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The biological secret of aging

Lahore

September 1, 2019

Have you ever wished for staying young forever? No wrinkles, spots or laugh lines, just a flawless baby skin for the rest of our lives. Sadly, the reality is a bit different. Botox and fillers can give you temporary results but my friends; aging is very real and hard on the eyes for some. So what is the science behind aging?”

Scientific definition of aging is a challenge because it does not depend on a single factor. So it can be stated that aging occurs when intrinsic processes and interactions with the environment like sunlight, toxins in the air, water and our diet cause changes in structure and function of body cells. These changes in cells derive their decline and eventually die.

We are a collection of cells, having an ability to reproduce. Each cell executes special functions under the instructions and guidelines encoded by our genetic material called deoxyribonucleic acid or famously known as DNA. The functional regions of DNA are called genes which carry out their appropriate jobs in order to maintain the delicate balance of life. The condensed structures of DNA are packed into thread-like structures called chromosomes. At the end of chromosomes, short stretches of DNA called telomere are present. These telomeres protect our DNA from damage during reproduction. Like the plastic tip of shoelaces they cap and lock the end of each chromosome. Every cell division results in the deletion of DNA fragment at the telomeres; this is called “telomere shortening”. After a definitive number of cycles with reduced telomere, the cells lose its ability to divide any further and senescent. This is the biological secret that lies behind the aging at the cellular level. The probability of having these cells will be higher with every passing year of our lives. At senescence state, these cells are unable to divide and we begin to lose ability to combat physical stress to maintain homeostasis. So the telomeres act as an aging clock in cells and are potentially considered as a death meter.

In 2009, Nobel Prize was awarded to three scientists for discovering an enzyme called Telomerase. Telomerase enzyme restores the ends of telomeres by adding DNA fragments and help in countless cell divisions in certain types of cells. Originally telomerase was considered as an answer to the biological aging but later found to be “not enough” because of the complex interdependency of biological factors in cells which defined age.

What we know now is that telomerase shortening in cells of different organs of our body leads to different types of aging outcomes. They cause hardness of muscle tissue, loss of vision and difficulty in brain functions. Multiple diseases are natural outcome of this biological reality such as Alzheimer, cataracts, osteoporosis and particularly all possible types of cancer.

Genetic engineering made it possible for a cell to live endlessly but reproducing it to an organism level is a story of distant future. Life is all about the balance, we need some cells to divide while at the same time certain others not to. So based on the knowledge we have, it is true that aging is unstoppable. We can decrease its rate by choosing a better mode of life with reduced stress; avoid smoking/alcohol, exercise and consuming healthy diet. These simple things contribute in efficient functions of cellular machinery and reduce natural wear and tear for prolonged normal functions of cells.

The secret of having a bicycle for longer time is not in the bicycle, it is in the way how we take care and use that bicycle. In case of our body, clean and appropriate ingredients like healthy food and environment as well as optimum working conditions with exercise and stress free living are required. We are born with a definitive number of cells; some cells like in the brain or in our eyes do not multiply at all while others continuously proliferate according to their job like cells from the gut and skin. Both of these states are required to maintain a prolonged and disease free life. The only way to use the same number of cells you are carrying for longer period of time is to keep them in a healthier state since a healthy life is a longer life.

(Anam Rafique: M.Phil. research student from Forman Christian College University Lahore. Dr. Muhammad Mustafa: working as an Assistant Professor in Forman Christian College University, Lahore. He is PhD from South Korea.)