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Can 150 years be really the limit of human life span?
How long could a human actually live? In recent years that a quiet scientific revolution has taken place in the biology of aging. Scientists Richard Farager from the University of Brighton and Lynn Cox from the University of Oxford write about this in their article for the international edition of The Conversation.
A revolution in the biology of aging Most people want to live a long and happy life, or at least avoid a short and unhappy life. If you are in this majority, then you are in luck. Over the past decade, there has been a quiet research revolution in our understanding of the biology of aging. The challenge is to turn this knowledge into tips and treatments that we can use. We are now debunking the myth that life extension is science fiction and showing it to be science fact.
Generally, lack of activity is directly responsible for approximately 10 percent of all premature deaths from chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. If everyone on Earth were to play sports tomorrow, this would probably lead to an increase in the duration of a healthy human life by almost a year.
But how much exercise is optimal? Very high levels of physical activity are actually bad for you, not just in terms of muscle tears or sprains. This can suppress the immune system and increase the risk of upper respiratory disease. A little over 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day is enough for most people. It not only makes you stronger and stronger, but even improves your mood.
Nutrition and lifestyle
There is plenty of evidence for the benefits of doing routines such as proper nutrition. A study of targeted groups of average people shows that weight loss, smoking cessation, moderate alcohol consumption, and eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day can increase life expectancy by 7-14 years compared to those who smoke, drink too much and is overweight.
Reducing about a third of calories – the so-called restriction of nutrition – improves the health and prolongs the life of mice and monkeys if they eat the right foods, although this is not an easy task for people who are constantly subject to food temptations. Less extreme variations of time-limited or intermittent fasting, such as just one meal for an eight-hour day each day or fasting two days a week, are thought to reduce the risk of age-related diseases.
Strengthening the immune system
No matter how fit you are and no matter how well you eat, your immune system will unfortunately become less effective as you get older. A poor response to vaccination and an inability to fight infection are the consequences of this “immune aging”. It doesn’t sound like much, but it becomes even more unsettling when you realize that it is the immune agents, called T cells, that can no longer “learn” to fight off infections. The closure of such a large “education center” for T cells means that they will not be able to learn to recognize new infections or effectively fight cancer in older people.
You can help them a little by making sure you have enough essential vitamins in your body, especially A and D. A promising area of research is studying the signals the body sends to help make more immune cells, especially a molecule called IL-7. We may soon be able to produce drugs that contain this molecule, potentially boosting the immune system in older people. Another approach is to use spermidine as a dietary supplement to force immune cells to clear out their internal junk, such as damaged proteins, which improves the immune system of older people so much.
In 2009, scientists showed that middle-aged mice lived longer and stayed healthier when they were given small amounts of a drug called rapamycin, which inhibits a key protein called mTOR that helps regulate cell responses to nutrients, stress, hormonal surges, and environmental damage.
In the lab, drugs like rapamycin (called mTOR inhibitors) make aging human cells look and behave like young ones. Although it is still too early to prescribe these drugs for general use, a new clinical trial was recently launched to test whether low doses of rapamycin can actually slow down aging in humans.
Discovered in the soil of Easter Island, rapamycin carries a certain mystique and was once hailed in the popular press as a possible “elixir of youth.” This has already helped improve the memory of mice with dementia-like disease.
But all drugs have their pros and cons, and because too much rapamycin suppresses the immune system, many doctors are reluctant to even consider it to prevent age-related diseases. However, it is the dose that is critical, and newer drugs such as RTB101, which act similarly to rapamycin, support the immune system in the elderly.
Cleansing old cells Complete elimination of senescent cells is another promising way forward. A growing number of lab studies in mice testing drugs to kill senescent cells – so-called “senolytics” – show an overall improvement in health, and because the mice don’t die from disease, they end up living longer.
Removing senescent cells also helps people. In a small clinical study, people with severe pulmonary fibrosis reported improvements in their overall function, including how far and how fast they could walk after treatment with senolytic drugs. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Diabetes and obesity, as well as infection with certain bacteria and viruses, can lead to more senescent cells.
Aging and infections are a double blow to the human body. Infectious diseases are on the rise in the elderly as their immune systems slow down defense mechanisms while infection speeds up aging. Because aging is inextricably linked to both chronic and infectious diseases in the elderly, treating aging is likely to improve their health in every way. The good news is that some of these new treatments are already in clinical trials and may soon be available to all of us.