If you haven’t heard of anti-aging drugs or tried desparately to find more about them, you’re probably too young to have had the experience of gazing in the bathroom mirror in the morning and saying, “damn!” One of the most dreaded moments for most young people is to wake up in the morning and find a shiny grey hair or dreadful dark circles threatening to alter their facial topography!
The other day, myself and my collegues were discussing various molecular basis of aging as it is one of the most interesting and hot themes of current research. Aging is not a mere phenotypic expression of any genetic program but is a gradually progressive multi-factorial state associated with genetic and non-genetic factors. The rate at which every individual ages is an intricately tuned interplay of various aging and anti-aging forces based on inherent genetic program and various intracellular metabolic effects due to presence of free radicals, Unhealthy diet, lifestyle, smoking, environmental pollution, emotional stability, happiness quotient, physical and mental stress etc. Although many evolutionary theories tend to believe that aging is not likely to be programmed genetically however, various studies demonstrate that aging is genetically modulated. It is pretty logical too. Say, Jack eats a lot of French fries, salty-potato chips and gulp them down with that refreshing cola on almost daily basis. He is bound to have a disproportionate percentage of damaging intracellular free radicals, not to mention the physiological damage high salt and cholesterol rich diet shall do at macroscopic levels. These free radicals are known to damage DNA, particularly mitochondrial DNA which lies in immediate vicinity of respiratory machinary in cellular mitochondrial organelles. So, its up to various DNA Repair genes to maintain DNA integrity and stability thus playing a role in modulating the metabolic processes which are involved in the eventual degradation of DNA and cellular structures. Various genic mutations that significantly decrease mortality have been identified in many model organisms. Indeed, several hundred genes, for instance, Sir2, have been reported to influence longevity in yeast, worms (c.elegans) and drosophila flies. Why just DNA damage, these free radicals or Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) have also been proposed to interact with Reactive Nitrogen Species (RNS) such as nitric oxide thus disrupting protein S-nitrosylation effecting functionality of various proteins involved in many metabolic signaling pathways. As aging is characterized by the progressive loss of function and a diverse array of physical changes over the lifetime of an organism, there has been an ancient universal desire to look good, feel good, and live as long as possible and these are the major areas of focus of current Anti-aging medicine. Some of the major forms of anti-aging medicine are:
Hormone therapies: These therapies make use of hormones like Human Grwoth Hormone (HGH), DHEA, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone etc. and claim to enhance the immune system, improve memory & cognitive function, increase sexual energy, improve skin tone & texture, increase muscle mass while reducing body fat and extend life. However, categorical scientific evidence may not be sufficient to support all these claims. Rather, there have been large scale studies that indicated that such therapies may do more harm than good and were making some of the test groups more susceptible to breast cancers. More research is required to investigate precise dose and time dependent effects of such therapies.
Supplements: Various antioxidants such as vitamins, glutathione, co-enzyme Q10 etc. are administered under various anti-aging programs. However, there is a strong section of physicians that has a firm conviction in using natural sources of anti-oxidents like lemon, oranges etc. over purified chemicals.
Skin resurfacing: There are a lot of ways of doing that. One of them is Botox treatment. Botox is the trade name of botulinum toxin A, a neurotoxin that is used clinically in small quantities to treat strabismus (abnormal alignment of one or both eyes) and facial spasms and other neurological disorders characterized by abnormal muscle contractions. It is also used by cosmetic surgeons to smooth frown lines temporarily. As a milder alternative to Botox treatment, Argireline based creams and lotions are also used quite frequently. Argireline is a synthetic short chain polypeptide (Acetyl Hexapeptide-3) that has been experimentally proved to decrease the visible effects of aging by reducing the deep wrinkles and lines that occur around the forehead and eyes. Plastic surgery also remains an option and although expensive, it has been quite in vogue for sometime now.
Another method that is gaining fast recognition and approval for increasing life span amongst scientific community is Calorie Restriction and Fasting. There has been a substantial amount of significant scientific evidence that supports anti-aging effects of calorie restriction and fasting. Having been born and brought up in a moderately traditional Hindu family, I have been a witness to hundreds of weekly fasts promoted by Hindu mythology so far. Fair maidens go fasting for consecutive 11 mondays believing that this will get them a handsome groom! Wives fasting on a traditional festival called ‘Karva-chauth’ believing that this will add some years to the lives of their husbands. Various Hindu texts are filled up with stories of Yogis (who practise yoga – in a traditional sense) who lived for hundreds of years by eating just fruits and vegetables, that too for just 2-3 days a week! Why just Hindu mythology, in almost every religion there are prescribed fasting-days. Until recently, I was one of those who thought that these are just mythological stories and nothing more but recent high impact scientific publications in reputed journals have put a substantial weigths behind these stories and myths and changed the way I look at them! Some recent data from yeast, worms, flies, and mammals support the idea that calorie restriction is a highly conserved stress response that evolved early in life’s history to increase an organism’s chance of surviving adversity in terms of food scarcity. A 2005 paper in the Journal of Cardiovascular Research analyzes gene expression data and suggests that calorie restriction retards the aging process by reducing endogenous damage and by inducing metabolic shifts associated with specific transcriptional profiles! There are also a number of reports that indicate reduction in oxidative stress upon calorie restriction.
At the end, it appear logical to say that exercising, reducing exposure to cigarette and environmental smoke, eating a balanced, calorie restricted diet, periodic fasting along with a stable work and family enviornment is the best way to add youthful years to your life and no chemical suppliments can match this!