric intake by 60 percent important?
  • and what about other dietary factors like a diet low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables?
  • is it true: use it or lose it?

Suggested readings:
This article is largely a recap of a fascinating article published in the National Geographic, Vol 192, No.5, November 1997. "Aging - New Answers To Old Questions." by Rick Weiss, pp.2-31.

The National Geographic article was corroborated in many respects from my reading of  the published research conducted by Drs. Evans, Ph.D. and Rosenberg, M.D, published by Simon & Schuster in Biomarkers: the 10 determinants of aging you can control, 1991.

Related links
Rest and relaxation training for longer and healthier living.

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Copyright © 1999, Dr. Claude Brodeur, Ph.D.
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Page last modified:
March 11, 2000