Health Talk Today

How We Age

Your Almighty Immune System Aging is a complex but natural process that affects every cell, organ, and body function you have. It’s impacted by a number of factors, including genetics, nutritional habits, and other lifestyle aspects. But how exactly do we age? Well, scientists have been developing theories of aging for centuries, and more recently have invested billions of dollars into research in hopes of developing interventions to help alter or slow the aging process. To date, research suggests there are several key mechanisms involved:

DNA Damage
Every day the DNA of our cells is under assault. The causes—oxidative damage as a result of normal metabolism, mistakes in cell replication, and exposure to environmental factors such as radiation and other toxins. These assaults can cause “genetic typos” or more mistakes in DNA replication. Eventually, these mutations accumulate, causing cells to malfunction and die.

Declines in Cell Energy Production
Mitochondria are “intra-cellular power plants” that convert carbohydrates, fats, and protein from the foods we eat into cellular energy. However, as we age the number of mitochondria in our cells and their ability to produce energy decreases. In addition, the production of cell energy itself creates free radicals (highly reactive and unstable molecules) which damage mitochondrial membranes and cellular DNA. Over time, this damage accumulates and mitochondria stop functioning.

Formation of AGEs
As we age, the formation of AGEs (advanced glycation end products) occurs. They form when sugar molecules attach to proteins leading to structural changes called protein cross-links. AGE proteins build up slowly but accumulate as we age, and damage body tissues. Numerous studies also suggest that AGE proteins are associated with a number of age-related diseases, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

Decreased Cellular Defenses
How we age is related to the activity of genetic regulators—proteins that control the expression of genes. Nrf2 has been identified by scientists as a key master genetic regulator, and is now believed to control and coordinate the cells’ diverse natural defenses—antioxidant protection, anti-inflammatory activities, detoxification enzymes, as well as our cells’ ability to repair DNA and produce energy. Not surprisingly, research focusing on the role Nrf2 plays as our “guardian of longevity” has greatly increased in recent years.

Remember: Although the years of your life can’t be changed, scientists are researching ways to help slow the rate you age, and how well you can age with a healthy lifestyle.

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