TORONTO - Everyone wants to know the secret to aging gracefully. So far, “the fountain of youth” remains but a myth for many. And yet, some individuals or certain populations are blessed with longevity… why? That is only half the story.
Longevity is a blessing and a goal if it is coupled with a healthy quality of life. No one looks forward to growing old and developing debilitating conditions associated with old age. Unfortunately, this is a reality for many.
Consider the added risk to seniors with multiple pre-existing conditions and the potentially deadly affects of contracting Covid-19.
The virus has focused attention on aging and survival in a way not seen since the human calamities associated with wars in the last century.
Since those decades, the global average life expectancy for both sexes has climbed to 73.2 years (70.8 for men and 75.6 for women).
One interesting point is that more centenarians are living today than have ever been recorded before. For instance, the United Nations (UN) estimates there are 573 thousand people, worldwide, who are one hundred years old or older. This is up from the 343 thousand recorded just eight years ago.
There must be a chemical/biological factor that has escaped the scrutiny of scientists. What exactly is it that enables certain people to live such long lives?
Researchers have studied this for years. Several on-going centenarian studies have followed their curiosity to places where there are concentrations of long-lived residents in Japan, Italy, and the US.
One such project, the New England Centenarian Study (NECS) out of Boston University, notes that certain genes influence the probability of exceptional longevity may be influenced by DNA. More properly, the variants in the DNA specific to decreasing the risk that age-related diseases pose to the body in the chronological aging process. Those variants may provide a genetic advantage despite the fact that some people aged 100 and more manifest as many age-related diseases as the “average population”.
Growing old comes with its own set of complications. Some of the most prevalent age-related diseases are diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. About 50% of people worldwide aged 65+ are estimated to have more than two ailments or conditions (excluding obesity) that affect biological age. The study suggests that the variants could be isolated and purposed to slowing down the progression of those diseases on the body.
Another set of studies on aging is being conducted by Dr. Nir Barzilai, founder of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. His research focuses on the biology and genetics of aging. Dr. Barzilai believes “the biology of aging can be targeted effectively”.
In the research, his team hypothesizes and seeks to demonstrate that centenarians possess “protective genes”.
These discoveries suggest that a particular sequence of genes enables certain populations to delay aging and provide protection against age-related diseases, similar to the studies at the NECS. Currently there exists no magic pill or therapy to reverse the aging process; however, Dr. Barzilai and his team are leading efforts to develop a drug therapy trial to target aging.
The study is designed to prove that multiple diseases associated with aging can be delayed through drug therapy.
There are a multitude of factors that contribute to living a long life. Whether it is genetics, diet, therapies, or lifestyle, all these can affect the biological mechanism of aging.
Until that “magic bullet” or drug comes along, it is best to incorporate healthy nutrition, exercise and enjoy life to the fullest. To your health!