Age Right: Turn Back the Clock with a Proven, Personalized, Anti-Aging Program
By Karlis Ullis, M.D., Greg Ptacek
Humans have been thinking about aging for a long time. Gerontology, the science that deals with aging, is an invention of the late twentieth century, but theories about why we age and how possibly to halt it were in the minds of the ancients. The early Greeks, who weren't above using makeup to cover wrinkles and age spots-and we're talking about the men here-were the first to put thoughts on paper. They came up with the theory of the "four humors" - humor in the biological sense of the word, meaning any animal or plant fluid.
The Greek philosopher Empedocles (c. 490-430 B.C.) theorized that all of Nature was composed of four "root" elements: earth, wind, fire, and water. These four elements come together in various combinations to form all living things-a little more wind for a flower, a little more fire for an ox. From there it was an easy jump to theorize that the aging process itself is a disease that results from an imbalance of the four fluids in man that relate to the elements: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile.
Empedocles' concept was interesting in one other way that relates to antiaging medicine. He theorized that two different, opposing forces were at work in Nature. Rather romantically (at least from a jaded twentieth-century perspective) he called these two forces "love" and "strife." Love binds things together-plants, animals, Greek city-states-and strife separates them. Antiaging scientists would later adopt Empedocles' dichotomous forces for the theories of cellular entropy (disorder).
Now let's zoom across the history of antiaging medicine, passing centuries of alchemists, wizards, shamans, snake-oil salesmen, and adventurers who tried but failed to find an elixir of eternal life, tipping our hat along the way to Ponce de Leon who at least discovered Florida in the process. Arriving at the late nineteenth century, we find French physiologist Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard promoting the extracts of crushed animal testicles as the fountain of youth. Although proven wrong, he is credited with suggesting hormonal-endocrine agents as an antiaging therapy.
The next significant news about aging occurs in the 1940s as scientists begin to theorize that genetic mutations are responsible for aging, that is, increasing mistakes made at the chromosome level cause widespread deterioration of the physiology. A couple of decades later, in 1961, anatomist Leonard Hayflick is called the father of modern antiaging research for his discovery of cellular aging. He proves that cells do not live eternally but rather have a finite life. After dividing about fifty times, cells suddenly stop, weaken, and die. And cells from older people die more quickly than cells from younger people in a laboratory. This gives rise to the notion of an "aging clock" that might be "reset" if only the clock could be found.
In the last thirty years, theories of aging have fallen in and out of fashion. In a recent paper presented to the Los Angeles Gerontology Research Group at the UCLA School of Medicine, Dr. L. Stephen Coles, M.D., Ph.D., identified twenty-five current theories of aging. A good example of how new research tends to make mincemeat of the best theories is the case of telomeres.
Telomeres are DNA sequences that cap and protect the ends of chromosomes. Geneticists noticed that each time a cell divided, its telomere became shorter. Could telomeres be the aging clock? Could stopping the telomeres from shortening halt the aging process? Could lengthening them restore youth? Heightening the drama, researchers in the 1980s discovered an enzyme that preserved telomeres; they dubbed it "telomerase." "The agent for eternal life had been found," gushed Time magazine. Unfortunately, subsequent findings revealed that telomeres do not always shorten significantly with age. Indeed, new research indicates that telomeres shrink and lengthen again and again over time.
As for the other twenty-four theories afloat, they can be classified into two schools: the school of chance and the school of grand design. The first school, which includes the classic "wear-and-tear" theory and "accumulation of trash" theory, points out that the human body with its 7 trillion cells is one incredibly complex bioenergy-producing machine. As with any manufacturing process, over time the body produces its share of trash and its biomechanisms begin to deteriorate. Chief among the toxic junk are free radicals, a by-product of energy metabolism, and advanced glycosylation end products (AGES), but there are also deformed enzymes, unrepaired DNA, and stress-damaged proteins. Chromosomes suffer wear and tear, and as the body's normal repair systems begin to falter, still more crud piles up. Which of these toxic by-product systems kills you first is a matter of chance, or it could be a matter of their collective ill will.
Free radicals are a story of good molecules gone bad. Inside all cells are little bean-shaped organisms called mitochondria that generate power for the cell, a process that produces excess electrons which, if left unattended, can do serious damage. But the body has concocted a way to mop up this waste-a natural antioxidant defense system. The air we breathe contains oxygen that, when mixed with the cell's fuel (mainly glucose) in the mitochondria, leads to energy production (similar to the combustion in your car engine) and waste product molecules (exhaust fumes) harboring errant electrons. When our antioxidant enzyme defense system is working correctly, it turns dangerous oxidation waste products into harmless water or other molecules. It is a brilliant defense mechanism but, alas, not perfect. Sometimes stray molecules with unpaired electrons (free radicals) beat the odds and sneak by the antioxidant cleanup crew. And the first thing they do is attach themselves to another molecule in the cell or in other cells. This extra electron destabilizes the former good citizen molecule, causing it to act with reckless abandon, ricocheting around the cell and other cells in the neighborhood and damaging everything in its path. And for various reasons the production of free radicals increases with age just as the body's natural antioxidants (free-radical fighters) decrease.