Genetic Health Aging

The genetics of aging is the study of inherited traits associated with aging. Lifespan, rate of aging, and age at onset of certain diseases (Alzheimer’s, prostate cancer, osteoporosis) are some of the markers scientists use to research how your genetic makeup affects your aging process. Everyone has a unique combination of genetic information and environmental factors, and it is the interplay between the two that determines the rate of each person’s individual aging process.

What Are Genes?

Genes are segments of DNA that contain the information necessary to build a living organism. Everyone inherits genes from their parents. Depending on which alleles, or forms of the gene, you inherit, you will express certain physical traits of the dominant allele in each gene. For example, if you inherit the allele for tongue rolling from your mother (dominant trait), and the allele for non-tongue rolling from your father (recessive trait), the dominant trait is expressed and you will be able to roll your tongue. In much the same way, you inherit genes from your parents that can partially determine how fast you age, how long you live, and what diseases you will be susceptible to later in life.

Causes of Aging

Many scientists now believe that errors in cell division are primarily responsible for the aging process. As cells divide over and over again, the telomeres, or sequences of DNA that cap the end of chromosomes (strands of DNA), become shorter and shorter. Eventually, they become so short that the cell is unable to divide or repair itself. These and other errors in cell division lead to altered gene expression, which then leads to loss of tissue function and aging.

Genetics and Age-Related Diseases

Researchers are on the search for genes associated with late-onset diseases, and have isolated genes and gene mutations that are related to Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, prostate cancer, and osteoporosis. However, having these genes or gene mutations does not mean you are destined to get the disease. Genes determine what may be expressed in an organism, but interaction with their environment is the ultimate test; different environments can produce different features in the same genes. The bottom line is that while genes can indicate an increased risk for disease, environment and lifestyle play an important role in your health and the aging process.

Research on the Genetics of Aging

Animal studies provide an interesting look into the aging process. Scientists discovered an altered gene in fruit flies that doubled their life span; with a similar DNA sequence to humans, studies of fly genes provide insight into how humans age. Scientists also found a gene mutation in roundworms that correlated with a lifespan of up to three times longer than normal! And, in another study, mice on a calorie-restricted diet had an increased lifespan; some studies confirm that this effect transfers to humans, as long as the diet is high in nutrition.

What Can You Do?

You can’t control your genes, and at least for now, altering your genes to change aging patterns (as in the fruit fly study) is a distant reality. Besides, only about 35 percent of your lifespan is indicated by your genes. That leaves 65 percent that is in your control! Work on these diet and lifestyle changes to stay young and prevent many common ailments.

  • Anti-aging Diet: Consume plenty of antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory foods to minimize free-radical damage. Fish, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, yogurt, and nuts will all work to keep you healthy and strong. Also, drink plenty of water to keep your skin, muscles, and organs hydrated.
  • Exercise: Stay active and stay young. Examining cell function, researchers at King’s College in London found that people who exercised for about three hours a week had telomeres (DNA caps) that appeared to be nine years younger than those who exercised only sixteen minutes a week.
  • Rest and De-stress: Take the time to rest so your body and mind have time to repair and recuperate.
  • Brain Fitness: Exercise and challenge your brain with crossword puzzles, games, and puzzles.

Resources

BBC News. (2000). Altered flies live twice as long. Retrieved June 28, 2009 from the BBC Web site: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/1071910.stm.

Genetics Home Reference. (n.d.). Alzheimer disease. Retrieved June 28, 2009, from the Genetics Home Reference Web site: http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition=alzheimerdisease.

Huang, Qy. (2006). Genetics of osteoporosis. Retrieved June 28, 2009, from the Pubmed Web site: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16762578.

Longevity Science. (n.d.). Genetics. Retrieved June 28, 2009, from the Longevity Science Web site: http://longevity-science.org/Genetics.htm.

National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Genetics of Prostate Cancer. Retrieved June 28, 2009, from the National Cancer Institute Web site: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/genetics/prostate/HealthProfessional/page2.

ScienceDaily LLC. (2000). The genetics of aging: New study says cell division errors may be the common link. Retrieved June 28, 2009 from the ScienceDaily Web site: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000331083546.htm.

ScienCentral, Inc. (1997). The genetics of aging: Is getting old in your genes? Retrieved June 28, 2009 from the Science Friday Web site: http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/1997/Sep/hour1_090597.html.

Stein, R. (2008). Exercise could slow aging of body, study suggests. Retrieved June 28, 2009, from the Washington Post Web site: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/28/AR2008012801873.html.

The American Physiological Society. (2008). Mouse study: When it comes to living longer, it’s better to go hungry than go running. Retrieved June 28, 2009, from the American Physiological Society Web site: http://www.the-aps.org/press/journal/08/21.htm.

Zelman, K. (n.d.). The anti-aging diet: Can what you eat help you age gracefully? Retrieved June 28, 2009 from the WebMD Web site: http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/anti-aging-diet?page=3.