Monday, February 16, 2015

The next generation may have a 140-year life span; surprising facts about the biology of aging (Time Magazine issue)


The February 23, 2015 issue of Time Magazine is devoted almost entirely to promoting longevity and delaying aging, and has a cover that says “This baby could live to 142 years old: dispatches from the frontiers of longevity.”  The principle article may be “Age Disrupters” by Alice Park. The online version is called “The New Age of Much Older Age”, link here (pay wall).  The issue explains well how longevity has steadily increased with medical technology since the 19th Century.
  
One of the main advances is manipulation of a gene called mTOR, which affects how cells manage energy.  There is an antibiotic called rapamycin which seems to manipulate these genes (and the mechanics of telomeres which limit cell growth) in order to postpone the action of “free radicals” and resulting  “tissue death” as Dr. Phil used to call it.

There is an article “Stretch Your Timeline” by Mandy Oaklander, which shows how quickly various tissues age. 
  
There are many interesting facts.  You don’t notice it, but after age 50 you need more water than your thirst tells you to keep your kidneys working right.  Heart disease typically starts at around 65 but may be indolent for years or decades in some people.  After age 70, on average, brain function starts to deteriorate, but use (whether chess, music, any manipulation of content) that preserves memory, as well as social interaction, surely helps delay loss of function (but maybe we would all get Alzheimer’s if we lived long enough). A rather surprising observation, which I think is probably overstated, is that collagen and elastin in the skin decline at 1% a year after age 18.  That may account for baldness (even of the legs), lines, and more weathered appearance.  Overexposure to ultraviolet light may be a factor.  Strength and endurance (and intellectual power) seems to peak from ages 24-28 (just after the brain is “fully grown”), something that matters a lot particularly in professional sports.  The “skin” deterioration may be extremely variable and more heavily influenced by both genetics and environmental toxins than many of the other issues.  (Ever wonder how some people in their 40s look so young, like actor Gabriel Mann playing Nolan on “Revenge”.  Genetics, and being lean and even “quirky” seem to help.)
  
Longevity, however, is catching society right now by surprise.  When I was in my eldercare situation, I could not afford to adopt an artificial goal, like seeing my mother live past 100 (she made it to 97, when I was already 67) just to please others.  

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