Aging is a natural process characterized by physiological, biological, behavioral, and psychological changes that occur over time. While, as a society, we're living longer than ever, the functions of cells and tissues still wear out. While the rate we age can differ significantly depending on various factors, the question remains, why do we age, and is there anything we can do to slow down the aging process? (1)
What Does it Mean to Get Old?
One undeniable fact of life is that we are all experiencing the aging process. How quickly we age can be impacted by two main factors. (2)
- Intrinsic factors are related to our genetics. We don't have control over those.
- Extrinsic factors are those outside circumstances that affect health and wellness, such as habits, lifestyle, sleep and stress.
Cellular aging is due to wear and tear on cells and tissues. As the body's control center, they divide, multiply and perform biological functions that keep your body functioning optimally. Each time they divide, their functionality declines, increasing the chances of damage, which can accumulate over time.
Lifestyle and environmental factors involve our living circumstances, habits, and environmental issues relating to health and their effect on aging. Some examples include:
- Diet and sugar consumption
- Illegal drug use
- Alcohol use and abuse
- Pollution and air quality
- Ultraviolet light exposure
Individuals react to damaging factors differently, but consistent exposure to any of these can damage or kill off cells and tissue and contribute to more rapid aging.
The Role of DNA In Aging
Not all the signs of aging are visible. Although we can see wrinkles and graying hair, we don't know what's happening inside our bodies to drive the physical changes we experience. Our cells divide and change structure as we age due to our DNA and environmental and behavioral influences. Our cell function becomes damaged over time, leading to failing organs and declining health.
Research has advanced over the years, and to better understand the aging process, scientists began to categorize cellular aging into the molecular hallmarks of aging. (3) Typically, it's acknowledged that each hallmark links to an aging process, with many that overlap or coincide.
The hallmarks of aging" are specific changes that happen in all living things as they get older. These changes lead to the body not working as well as it used to, making it harder to stay healthy. Over time, these changes build up and eventually cause death.
Theories of aging
According to studies, (4) biological theories of aging are categorized in several ways. They include:
Programmed says that the body ages based on a biological timeline that all individuals go through. They include:
- Longevity theory is based on the idea that we age because specific genes turn on and off during our lifespan. (5)
- Immunological theory tells us that the immune system is programmed to deteriorate over time, exposing individuals more to illness and disease.
- Endocrine theory is the idea that hormonal changes are responsible for aging.
Individuals age in stages, yet aging occurs even more quickly for some people. If you've ever reconnected with a classmate from 20 years ago and found them to appear much older than you, you've most likely experienced the variation at which aging can occur for different individuals. But why do we get old so fast? A few concepts based on genetics include:
- Telomeres prevent chromosomes from unraveling but deteriorate over time, blocking cells from replicating.
- Longevity genes are genes that specifically work to help an individual live a longer life, yet other factors can influence how we age.
- Stem cells repair the damage to cells that contribute to aging.
- Cell senescence is the process where cells naturally deteriorate over time.
Error theories come from the idea that environmental damage, which builds up and accumulates over time, causes the effects of aging. They include:
- Free radicals theory states that exposure to free radicals in the environment causes damage to cells in the body, which diminishes their functionality. (6)
- Wear and tear theory says that over time, cells wear out and no longer function properly or die off.
- Somatic DNA damage theory tells us that gene mutations cause cells to break down and fail to repair.
- The rate of living theory suggests that the faster oxygen is used, the shorter the life.
- Cross-linking theory says that proteins that are crossed-linked accumulate, slowing down the processes and causing the body to age.
According to research, our bodies continuously undergo various complex biochemical reactions, which help scientists learn how and why we experience so many changes as we age. Some of the most crucial theories include:
- DNA repair. The DNA becomes unable to repair the cells and tissues as we age. (7)
- Hormones. As we go through various stages in life, our hormones change and alter the systems of the body,
- Free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging.
- Heat shock proteins. Proteins are designed to help cells survive the stresses of life, but they decrease as we age.
- Protein cross-linking is the process of joining two or more molecules by a covalent bond.
Theories on evolution are based on the process of natural selection. Evolutionary theories say that aging begins after reaching its reproductive peak and passing on its traits to offspring.
Natural selection means that for organisms to survive, they must be able to adapt, and those who can't adapt don't survive. Theories based on evolution include:
- Antagonistic pleiotropy says that the genes that promote fertility have adverse effects later in life.
- Mutation accumulation says that random mutations occur as we age.
- Disposable soma theory says that cell damage and aging are due to the metabolic system focusing on reproduction rather than DNA repair.
Aging is clearly caused by multiple factors rather than one single reason, and while each of these theories has been studied (8), more research may be necessary to solidify the views.
Can We Stop The Clock On the Aging Process?
Aging is a biological process that starts when you're born and continues until you die. Although people live longer than ever, it's most likely due to developing medical treatments, better nutrition and lifestyle choices. Unfortunately, longer lifespans can also mean more age-related diseases. So, while we can't stop aging, according to studies (9), There are things we can do to age well and slow the aging process. They include: (10)
- Focus on nutrition. Eating a diet full of dark leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains, while eliminating or limiting processed foods floods the body with nutrients while eliminating toxins.
- Get moving. Exercise is a crucial part of feeling and looking young, and combined with optimal nutrition, and it can help fight illness and disease.
- Reduce stress. Stress can wear you out mentally and physically and interfere with all areas of health and wellness.
- Stop smoking. Smoking speeds up the aging process and leads to serious illnesses.
- Limit alcohol. Alcohol speeds up aging and increases the chances of chronic disease.
- Get regular check-ups. Visiting the doctor regularly can help you prevent illnesses.
- Get enough quality sleep. Sleep is vital for memory, mood, and overall health and wellness.
- Don't ignore mental health. Mental health affects how you act and feel and impacts relationships and healthy aging.
- Optimize your hormones: Optimizing hormone levels may help slow some of the processes of aging, improve skin elasticity and reduce the risk of many age-related diseases. (11)
Although we may not be able to stop aging, we can do things to improve health and wellness so you can feel your best at any age.
Can Optimizing Hormones Slow Age-Related Decline?
As men age, hormonal balance undergoes significant changes, impacting various aspects of health and well-being. Testosterone, the primary male sex hormone and other hormones like T3 (Thyroid) gradually decrease with age, leading to a condition known as andropause or male menopause. This decline in testosterone can result in a range of symptoms, including reduced muscle mass, decreased bone density, increased body fat, fatigue, diminished libido, and mood changes.
Other hormones, such as DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) and growth hormone, may also decline as men age, further contributing to age-related decline and disease.
Hormonal fluctuations can affect physical, emotional, and cognitive aspects of life. While aging is a natural process, addressing imbalances and optimizing hormone levels through medical interventions like hormone replacement therapy can help mitigate the impact of aging on male hormones and overall quality of life. In particular, testosterone and thyroid hormones play a pivotal role in healthy aging and longevity.
Hormone replacement therapy has potential benefits in addressing certain signs of premature aging, particularly related to skin health. HRT involves using hormones chemically identical to those produced naturally in the body. Some proponents suggest that BHRT, specifically hormones like estradiol (estrogen), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), testosterone, and thyroid hormones, could help improve skin quality by increasing skin thickness, hydration, and elasticity.
Collagen and Aging
Collagen, a protein that keeps the skin firm and healthy, naturally decreases with age. HRT can boost collagen levels and improve skin texture and hydration. DHEA, available over-the-counter in oral or topical form, may also help thicken and tighten the skin, potentially preventing tears in atopic skin.
Testosterone and Aging
Testosterone, available from Male Excel in daily injectable or cream form, is considered a hormone that can improve skin appearance and health. It may increase skin elasticity, thickness, and strength, leading to a more youthful appearance. Testosterone also helps build lean muscle, protect bone health, improve memory and protect against many age-related diseases.
Estrogen and Aging
Estrogen, available in cream form, is suggested to reduce signs of premature aging, in women, such as wrinkles, and improve skin laxity, hydration, and thickness.
Thyroid and Aging
Thyroid hormones decrease with age and impact energy, skin health, and fat distribution. A deficiency in thyroid hormones might lead to issues like hair loss, dry skin, and weight changes. Proper thyroid hormone balance is crucial for metabolic regulation and managing body fat.
Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and a healthy lifestyle can also support hormonal health and healthy aging in men.
Conclusion: Why Do We Age?
Aging is a natural process most likely determined by DNA and various health and lifestyle elements. While there are many theories about why we get old, it's probably due to many factors, including our DNA, diet, hormones, exercise, stress levels and sleep. Aging may not be a choice, but how we age can be, so implementing hormones and healthy habits can go a long way in helping you to age gracefully.
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