Can You Extend Your Lifespan?

At 117 years old Violet Brown is currently known as the oldest living person in the world. She claims there is no special recipe for her longevity, and adds "really and truly, when people ask what I eat and drink to live so long, I say to them that I eat everything, except pork and chicken, and I don't drink rum.” So what is the secret formula? This is the question that everybody wants to know the answer for and unfortunately it requires more than just one simple concept. Diet, exercise, and genetics all contribute to this “immortality” formula. We all know the benefits of an active and healthy lifestyle, but sometimes other ingredients are crucial for the success of this recipe. Advance in science and technology has led to huge improvements in life expectancy that before the 19th century was as low as 30 years. Lifespan optimization is an ongoing  topic in society and to understand the process better we need to explore the role of  biomarkers.

The International Programme on Chemical Safety defines a biomarker as “any substance, structure, or process that can be measured in the body or its products and influence or predict the incidence of outcome or disease.” They can be very accurately measured and quantified, examples include enzyme and hormone concentration. There is an unique biomarker for each biological system in the body and they can be measured by three different methods - through a biosample, as blood or urine, through medical instruments as a blood pressure meter, and last by imaging scan.  By carefully observing these medical signs it is possible to prevent and treat diseases in advance, increasing the chances of a longer life. It is able, for example, to predict the onset of diabetes disease by observing  glucose levels -  through this information the patient is able to change their lifestyle  before developing such illness. The possibility of modifying the outcome of a disease is one of the many benefits of biomarkers.

Even though all biomarkers play an important role in the maintaining of a healthy life there are specific types known as biomarkers of longevity that are crucial for lifespan optimization. Mitochondrial malfunction, for example, precipitates aging -  it can be caused by a deficiency of vitamins, mutation or contact with a toxic metals. Disturbance of the mitochondria causes the production of cellular energy to become defective, impacting the whole body in a negative way. By collecting a biosample, as blood or urine, this biomarker can be detected and easily modified to impede these damaging effects. Patients with fibromyalgia are most likely to develop mitochondrial malfunction and therefore needs to be alert to the signs.

Heart disease, dementia and cancer. The most feared trio of ailments can also be linked to one of the biomarkers of longevity–the disruption of genes by free radicals. The term free radical is used to describe an uncharged molecule containing an unpaired electron formed when atoms lose electrons. A known source of free radicals is the sun, which when in contact with your skin can lead not only to that beach tan but also to cell damage. This is why sunscreen is so important when exposed to the ultra violet rays of the sun - even more now that the ozone layer is resulting in more intense rays every year. The free radicals acts on the body by stealing electrons from other atoms encountered on the way, damaging the integrity of cells that may trigger any of the feared diseases discussed above. Again, by a simple blood test this can be prevented and monitored. One way to reduce the damage by free radicals is to have a diet rich in antioxidants, which can be found in berries and many herbs.

Another well-accepted biomarker of longevity is the extent of glycation in the body. Glycation is the term used to describe the addition of sugar molecules to another molecule, as proteins or lipids, making them become ineffective and forming harmful molecules. This leads to fast aging of the body and may promote degenerative diseases. The main cause of glycation is the level of glucose in the blood - the higher the level the higher the formation of harmful molecules. As a result diabetic patients have a larger incidence of undergoing glycation due to high blood sugar, and so tend to age faster than those without the disease. The most perceptive effect of glycation is the aging of the skin due to disturbance of collagen and elastin, which gives the skin its firmness and elasticity. Moreover, by changing their structure and function, the addition of glucose to a protein molecule can lead to nerve pains. Blood tests can detect the level of glucose in the blood and action can be taken to reduce any threat to the body.

Other biomarkers linked to longevity include the shortening of telomeres (found on the end of a DNA strand) that causes a decrease in cell division and as a response shortens the lifespan of cells and organs; the influence of the environment on the DNA, that may cause cells to stop manufacturing proteins; and the concentration of Vitamin D in the body that is crucial for bone strength. Through careful monitoring of these biomarkers it is possible to optimize the quality of life and consequently increase your lifespan.

We are always in search for that superhero immortality, the ability to be eternal without the fear of death - but why? Aging is nothing but a process of life, the excitement and the doubt of change, and denying it only leads you to the wrong path.  The fiction movie “The age of Adaline” honestly portrays this idea. At the age of 29 Adaline suffers an accident that stops her from aging and since then her life becomes a burden as she feels meaningless. The danger of eternal youth is not being able to give meaning to your time on earth and taking everything for granted, constantly stuck in a depressing loop. Even though it is essential to monitor your health in order to maintain a high quality of life, It  is also necessary to realize and accept the importance of aging. The main purpose of using biomarkers to track your health is not to increase your lifespan, but to be able to live better with your body and have a healthy and enjoyable life.


Rachel RodriguesComment