Monographic special issue:
Agro FOOD Industry Hi Tech
- vol. 28(2) - March/April 2017
KEYWORDS: Health, stress, hormesis, longevity, nutrition, food, healthy ageing.
Is ageing a disease that needs to be treated with anti-ageing therapies, or should ageing be considered a
consequence of life and its imperfect processes of maintenance and repair, which can bemodulated to some
extent. A promising healthy ageing approach is that of hormesis through repeated exposure tomild stress. Physical andmental exercise, spices
andmicronutrients, andmental and social challenges are possible hormetins for maintaining health and enjoying healthy old age.
Anti-, Pro- or Healthy-Ageing?
We, the biogerontologists, are divided in two groups.
One group labels ageing and old age as a disease, and
so supports the notion of “anti-ageing” for the treatment
or prevention of such a universal disease. The other
group, with which I identify myself, considers ageing as a
continuum of life processes, and advocates its effective
management and embracing. There is yet another
group, not of biogerontologists but of some existentialist
philosophers, puritans and their likes, who even consider
ageing and old age as the prime driver of human creativity
and meaning of life embedded in the brevity and finitude
of life. They are the pro-ageing ones.
Whereas the rhetoric “waging war against ageing” or
“eliminating ageing” can be attractive for its money-
making perspective, this often disregards the hard-gained
understanding of the biological and evolutionary basis
of ageing. Biogerontological research performed during
the last half-century has shown that there are no definitive
and deterministic causes of ageing. The very act of living
carries with it the seeds of its ultimate demise. Numerous
free radicals and other reactive oxygen species formed
on breathing induce damage in DNA, RNA, proteins and
other molecules. The metabolic processes following feeding
also generate a variety of dangerous and damaging
metabolites. And the complex biochemical processes are
always prone to make mistakes by chance.
No wonder that evolution has developed matching
processes of maintenance and repair system (MARS) to
keep in check the sources of damage and destruction.
MARS, however, is not perfect. Evolution has made MARS
just good enough to assure the survival of the species until
reproduction and continuation of generations. This period
of survival is called the essential lifespan (ELS) of the species.
For us, the
Homo sapiens,
ELS is around 45 years. But the
life of an individual does not come to a sudden end at 45.
Evolution has not inserted any genetic time-bombs to end
life in one go. Instead, continuing to live beyond ELS allows
the imperfections of MARS to manifest as signs of ageing,
including age-related impairments, frailty and diseases.
Thus, sooner or later our wishful fantasy of unlimited life
comes face to face with the reality of our biology of millions
of years of evolution.
What we can hope to do best, without re-designing the body
that our species has got through evolution, is to develop
means and methods to maintain MARS and slow down its
rate and extent of failure. Such methods surely involve using
medicine and technology of every kind, including feel-good
cosmetic products, nutritional supplements, health monitoring
devices, mobility-enhancing tools and other gadgets to
support physical and mental independence in activities
of daily living. This is the approach of healthy-ageing as
opposed to anti-ageing which implies treatment, reversion
and possibly a complete halt.
A promising healthy ageing approach is that of hormesis
through mild stress. Whereas chronic, severe and unwanted
stress is a health-hazard, low level and repeated “stress of
choice” is health-beneficial. Cellular responses to mild stress
protect the body and strengthen MARS. These hormesis-
inducing conditions are categorised as nutritional-,
physical- and mental hormetins. Spices and micronutrients
are nutritional hormetins. Life style practices, such as
physical exercise, sauna, breath control, mental challenges
and proactive social engagement, are examples of
physical and mental hormetins.
Our wisdom is in dealing with the continuum of life and
acknowledging its eventual demise. Denial of ageing of
our complex, but imperfect, evolutionary bodies does
not make it any better. Approaching old age with fear,
hatred and anti-ageing anger only worsens the reality. We
can learn, adopt, nurture and practice reliable methods
for embracing old age and experience healthy ageing
with confidence and dignity. Scientific and technological
developments will surely bring many more and highly
effective means of helping us to achieve all that. But, first
we need to be free from the stress and anxiety of winning
any war against ageing.
Editor-in-Chief, Biogerontology, Laboratory of Cellular Ageing,
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University, Denmark
Suresh Rattan
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