Age of Internet has gone; age of Artificial Intelligence is here; the coming age is the Age of Ageing. Biological research is uncovering how we age and how we may not age. Enough is already known which can be used to extend your age now. This seven part blog attempts to show you how.
It has been taken for granted that humans beyond 75 are seated near the exit. Yet, less than a century ago, humans aged 35-45 filled this position, Useful life-not just life, has almost doubled with very early discoveries such as spectacles, early discoveries such as antibiotics, vaccines and recent discoveries such as anti-diabetics, statins, blood thinners, antivirals, immuno-suppressants, vascular interventions and organ replacements.
The technological advances so far, have tackled disease. Some of the diseases have been blamed on age-Atherosclerosis, Dementia, Arthritis, Parkinson’s; but ageing itself has been accepted as normal. Yet there are life forms that live much longer than humans. Bristlecone pines in California and Rocky mountains have lived to more than 3500 years. Bow head whales aged 200 years have been found. Jelly fish have been found to be immortal. At cellular levels, these life forms are substantially similar to humans-esp. the whales are mammals and are, practically, our twins in water.
Scientists have always searched for ‘Amrit’-the elixir of eternal life and for the touchstone that will convert any metal to gold. While the latter remains elusive, a glimmer of hope has appeared for the former-a glimmer that is bright enough for humans to begin to think of ageing as a disease to be cured and not a normal to be endured.
Technical details of the research are fairly complex and may not interest most readers. They have, therefore been relegated, to the last. However, I urge that they be read. It will help understand what is going on in the background and enable the reader to improvise and adjust longevity techniques on his own to his individuality.
For the moment, let us just know that Genome is the name of the set of instructions encoded in a molecule called DNA and the genome is a complete blueprint for making an organism. DNA is a linear polymer molecule shaped like a double helix coiled around each other. It looks like a twisted ladder. The rungs of the ladder are a linear chain of 4 molecules called nucleotides and named A, C, G and T. The sequence of placement of A, C, T and G within a rung and the sequence of these rungs along the helix constitutes the genetic code. Strands of DNA are coiled together into structures called chromosomes. A chromosome if uncoiled could be a few cm long. Subset of a chromosome, read together, is called a gene. The human genome, if uncoiled, is about 2.5 m long and its sequence has 3.2 billion letters—printed 1 mm apart, it will extend to 3000 kilometer.
The genome is roughly like the hard wired, read only memory of a computer. It is so stable that DNA has been recovered intact from bones buried centuries ago. The memory must be read and instructions executed. RNA-a single helix polymer-is a part of the reading mechanism, with mRNA, t-RNA and r-RNA working as a team. The body mechanism doing the reading and the execution part is called Epi-Genome. Aging research appears to suggest that whereas the genome is stable, epigenome is not and tends to get corrupted causing information to be read wrongly, leading to defective execution. That causes aging. Research has further indicated that the corruption of the epigenome can be reduced and aging can be slowed and even halted. In animals, it has even been reversed.
This series of articles will take you through what we can do now to have a longer, useful life span, in a series of 7 steps.
- Longevity and the Technical Stuff
- Longevity and Exercise
- Longevity and Food
- Longevity and Psyche
- Longevity and Habits
- Longevity and Pills
Before doing that, let us just take
A WALK THROUGH A CELL
A cell is the fundamental building block of living beings. Body has trillions of them of various shapes and size. A human blood cell is about 7.5 micrometers. The cell is filled with a jelly like substance called cytoplasm which is enclosed in a plasma membrane. The command center of the cell is its Nucleus which has its own envelope and it tells the cell what to do. The Nucleus houses the DNA. DNA is looped around spools of Histones to form Nucleosomes. Nucleosomes tightly coil around to form Chromosomes. A chromosome looks like a handwritten small letter x. The arms of the x are tightly bound at the center by centromere and the tips of the x are sealed off by telomeres. Humans have 46 chromosomes. Genes are small sections of DNA within a chromosome. Floating around in the cell is Mitochondria which is cell’s powerhouse and converts food to energy. Mitochondria have its own, little stock of DNA. Ribosomes also float around the cell and their job is to read, via RNA, genetic instructions from the cell and make proteins. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Pictures of a few parts of a cell we talked about therefore, follow:
WORKING OF A CELL
There are two processes going on in the cells. One is reproduction which is by division. The new cell formed is identical to the earlier cell if all is well. However the DNA within the cell is subject to damage, for example by toxins, X-rays or cosmic rays amongst other factors. A complex system called Epigenome in the body senses damage to DNA and sends a disaster team to the cell to repair the damage. At the same time, the epi genome instructs the cell to stop reproduction. When the repair is done, the epigenome gives an “all clear” and the cell begins reproduction. The trends in understanding aging at a genetic level, appear to show that faults in the epigenome degrade the disaster management and also prevent it from generating the ‘stop reproduction’ signal for the cell. Without the stop sign, the cell goes on dividing with the damaged DNA generating more cells with even more damaged DNA. The damage cascades because genetic instructions have come from defective DNA and like a bug in a program, the execution goes into uncharted territory, leading to cells with even more damaged DNA. This results, generally, in the cell gradually becoming a large zombie cell which ultimately is unable to divide but stays alive. Such cells, named senescent cells, accumulate in the body, yielding toxic secretions and interfere with the working of healthy cells. Disease and death follows. Very often, cells with damaged DNA, go into uncontrolled division and originate cancerous tumors. Either way, death follows.
LIVING LONGER & REVERSING AGE
Research has so far come to a point that we have available certain techniques which can keep our epigenome working longer. In fact in animal studies it has been possible to reset the epigenome, effectively enabling an animal aged 50% of its age to revert to an age which was merely, say, 30% of its age. In human terms it means reverting a man of 40 to when he was 24.
In the following articles, to be published, we will see how our current knowledge of the cellular processes is applied to help us live longer with good health.
Continued to Part 2