Anyone over a certain age knows that getting older is rough on the body. You develop new aches and pains, ones that seem inevitable and become increasingly rough to deal with; other facilities start going, you might experience a loss of sight or hearing, and before you know it, you're relying on others to take care of you like when you were a kid.
There's always been a desire in humans to pause this process, to freeze our bodies at peak health and stay there forever. Well, thanks to some research, that might become a reality.
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Every day we see themes of aversion towards old age all around us. Advertisements boast anti-aging serums and creams at every turn, we're pressured to do, experience, and of course buy things now before it's 'too late'—it's a message that's impossible to escape.
Those who have the money can even be found having procedure after procedure to help keep them looking young, never wanting to admit that they, too, fall to the human act of aging.
What if, one day, it wouldn't take such extreme measures to attain youth? And what if it wasn't just superficial either? What if your body could truly become young again?
Our Own Design
A lab in Boston has made an astounding and promising breakthrough in the world of not only anti-aging, but rapid-aging as well.
In a set of tests and experiments run on mice, researchers have discovered a reliable way to both speed up and reverse aging, with professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging, David Sinclair, saying the process is capable of being driven "forwards and backwards at will."
The anti-aging process also came with a number of other benefits for these mice. Blind mice gained their sight back, developed younger, smarter brains, and they built back healthier muscle tissue.
In simple terms, our bodies hold a genetic 'backup' copy of our young selves, like biological snapshots of what we were like at the time. Teams are working on triggering that backup to load itself back into our current forms so our bodies then roll back to its younger state.
In Our Genes
In a new study examining a combined series of experiments, researchers are pushing against the idea that aging is caused by prolonged damage to the body or is some genetic necessity coded into our DNA.
"It's not junk, it’s not damage that causes us to get old," said Sinclair during a presentation, "We believe it's a loss of information — a loss in the cell’s ability to read its original DNA so it forgets how to function — in much the same way an old computer may develop corrupted software. I call it the information theory of aging."
This Could Be Big News
Maybe that's obvious, though. Anti-aging has been the stuff of science fiction for decades now, with people worldwide wishing they could roll back the clock and experience youth again, knowing not to take it for granted this time.
Jae-Hyun Yang, a genetics researcher in the Sinclair Lab and co-author of the study, believes their findings will "transform the way we view the process of aging and the way we approach the treatment of diseases associated with aging."
The Off Switch
To understand more about how this process works, we have to understand epigenetics. Epigenes are proteins and chemicals that exist atop our genes, waiting for us to give them the proper signals and tell them what to do. They can turn genes on and off at will, and that process can be triggered by things like pollution, smoking, eating poorly, or lacking sleep; whatever poor behavior introduces toxins into the body.
Every time it turns a gene on or off, though, it deteriorates further, similar to the corrupted software analogy from earlier.
A Return To Form
As Sinclair continued to explain, "The cell panics, and proteins that normally would control the genes get distracted by having to go and repair the DNA. Then they don't all find their way back to where they started, so over time it’s like a Ping-Pong match, where the balls end up all over the floor."
This is where their research comes in. "The astonishing finding is that there's a backup copy of the software in the body that you can reset," he said, adding that if that backup copy is triggered to load, "the body will then remember how to regenerate and will be young again, even if you're already old and have an illness."
What We Know
Of course, there is still more research to be done. Sinclair admits that there's not enough knowledge to deem this a sound science quite yet, saying, "Now, what that software is, we don't know yet. At this point, we just know that we can flip the switch."
The knowledge they do have is the result of years and years of research. Sinclair himself began this project when he was 39, now he's 53 and has finally put together enough evidence and tests to warrant telling the world about.
Time And Time Again
A lot of the grittier details go way over the head of anyone who isn't a geneticist or biologist in some fashion (which is to say, most of us). The important takeaways are that it's working, and though it's only been tested on mice, all living beings contain the gene they've been using for testing, so theoretically it should be able to work on any creature they choose.
They've also been able to localize the aging and anti-aging to specific organs. They've conducted tests on the brain, eyes, kidneys, and muscles, all displaying the same effects. Not only that, but these anti-aging effects can be triggered more than once.
Further research, no doubt. This is an extremely promising start to a breakthrough that could change the way we live...and given some peoples' hungry desire for eternal youth, there's no doubt that a more detailed look into this will be funded.
Sinclair's team is moving on to perform these genetic reset tests on primates, which is a large step. It could still be years before these tests reach humans, let alone get all the approval needed for it to become a safe, accessible treatment.
In the meantime, Sinclair recommends leading a healthy lifestyle, as that's the only current way to truly 'slow' the aging process in our DNA.
"[...] people who have lived a healthy lifestyle have less biological age than those who have done the opposite."
His specific recommendations are to focus on consuming more plants than anything else, get sufficient sleep, work out enough to lose your breath a few times a week, don't stress over small things, and maintain a good social group.
"The message is every day counts," he said, "How you live your life even when you're in your teens and 20s really matters, even decades later, because every day your clock is ticking."