The Causes of Aging

Posted by Dr. Michael White, Updated on October 17th, 2023
Reading Time: 7 minutes
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The Causes of Aging

Since the beginning of time, humans have sought the magic elixir to ward off the inevitable appearance of “Old Man Aging” and the grim reaper that closely follows. From the formulas and experiments of alchemists of ancient Greece to Ponce de Leon’s quest for the fountain of youth, and the scientific research on longevity in modern times, aging has been a most elusive opponent.
Ideas abound about the causes of aging. Some insist aging is pre-programmed into our cells, while others maintain aging is mainly due to environmental damage to our cells. Although none of the theories can completely explain aging, they do help us comprehend why and how we age. The problem is that, to date, no one cause of aging has been found. This has forced researchers to play “whack-a-mole” to try to piece together the hallmarks of aging and devise a comprehensive approach to longevity that will not guarantee immortality but dramatically increase lifespan.
Let’s take a look at the common causes and hallmarks of aging:
• Stem cell exhaustion. Aging is associated with reduced tissue renewal and impaired tissue repair upon injury, with each organ having its own strategy for renewal and repair. The problem is that as we age, our stem cells become less efficient at performing their duties, resulting in less efficiency through all of the body’s organs.
• Cellular senescence is caused by acute or chronic damage. A cell can replicate approximately 50 times before the genetic material cannot be copied accurately. When this happens, the cells stop dividing, but some of them hang around and emit toxins that accelerate aging. Senescent cells are the hallmark of cellular aging, which becomes biological aging.
• Hormonal Aging. Hormones play a significant role in aging, especially during childhood, when they help build bones and muscles and facilitate the development of secondary male or female characteristics. Testosterone, Growth Hormone, Estrogen, Thyroid-Stimulating hormone, insulin, and pregnenolone must all be in a delicate balance. As we age, our hormone levels begin to drop, leading to changes in the skin (such as wrinkles and the loss of elasticity), shrinking muscles, a loss of bone density, and a cratering libido. The result is a body that functions less than optimal.
• Dysbiosis is defined as a disruption to the microbiome resulting in an imbalance in the microbiota. In other words, bad gut bacteria. The digestive system is often called “the second brain,” and its importance cannot be overstated. The formula is simple: healthy gut bacteria = continued good health. Bad gut bacteria = a broad range of health issues. Gut health becomes an issue for many due to poor nutrition choices and environmental toxins.
• Epigenetic alterations and Altered intercellular communication. Epigenetics studies how cells control gene activity without changing the DNA sequence. This is what differentiates epigenetics from the genetic code we are born with. "Epi-" means on or above in Greek, and "epigenetic" describes factors beyond the genetic code. Epigenetic changes are modifications to DNA that regulate whether genes are turned on or off. Environmental influences, such as a person’s diet and exposure to pollutants, can impact the epigenome. Research has found that epigenetics plays a huge role again due to the miscommunication of the epigenetic instructions that the cells need to function correctly.
• Accumulative Damage. Also called “The Use It and Lose It” theory, the idea here is that the organs give up like a car that is constantly driven fast with little to no maintenance. Continual intake of junk food, smoking, UV radiation, alcohol, drugs, and environmental pollution all combine to speed up the process. The cliché “live fast, die young” is so true since you destroy your energy reserves sooner.
• Inflammation. Acute inflammation is vital for the body’s healing process, but chronic inflammation can trigger a variety of common diseases that appear as we get older, including Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. When inflammation is good, it wards off foreign invaders, speeds up healing, and mops up debris. But when it becomes chronic, inflammation carries a parade of disorders: arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, blindness, cancer, diabetes, and mental illness.
• Weakened immune system. This is in the “DUH” category. A strong immune system is your fortress against germs and toxins. White cells attack, surround, and destroy enemy troops, such as bacteria and viruses. And they manufacture antibodies, the "infantrymen" that patrol the bloodstream, attacking and rendering harmless any substance they don't recognize as the body's own. It’s obvious that as the immune system weakens as we age, fewer antibodies are produced, thus increasing infection risk. Worse, the body may cannibalize itself by making antibodies that destroy its own tissue. When that happens, the unfortunate result is autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
• Mitochondrial dysfunction Mitochondria are not only the cell's powerhouses but also constitute latent inflammation triggers. Again, when our mitochondria function less efficiently due to aging, the result is the fatigue that plagues so many older folks.
• Genomic instability Genome integrity and stability are threatened by outside toxic chemical, physical, and biological agents, as well as by internal body issues like DNA replication errors, chromosome segregation defects, oxidative processes, and spontaneous hydrolytic reactions. Aging contributes to genomic instability and leads to a vicious cycle of problems.
• The Telomere Theory of Aging. Telomeres are bits of "junk DNA" located at the ends of chromosomes. Like shoelaces that protect shoestrings, telomeres your DNA each time a cell divides. When a cell divides, the DNA unwraps, and the message within it is copied. Problems eventually arise since the last tip of a chromosome, the telomere, cannot be totally copied; a small amount needs to be snipped. The theory is that when a cell divides, the telomeres shrink each time until they disappear. When this happens, the so-called "real" DNA cannot be copied anymore, and the cell ages and can no longer replicate. Research has discovered that older folks have shorter telomeres, resulting in tissue damage, the dreadful signs of aging, and the afflictions that attack older people.
• Metabolic aging and Deregulated nutrient-sensing. Our cells are continually changing food into energy, producing byproducts—some of which can injure the body. The process of metabolization, while essential, can damage cells, a development called metabolic aging.
• Loss of proteostasis. Proteostasis is the regulation of a balanced, functional proteome (the entire set of proteins that is or can be, expressed by a genome, cell, tissue, or organism at a certain time. This process is critical since killer diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes (“The four horsemen”) and aging are directly linked to impaired protein homeostasis or proteostasis,
• The Free Radical Theory of Aging. Free radicals are a byproduct of standard cell function. When cells produce energy, the result is unstable oxygen molecules called free radicals since they have a free electron, which causes the molecule to become unstable. Free radicals attach to other molecules, which causes dysfunction in proteins and other essential molecules. Free radicals form through this natural process, but smoking, excess alcohol consumption, stress, toxins, and even exercise can also accelerate their development. Damage to DNA, protein cross-linking, and other adverse alterations have been attributed to free radicals.
• Genetics. Are good health, intelligence, and athleticism inherited, like eye and hair color inherited? Or are they produced by the environment, nutrition, whether you have been exposed to harmful chemicals or infectious diseases, and lifestyle choices? Both are factors, but it is uncertain which has the most influence. Research has shown that we are not prisoners of our genes. If your family tree is one of longevity, your odds of living a long, healthy life are improved. But you can erase that genetic advantage with poor lifestyle choices. It works in the opposite direction as well. Bad genetics can be overcome with smart lifestyle choices.
As is apparent, there is no one cause of aging, but these causes are intertwined. And there is no silver bullet available to stop aging. But we do know that smart, healthy lifestyle choices can slow aging.

And research on aging continues.

That’s correct. Scientists and researchers are attacking aging on multiple fronts. Each and every one of these possible causes of aging listed above has been dissected, studied, and examined in minute detail. This research continues for several reasons.
First is altruism. Aging is debilitating, and even if immortality is a pipe dream, an extended healthy life that adds quality and quantity is a worthwhile goal.
Second, researchers, like all of us, have a vested interest in prolonging their own lifespans and health spans, just like the rest of us.
Third, the financial rewards for slowing down, stopping, and even reversing aging are unlimited and unimaginable.
Therefore, it is crucial for everyone to do everything possible to extend their life until aging cures are widely available and affordable to all of us. If aging can be arrested, what good will it do if you drool your Ensure drink into your diapers in a nursing home while unaware of what’s happening?
The time to embrace a healthy lifestyle is now! That means smart nutrition, more attention to getting a good night’s sleep, staying hydrated, exercising, taking the right supplements, addressing your hormone depletion, controlling stress, minimizing toxins in your environment, and many other lifestyle choices.
The age of longevity is rapidly approaching. Make healthy choices now to be here when it becomes a reality!

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