ThedaCare Health Matters

Can you slow down the aging process?

Recently, a retired scientist in his 70s asked me if I knew of any strategies that could improve longevity and vitality as people age. He specifically was referring to recent studies that had been done on mice involving transfusing blood from young mice to older mice.

People have been searching for the mythical Fountain of Youth for thousands of years and it is still being sought, but now through scientific research. The practice of transfusing plasma or blood from young people into the elderly is not an approved practice and has not been shown to be effective yet, although research is ongoing.

The dilemma of the process of aging is something that everyone faces. So, what makes people age? At birth, our tissues have tremendous capability to grow, regulated by our DNA, into a mature body. Growth is promoted by hormones that are regulated through glands at the base of the brain.

In the second decade of life, physical maturity occurs influenced by the production of hormones produced by the ovaries or testicles. Physical strength and abilities seem to peak in the years after maturity.

As time goes by, tissues have limited ability to replicate and repair dependent on the DNA in the cells. It is felt that the ends of the DNA strands, called telomeres, play an important role in tissue replication. As telomeres shorten over years of replication, tissues tend to show signs of aging.

Specific changes in tissues seem to be common with aging. Blood vessels harden and narrow, the brain loses cells gradually that are not replaced, joints wear down, bones become more brittle, hair turns gray and the bone marrow loses capacity to replace red and white blood cells. The prostate enlarges in men and ovarian estrogen production decreases in women. These changes make people more vulnerable to disease.

Aging specialists refer to a term known as homeostenosis to explain why elderly succumb to illness more readily than the young. Simply put, homeostenosis refers to the concept that as you age there is loss of the reserve capacity of organs to be able to maintain homeostasis (a stable state of health.)

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