Sometimes when you wake up, do you think, “When I was younger, I could manage on only four hours of sleep, but today it feels like I need 10?” Alternatively, have you ever left the gym and “felt” your knees?
Practically everyone exhibits these types of aging symptoms. Nonetheless, there are those individuals who appear to defy their age. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg served on the U.S. Supreme Court until her death at age 87. Mary Berry, who is now in her eighties and a judge on “The Great British Bake Off,” continues to inspire people worldwide to bake and enjoy life. And actor Paul Rudd was crowned People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” in 2021 despite seeming to be in his 30s despite being 52 years old. Then, is age only a number?
DNA and chronological age
Biological aging has several facets. It is caused by a complex combination of genetic features and is impacted by microbiome makeup, environment, lifestyle, stress, nutrition, and exercise.
It was originally believed that genetics had no effect on aging or lifespan. In the early 1990s, however, scientists published the first experiments revealing genes that may lengthen the lifetime of a tiny roundworm. Since then, several observations have supported the genetic effect on aging.
For instance, children with long-lived parents and siblings also likely to live longer. Several genes that regulate longevity and play a role in resilience and stress resistance have also been found by scientists. They include genes responsible for repairing DNA, protecting cells from free radicals, and regulating fat levels.
Studies of identical twins, who share the same genes but not the same precise lifespans, demonstrate that genes are not the sole factor influencing aging. In actuality, genes likely only contribute for 20% to 30% of biological age. This indicates that external variables can significantly affect biological aging.
Lifestyle and environmental influences
Environmental and lifestyle factors, such as social connection, sleeping patterns, water intake, exercise, and food, have a substantial impact on biological age, according to researchers.
During life, social connection is crucial for well-being. Yet, maintaining social relationships over time might be difficult owing to the loss of family and friends, despair, chronic disease, or other circumstances. Several studies have found a significant correlation between social isolation and elevated levels of stress, illness, and death.
How to determine the biological age
There is currently no viable test that can predict an individual’s health trajectory early enough in life to intervene and enhance their quality of life as they age. Scientists are attempting to find a molecule sensitive and precise enough to serve as a unique biological age fingerprint.
In discussions about biological age, it is essential to include the individual’s health and resiliency in addition to their medical status. Resilience is the ability to adapt and recover from a health setback and is frequently a better predictor of functional health. A molecular aging fingerprint might be used to identify individuals who are less resilient and require more intensive surveillance and early intervention to protect their health and eliminate gender, racial, and ethnic differences in health.
Some interesting molecular markers have the potential to act as biological age fingerprints.
Epigenetic clocks constitute one of these indicators. Epigenetics consists of chemical alterations to DNA that regulate gene activity. Numerous scientists have discovered that DNA may be “marked” by methyl groups in a pattern that varies with age and might serve as a possible indicator of aging.
As a final result of regular metabolism, the body releases distinct metabolites, or chemical fingerprints. These metabolites have a dynamic and direct role in regulating physiology and can provide information about functional health. My lab and others are determining the precise composition of these compounds in order to determine which can detect biological age most accurately. Not only must these metabolites be identified, but it must also be determined how they effect biological age.