What Causes Aging? And Can It Be Reversed or Prevented?
by Nils Osmar. February 3, 2022
Aging is a process of decline that – from one point of view – begins, or kicks in seriously, around the time we turn 30, accelerates as the years go by, and leads eventually to death.
With a very few exceptions, all complex multicellular organisms grow old and die. Even if we eat right and live healthy lifestyles, if we don’t die from something like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, suicide, homicide, or an accident, the aging process will be waiting in the wings to kill us. Some view it as a disease process that we’re all vulnerable to or infected with.
But why does it happen in the first place? And are there things we can do about it? There may be, depending on the underlying cause of the process.
Some theories include:
- Aging is programmed. This theory assumes that the aging process is built into our genetics. This may sound discouraging, but it’s actually very promising because if it is programmed, we may be able to reverse or prevent it by tinkering with our genes.
- Aging is not programmed, but is caused by accumulated damage (i.e, by cellular changes that are random and unplanned). We may be able to slow it by preventing or minimizing some of this damage – such as only getting X-rays, which damage the genome, when absolutely necessary.
- Some aspects of aging are programmed; others are not. (Most researchers in the field, including those leaning most into the theory of an aging program, seem to assume some version of this is the case.)
- Aging is driven by a loss of information resulting in a decline in cellular repair as years go by. If this is true, we may be able to slow it by activating our longevity (sirtuin) genes. And we may be able to restore functioning to old organs and tissues by “teaching them how to be young again” (as in David Sinclair’s experiments which resulted in reversing blindness in lab animals). (Sinclair assumes that our cells still know how to be young, but can’t access the data; we may be reset them to a younger state.) Sirtuin genes can be activated by taking the supplements NR or NMN alongwith resveratrol, and/or by eating wakame (seaweed) (a source of fucoidan) and black elderberry, a source of cyanidin.
- Aging is caused by free radical damage – another theory which was once popular but is in decline. If oxidation causes aging, we might be able to slow it by taking antioxidants. The problem with this theory is that oxidation damage can actually be beneficial by activating repair mechanisms, which go unactivated if we mop up too many free radicals with antioxidants.
- Aging is caused by telomere shortening. This theory was in vogue a few years ago, but it’s now generally accepted that telomere shortening is a byproduct of the aging process, not vise versa. Telomere health is important, and there are things we can do (like taking the Chinese herbs astragalus and ashwagandha) to reverse it. But telomere shortening is apparently not what drives aging.
- Aging is caused by changes in our hormones as years go by. If this is the case, we might be able to reverse it by restoring hormones to youthful levels – for example, by taking supplements or pharmaceutical drugs that increase levels of testosterone, progesterone, melatonin and human growth hormone. This theory was made popular by the first TRIIM trial, which suggested that injecting growth hormone while taking metfomin, vitamin D, zinc and DHEA completely rejuvenated the immune system and restored the functioning of “almost dead” thymus glands, while reversing aging by 2.5 years during the one year duration of the trial.
- Aging may be caused, or driven, by changes in our blood, which accumulates debris such as protein fragments as time goes by. Cleaning it mechanically or by taking enzymes such as serrapeptase may be ways to improve blood health and slow aging.
- Aging may be caused by the accumulation of decaying, decrepit senescent cells. Therapies such as taking senolytic drugs and supplements (such as quercetin and fisetin) or doing occasional prolonged fasts show promise of removing senescent cells from the body, clearing the way for their replacement by new, young stem cells.
- Aging is caused by an imbalance in two basic metabolic processes, mTOR (the growth pathway) and AMPK (the longevity pathway).
We may be able to slow it by increasing our activation of AMPK and decreasing activation of mTOR. Ways to accomplish this would include (1) eating a mostly plant-based diet and eating less animal protein (leucine, in animal protein, is a strong activator of mTOR); or (2) balancing eating meals high in animal protein with periods of fasting. Some carnivores, for example, have tried strategies like eating just one meal a day to compensate for the high activation of mTOR caused by their diet.
James Clement, author of “the Switch”, has warned that it’s not safe or advisable to try to switch off mTOR entirely. Some mTOR activation is necessary for immune system health. He has spoken of visiting longevity conferences in which people are clearly eating too little protein and leucine and are actually aging prematurely as a result. Cycling between activation of mTOR and AMPK appears to be the most sensible approach.
If we can learn enough about the aging process and way to intervene in it, there is a chance human being may one day become functionally immortal. Other things (like car accidents) could still kill us, but the aging process would no longer be a common cause of death.
To be clear, there’s no guarantee that we’ll figure out the aging process. Personally I think we will. In any case, in my opinion, it’s fun to try. All we really have to do is stay alive and healthy long enough to take advantage of life-extending modalities as they’re developed in the future. If we can reach a point at which medical science gives us another year of life for every year we live, we’ll effectively have arrived.
My personal approach to trying to reverse aging (based on what’s currently known) is summed up in the Rekindle Protocol.
Photo credit: Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay