The rules of aging are being broken. Armed with a growing knowledge of biology, a new breed of longevity specialists is teasing out answers to longer life. Demographer James Vaupel states that there is no evidence that human life expectancy is close to its ultimate limit. Let’s find out how we can really postpone aging and what makes it possible.
The modern era of aging research actually began in the 1960s when cell biologist Leonard Hayflick, a professor and the author of the book entitled How and Why We Age made a significant discovery. Troubled by the question of where aging begins, he wondered: Did the cells themselves falter, dragging down the whole human organism? Or could cells live on indefinitely were it not for age-related deterioration in the tissues they make up? To find out, he conducted several experiments that have been proven to be of value to the present researches.
Energy for Life
Like all organisms, cells produce waste as they metabolize energy. One of the most troublesome byproducts of this process is a free radical. The molecules seeks to rectify this electrical imbalance by careening about, trying to bond with other molecules. A lifetime of this can damage cells, leading to a range of disorders from cancer to more general symptoms of aging such as wrinkles and arthritis.
In recent years some nutritionists have advocated diets high in fruits and vegetables containing antioxidants – substances that are believed to sop up free radicals and carry them out of the body. But antioxidants have an uneven record. In some studies they seem to be associated with a dramatic reduction in cancer or other diseases; in other studies, an increase. In either case, few contemporary aging researchers think self-medicating at a salad bar can significantly extend the human life-span.
An alternative to changing the way cells process nutrients is to give them less to process in the first place. On the other hand lower temperature means a less vigorous metabolism, which means less food is processed. In countries where caloric belt-tightening can mean merely a smaller serving of French fries with a bacon cheeseburger, it may be more realistic to imitate caloric restriction pharmacologically. But caloric reduction is essentially maintenance work: little more than patching holes in a sinking ship.
Researchers believe there’s no reason many adults won’t one day live to 120. For people dreaming of immortality, that prospect may fall a little short. But four or five additional decades sounds like a splendid first step.