weekly blog--one for the ages
A winter wonder-land in Boston. As the year 2018 approaches, we wonder how naughty or nice the new tax bill will be. We wonder if the Republican Congress will move forward to rein in funding for social welfare programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. We wonder who will gain or lose jobs because of advancements in technology. We wonder if there will be any medical breakthroughs that free us from the chronic diseases associated with aging. We wonder about the future simply because we are humans living in a world that has become more vicious and violent.
Tax cuts aside, it was quite a year in Science, especially when it comes to prevention, delay and early diagnosis of senior related health diseases. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the studies that have been published just in the last few months.
With the holidays upon us and the dessert plate full, some food for thought. According to a new study from researchers at Binghamton University, dietary practices differentially affect mental health based on your age. Mood in young adults (age 18 to 29) seems to be dependent on food that increases availability of neurotransmitter precursors and concentrations in the brains (meat), while mood in mature adults (over 30 years old) may be more reliant on food that increases availability of antioxidants (fruits) and abstinence of food that inappropriately activates the sympathetic nervous system (coffee, high glycemic index and skipping breakfast).
In other words, young adults who ate meat (red or white) less than three times a week and exercised less than three times week showed a significant mental distress. Conversely, mature adult mood seemed to be more sensitive to regular consumption of sources of antioxidants and abstinence of food that inappropriately activates the innate fight-or-flight response, commonly known as the stress response.
In another study, Texas A&M Medical School researchers found that your DNA plays a role in determining which diet will make you lean and healthy. For example, one of the four genetic types did very poorly when eating the Japanese-like diet. The fourth strain, which performed just fine on all of the other diets, did terrible on this diet, with increased fat in the liver and markings of liver damage. A similar thing happened with the Atkins-like diet: two genetic types did well, and two did very badly. One became very obese, with fatty livers and high cholesterol. The other had a reduction in activity level and more body fat, but still remained lean.
The bottom line: in recent decades, life expectancy at age 65 in the U.S. has been lagging behind other high-income countries, particularly for women, according to a report from the Center of Retirement Research at Boston College. A major reason is that, historically, the U.S. has had higher rates of smoking and obesity.
As a result, the U.S. has made less progress at reducing deaths related to strokes, respiratory diseases, and diabetes. If U.S. smoking and obesity rates had matched those of its peer countries, U.S. life expectancy would have exceeded the average until recently. Since smoking is no longer a major contributor to the life expectancy gap; the real challenge is curbing obesity.
Aging, or senescence as it is sometimes called, is an inevitable progressive deterioration of physiological function with increasing age, demographically characterized by an age-dependent increase in mortality and decline of fecundity (capacity to produce an abundance of offspring). Or so you would think.
The truth is that aging is not universal. Some animals and many plants have escaped from aging entirely. Many more pass through long periods of their lives without aging. Some plants and animals die when they are done reproducing as evolutionary theory predicts; but among those that long outlive their fertility, there are some that don’t tend to their children or grandchildren. A few animals and many plants don’t age at all, but grow larger and stronger and more fertile through their entire lifespans. Some even have been observed to regress from mature states, and start life anew as larvae, with a full life expectancy ahead of them.
The lingering question: can aging in humans be reversed?
The Varieties of Aging in Nature
The Evolution of Aging
The Role of Senescent Cells in Aging
To Stay Young, Kill Zombie Cells
Can Aging Be Reversed