I just received the results of my biological age test, and as many of you suspect I am apparently immature for my age. Seriously though, the science of measuring biological age–as opposed to chronological age–is now a validated concept. It uses advanced techniques to measure cumulative changes in DNA, which corresponds to rate of aging. Researchers call it a “biological clock.” Why is this important? With a biological clock, the effectiveness of anti-aging interventions can be accurately measured. Happily, I am apparently several years younger biologically than my chronological age.
We’re in the early stages of a new era in anti-aging science, and with it we need an updated definition. For the first time in history, research is revealing ways to set back our biological clocks, though human clinical trials are still in their infancy. The implications of this are immeasurable however; clearly we are moving beyond smoothing a few wrinkles or popping a couple of vitamins and calling it anti-aging. I propose a comprehensive definition of anti-aging based on 3 things:
1. Procedures to create a more youthful appearance, reversing the physical manifestations of aging.
2. Supplements (and possibly drugs) to restore a more youthful physiology and counter the physiologic manifestations of aging. This may include hormones and metabolism boosters.
3. Interventions to slow or reverse aging at a genetic level – slowing or reversing fundamental genetic changes of aging and re-setting the biological clock. In doing so, healthy lifespan may be extended.
It has long been debated whether plastic surgery and aesthetic medicine can accurately be called “antiaging.” We make people appear younger, but aren’t addressing the aging process itself, or so goes the argument. But it has been shown that surgical interventions such as facelifts have value in terms of quality of life measures. A 2017 review of the psychology of facelift patients found a satisfaction rate of more than 95%, with “improvement seen in positive changes in their life, increased self-confidence and self-esteem, decreased self-consciousness about their appearance, and overall improvement in quality of life”. If you ask me, anti-aging certainly has to include enhancing quality of life.
The use of supplements, hormone replacement, stem cell therapies and the like has a controversial past. Often they become widely adopted before clinical trial evidence, and in some cases persist even after trials disprove them (see for example my post on anti-oxidant supplements.) Human growth hormone has been widely used as an anti-aging nostrum for decades, often a step or two ahead of federal regulators. While it has been extensively studied, side-effects and other issues have limited its acceptance by the medical community. (I don’t want to go into this in much detail here, but recent breakthroughs may change the situation dramatically.) As for metabolism boosters, it is vital to understand the latest science rather than casually scanning the supplement aisle or the pages of a lifestyle magazine.
As for the third category, can we really reverse aging at a genetic level? It is starting to look that way, though the topic is too technical to summarize briefly. I will post more on this in the coming months, but in the meantime here are a few terms that you should know:
- Biological clock: Also called epigenetic clock or DNA methylation clock, this reflects your biological age which may differ from your chronological age.
- Epigenetics: This is where the real action is in anti-aging science right now. Epigenetics refers to the control system for our DNA, determining which genes are activated, which are shut down, and so forth.
- Sirtuins: A component of the epigenetic system, sirtuins are a family of enzymes specific to genes related to aging and metabolism. Activation of sirtuins triggers certain metabolic changes that in turn control longevity and health. The red wine molecule resveratrol was the first sirtuin activator to be identified.
That’s enough for now, so if you will excuse me I’m going to go and celebrate my newfound youth. Responsibly, of course.