What's my obsession with the New Science of Aging?
As a physiologist, science writer, and wellness consultant, my client base is dominated by the 50+ crowd seeking new ways to weather the not so golden years ahead. In our constantly evolving, youth-obsessed culture, where 50 is the new 30, and 30 is the new 10? Really? At what point do we drop the Benjamin Button façade and accept the number on our drivers license?? However, accepting this number doesn't necessarily need to mean accepting the collection of aches, pains, symptoms, and wrinkles that are associated with it. As a 60 year old woman who feels as young as a 30 year old, I look at my life as half full rather than half gone. Granted, I have access to the best researchers and science in the world.
The Old Science of Aging..
The current protocol for tracking our aging progress involves the annual physical, consisting of a blood pressure test, an EKG, the standard blood draws , and of course, the dreaded eye exam. All of these measurements compartmentalize your health into separate systems. Further, the prescribed remedies are simply band-aids for that isolated problem. The truth of the matter is that all of theses "systems" of the body live in the same place and impact each other from moment to moment.
To make matters worse, if you're over 50 your test results are delivered with the ominous phrase "AT YOUR AGE.." Hopefully the news is optimistic, if not, you are headed to the pharmacy with a little slip of paper.
The flaw in this method of diagnostics is that all of these tests are after-the-fact. You're blood pressure is already through the roof, you're eyesight is shot, and you've been deemed pre-diabetic!! Who decided we should wait a whole year to check in on our health?
Enter the "New Science of Aging"
Now consider an alternate angle, involving a proactive approach to monitoring aging. This attitude does not include watching the biological clock tick away, and certainly doesn't settle for the genetic hand you were dealt. Science has now pinpointed a tool to achieve this approach. We will very soon have the ability to track both the aging and health status of our bodies beyond the routine blood work and family history. This technique, known as telomere testing, provides a snapshot of our cumulative heath on a cellular level and gives us a heads up on what is down the road.
The shortening of human telomeres (the protective "caps" on our chromosomes) is a natural process of cellular aging. However, this shortening can be over-accelerated by various environmental and lifestyle factors. Measuring the length of our telomeres provides valuable information regarding our current disease risk and aging status. Over 4,000 peer-reviewed scientific publications relate to telomere biology and aging or disease. These studies demonstrate the value of these "telomere tests" to monitor health status, future disease risk, and even drug response. According to Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, "Telomere length is the one number that captures a multitude of physiological influences." In other words, it provides an ongoing virtual aging report card that reflects the effectiveness of your current lifestyle choices on you're overall health, allowing you to adjust for any potential future risks.
The Main Characters In The Telomere Story
Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn - the queen of telomere biology, originally described the molecular DNA structure giving birth to the scientific conversation. She then (with the help of her graduate student Carol Greider), discovered telomerase, the enzyme that increases telomere length and has other important functions promoting cell health. Blackburn (and 2 colleagues) received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for "the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase." Blackburn has continued to be a leader in advancing the science and training other scientists as well about this aging system.
Elissa Epel, Ph.D, a leader in the field of health psychology and behavioral medicine, pioneered research linking stress to immune cell aging. With Blackburn and Jue Lin, she showed that stress perceptions, as well as actual stressful events or thoughts, are associated with shorter telomeres and reduced telomerase activity. In plain words, she proved that stress ages you at a cellular level.
Calvin Harley Ph.D. (and Greider) in 1990 showed that in human cells, telomeres shorten progressively over time. He was instrumental in demonstrating that telomere shortening is a cause for cellular aging and that telomerase (the enzyme) can prevent this action. Telomeres are now considered a "timer" on a cell's life.
What is our 50+ Plan of Action
The scientific community is working hard to unravel the answers to achieve optimal aging. We have a Nobel Laureate and a handful of top scientists bringing us new information everyday. My job description includes bringing you the most up to date information on this new science of aging. Your job is to adopt a 24 Hour Turnaround attitude. We know that the choices we make today will impact our bodies and our brain's aging status tomorrow. Every day you lose billions of cells and you make billions of new ones. What you do today profoundly affects your health, weight, and biological age tomorrow.
For suggestions to start you 24 Hour Turnaround Plan of Action visit 24HourTurnaround.com
Let us know what your aging concerns and we will address them in future articles.