From the moment you are conceived you are growing old, and every day you are alive you grow that little bit older.
It is the order of things. Everything is born and everything dies, but is it possible to slow the process down? That is a mystery that scientists all over the world are trying to solve, and with major advancements in science they are on the verge of a number of break-throughs, and real treatments to keep us younger longer may be just around the corner.
If we look at the ageing process, we all go through a similar range of physical and psychological changes.
As kids and young teenagers we want to be older. At this age it’s not a bad thing, its part of the phase of growing up and developing a level of maturity.
In our twenties we are at our physical peak. We want every day to be an adventure. We have more freedom, drive and ambition and we are strong and healthy enough to achieve most things. We are also growing up and maturing, preparing our minds and bodys to tackle the ups and downs of the life to come.
In our thirties and forties our body and brain are still in great shape but we are now developing wisdom. We may have the joy of children, and money may not be quite the worry it was when we were young.
But there comes a time when growing old starts to have negative effects.
At fifty onwards things start to decline. We cannot do the physical things we could when we were in our twenties and thirties. We suffer more aches and pains. Hair loss, gum disease, sagging skin, poor eye sight, forgetfulness and increasing body fat are just a few of the things that we may have to endure once we pass our fifth decade.
Our fantastic youth has gone. But why does this happen?
For centuries people have wondered how it is that our bodies grow and develop from a tiny fertilized egg, to a newborn baby, to a young child, then a teenager and, finally, an adult. A huge number of very complex changes within our bodies must happen perfectly in order to achieve this.
Once we grow into our adult perfection, why can’t we just stay there? Why do we have to age? And can we stop it?
Doctors and scientists have always seen aging as a natural process. Every thing on earth grows old and dies. That’s the way it is and nothing can be done about it, so why investigate it.
However, science and medicine has proved that our lives can be prolonged. With new drug treatments and a greater awareness of the things that harm us and what we can do for ourselves to improve our lives, in the food we eat and the exercise we do, people in the western world are living longer than ever before.
And this growing band of senior adults are anxious to hang on to their youth, adults with more disposal income than in the past and so more and more research is now being put into ways of holding back the clock and maybe stopping it altogether.
If we are able to slow down the rate we age, will our lives be better?
Physically yes. Old age can bring with it physical pain and mental decline and no one wants to suffer this in the twilight years of their life.
Age also brings knowledge and wisdom, something that could benefit society enormously.
However, as with everything there is always a flip side.
How will governments cope with a growing population of old people? Money will have to be found for pensions and health care. This may mean large increase in taxes that will affect young workers, which in turn may fuel resentment.
But for the fifty plus, how society copes with their improved health and extra vigour, will be the last thing on their mind.
So, have scientists unravelled the mystery of aging?
Not yet, but they have identified some of the factors that contribute to the process and new knowledge is being accumulated at a rapid rate.
What is for sure, aging is a very complex process and there are many theories about why we age.
Free Radical Theory.
Free radicals are molecules or atoms that have an unpaired electron. In order to be electrically balanced, these molecules or atoms will grab an electron from a nearby atom, thereby creating another free radical, eventually resulting in a cascading chain of damage to cells and organs.
It’s widely agreed that although this does not account for all aspects of ageing it does probably play an important role in cellular damage. Unfortunately there is very little we can do about it. Its part of living in a human body, although fresh fruit and vegetables and avoiding pollutants such as cigarette smoke and car fumes will help slow the process down.
Hayflick Limit Theory
In 1960 two scientists identified that human cells had a limited number of times they could divide, until they stopped dividing altogether. It may be that cells have a genetic programme that prevents them, after a set time, from reproducing anymore.
The Telomere Theory
Telomeres are chemicals that appear to protect the chromosome inside a cell. Every time our cells divide, the telomeres become shorter and less able to protect the chromosome. This may be why cells die. This is one area were scientists may find a break through, by finding a way to repair the telomere and stop the cell damage.
Proteins can become damaged if they react to blood sugar and this may contribute to the breakdown of other systems in the body. People with diabetes are particularly vulnerable to this and the problems they often endure if they do not control their insulin is well documented.
As well as the theories relating to aging it is also believed that there are other factors that play their part including a decline in hormones, an inefficiency to detoxify our body’s, DNA damage in our cells and our lifestyles where we allow our body to be exposed to drugs, toxins in the air and unhealthy food and drink.
All these can have a significant effect on our body’s ability to repair itself.
Scientists still have a long way to go before they have all the answers, but to look and feel at seventy the way you did at thirty is certainly something to look forward to.