Find out what aging is and what causes this unavoidable process.
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In this article:
The Science of Aging
What Is Aging?
The aging process is all the gradual changes a body goes through. Aging is an inevitable biological process where cells change and deteriorate over time.
This process includes all the aging a body goes through during a lifetime. The signs of aging, on the other hand, only appear later in life.
There are many factors like genetics, diet, and the environment, that determine when these age-related changes appear and what impact aging has on the body.
Types Of Aging
Aging is a complex interaction with several layers. For years scientists searched for a single theory that explained aging but realized it’s more elaborate than that.
It may still be a while before aging is wholly understood, but scientist have identified some types of aging:
Cells are continually working to break down and use substances in the body. Chemical reactions happen within a cell during the process of metabolizing substances.
During the metabolic process, toxic by-products, like free radicals, are produced. These by-products damage DNA over time and cause cells to die.
Metabolic decline increases the risks of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
Some theories suggest that slowing down metabolic actions may slow down aging.
Cells in the body have a limited lifespan and can’t replicate indefinitely. Some parts of a cell simply wear out.
Telomeres are structures at the end of chromosomes that protect genetic material. Each time a cell divides, telomeres get shorter.
Once telomeres reach a certain point, genetic material can’t be copied accurately, and a cell dies. According to scientists, this might be a defense mechanism to prevent cells that have too much damage from turning into cancer cells.
A cell can reproduce about 50 times. Cells that get damaged by free radicals and other factors need to replicate more frequently.
As humans progress through the various stages of life, hormone levels change.
Low levels of estrogen and progesterone in older women are linked to increased risk of some age-related illnesses. This link led researchers to speculate that replacing these hormones might prevent chronic diseases in older women.
The study ended early because researchers found hormone replacement therapy may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.
During the aging process, Growth hormone and Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) decline, but multiple other hormones have been implicated in the aging process as well. Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis have been linked to low levels of IGF-1.
Exposure to environmental factors contributes to the aging process: toxins, smoking, pollution, diet, and excessive sun exposure damage cells and tissues.
Gradually, the effects of environmental damage accumulate, and the body can’t keep up with the repair process.
Environmental damage is one of the main culprits of premature aging. It’s also the type of aging you have the most control over.
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Causes Of Aging
As mentioned earlier, no one escapes aging. There are, however, certain factors that speed up the aging process.
Prolonged, chronic stress wreaks havoc on the body. Aside from the health issues related to stress, it also ages the body quicker.
The stress hormone cortisol is best known for controlling, fear, mood, and motivation. During a stressful event, it reduces blood pressure and heart rate. But if the level of cortisol stays elevated, it can cause problems in the long run.
Chronically elevated cortisol leads to accumulated belly fat. This, in turn, causes insulin resistance and inflammation.
It may also shrink your hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with long-term memory.
Glycation is simply a process where sugar binds with proteins and fat to form new molecules. This forms advanced glycation end products or AGEs for short.
AGEs cause protein fibers to become stiff. As a result, connective tissue becomes damaged, and blood becomes ‘sticky.’
Sticky blood struggles to reach organs and extremities and can lead to liver disease and eye problems, like cataracts, among other issues.
Free radicals are oxidizing agents that, like rust, bind to cells and damage DNA. Free radicals are believed to accelerate aging and may cause cancer.
Inflammation is part of the immune system response and protects against foreign invaders. But when it becomes chronic, it can lead to a host of problems.
Chronic inflammation is associated with many diseases like heart disease, cancer, and Altzheimers. This happens because the body is attacking its own cells.
How To Prevent Premature Aging
The best weapon against premature aging is diet. Scientists have found a Mediterranean diet to be particularly effective at slowing down the aging process.
The principals of a Mediterranean diet are:
- Eat mostly plant-based whole foods
- Drink water
- Consume animal product a few times a week
- Only occasionally eat red meat
- Avoid added sugar, processed food, and hydrogenated oils
Other preventative measures include:
- Not smoking
- Eating fewer calories
- Exercising regularly
- Reducing stress
- Getting enough sleep
One study found that having close relationships may also reduce age-related disease.
Unfortunately, aging is an inevitable process that doesn’t discriminate. We can, however, try and slow down the process through lifestyle choices to live a longer, healthier life.
What are your thoughts on aging? Let us know in the comment section!