Science and the Golden Years

1. What does it mean to age?More than just annual birthday parties, wrinkles, and gray hairs, aging has two main components: primary aging, which is the natural process of senescence; and secondary aging, due to age-related diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and macular degeneration.2. What's responsible for aging in humans?Outside of gender (see next question) only 25% of lifespan variability is due to genetics; the rest depends on behavior and the

Maria Anderson
Apr 25, 2004

1. What does it mean to age?

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More than just annual birthday parties, wrinkles, and gray hairs, aging has two main components: primary aging, which is the natural process of senescence; and secondary aging, due to age-related diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and macular degeneration.

2. What's responsible for aging in humans?

Outside of gender (see next question) only 25% of lifespan variability is due to genetics; the rest depends on behavior and the environment.1 Habits such as smoking, excess drinking, and prolonged unprotected sun exposure reduce longevity; but researchers have implicated problems at the cellular and molecular levels as well. Oxidative stress, telomere shortening, build-up of DNA damage, mitochondrial deterioration, and insulin-receptor signaling all contribute to aging. Restricting calories increases the lifespans of mice and worms, but as for us, researchers are unsure.

3. What's to learn from the long-lived?

While gender is a huge...

4. How's the anti-aging research going?

It's common sense: Keeping people alive longer is only desirable if people stay healthy. So, instead of just focusing on treating and preventing age-related diseases, scientists want to maintain overall good health throughout life.1 While some researchers are trying to develop a drug to mimic the benefits of caloric restriction,2 others are investigating the link between aging and genes that regulate metabolism, mitochondrial function, sensory neurons, and reproductive signaling.3

5. What about the ethics of anti-aging research?

It's a growing area of concern. If anti-aging therapies or medications become available, issues about the right to access will arise.2 Society also needs to consider the financial implications of having an increasingly large elderly population.

- Maria W. Anderson

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