The science of aging seems to be getting more sophisticated every day. While we started out looking for a magic bullet that could help us live longer, medical research has come full circle and is now focused on how we can feel great, right up until the end. How do we keep our bodies running optimally, even as our chronological age increases every year? How do we measure the true age of our organs, regardless of the birthday we’ve just celebrated?
The conundrum for researchers has been that we are aging differently inside. Some folks keep going strong into their 90s, while others start to feel “old” in their 60s. In the search for reliable markers for aging, researchers have tested muscular strength, hearing, vision, lung capacity, blood pressure, glucose, and lipids. But these markers are not always reliable and are problematic because changes in any of these factors aren’t necessarily related to aging. Blood pressure can go up because of an illness, for example, while muscular strength can be affected by diet.
A new wave of scientists are honing in on some sophisticated markers of aging. They hope these markers will be able to help determine the true biological age of a person rather than just their chronological age. Chronological age can mean very little for someone who is in their 70s, for example, but has the heart and mind of a 50 year-old. Being able to determine the biological age of an individual could open the door to improved medical care.
Not only can medications be specifically tailored to a person’s biological age, but preventative measures can be implemented in a timely fashion so that they can offer the best protection at a time of life when they are most needed. Being able to better determine the biological age of the body will also lead to the discovery of better drugs and treatments.
By tracking biological age, doctors could better monitor the success of any one treatment. For instance, if a special diet were to improve your markers of aging, your doctor could conclude that this diet is useful for you. If you began taking a certain medication for an ailment, and your biological markers show an accelerated path, it may be a sign you need to try a different treatment.
As better biomarkers are found, health trends can also be understood better. If someone registers a healthy immune system, do they also have the least occurrence of arthritis? Scientists will be able to make all sorts of links about health that have hitherto been out of their reach.
One final reason researchers are pushing hard to discover new biomarkers for aging is to better predict life span.
These new biomarkers may have little in common with those currently in use. For example, one team of researchers analyzed the medical records of 4,097 women, collected over two decades. They set about determining the 13 factors that best predicted mortality. It turns out that the most accurate predictor of death was something called contrast sensitivity. Contrast sensitivity simply means the ability of your eye to pick out very lightly shaded images on white backgrounds.
This is an exciting new frontier in health that we should all be interested in following.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Stipp, D., “Searching for Meaningful Markers of Aging,” The New York Times web site, July 22, 2013; http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/23/health/meaningful-markers-of-aging.html?_r=1&, last accessed July 30, 2013.
Stager, J.M., et al., “Biological Markers of Aging in Highly Active Adults,” Indiana University web site; http://www.indiana.edu/~ccss/files/Documents/biological_markers_of_aging_in_highly_active_adults.pdf, last accessed July 30, 2013.
Burd, C.E., et al., “Monitoring tumorigenesis and senescence in vivo with a p16(INK4a)-luciferase model,” Cell. January 17, 2013; 152(1-2): 340-51.