Why do people age differently?
Everyone ages differently, but why does that happen? A team of researchers has identified four “age types” – major biological pathways of aging, that could help answer this question.
PATIENT COMES FIRST, HUMAN COMES FIRST
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Everyone ages, but not in the same way. Aging can often mean that we learn to deal with different health problems – but again, different people have different problems. Why?
This is the question that a team of researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine in California has begun researching in a new study.
The group’s study involved a total of 43 healthy participants aged 34 to 68 who agreed to be tested for molecular biology markers at least five times over 2 years.
Stanford scientists have chosen this approach to help them create detailed aging profiles to “map” the different aging parameters of individuals.
“We already know that there are several molecular and clinical markers, such as high cholesterol, that are more common in older populations,” said study lead author Professor Michael Snyder.
“But we want to know more about aging than one can learn from the average population. What happens to a person as he grows up? “No one has ever looked at the same person over time,” he explains.
A new study by Professor Snyder and colleagues – whose findings were published in the journal Nature Medicine – has identified four different biological pathways that characterize four major types of aging.
By understanding the type – or types – of aging that a person is predisposed to, it may be possible to find ways to delay or slow down this form of aging, the researchers say.
The researchers found four age-types
“Our study paints a more complete picture of how we age by studying a wide range of molecules and taking multiple samples over the years from each participant,” explains Professor Snyder.
“We can see clear patterns in how individuals experience aging at the molecular level and there is quite a difference,” he notes.
The researchers analyzed a series of biological samples – including blood and stool samples – that were collected periodically from participants. In them, they looked for changes in the presence and activity of various microbes and molecules, including proteins, lipid metabolites.
Through their analysis, the researchers identified four different “age types” or pathways of aging. These were: metabolic (related to the accumulation and breakdown of substances in the body), immune (related to immune responses), hepatic (related to liver function) and renal (related to kidney function).
Professor Snyder and his colleagues explain that people with a predisposition to metabolic aging may have a higher risk of developing conditions such as diabetes. As they grow older, these individuals may also have elevated levels of glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c), which is a measure of blood sugar levels.
However, the team also notes that people may be predisposed to not just one but two or more types of aging, thus facing a combined risk of different health problems.
In addition to the types of aging, the team found differences in the rate of aging between individuals. These findings, the researchers say, have the potential to give people more control over their lives.
If we understand what form or forms of aging we are predisposed to, we also have the power to come up with a strategy to prevent specific health problems and possibly slow down certain aging processes.
“The age type is more than just a label. It can help people eliminate health risk factors and find the areas where they are most likely to have problems. “Most importantly, our study shows that it is possible to change the way you age for the better.”
-Professor Michael Snyder
However, research into aging processes is not over. “We are beginning to understand how this happens with behavior, but we will need more participants and more measurements over time to complete it thoroughly” says Professor Snyder.
Chances of slowing down aging
Professor Snyder and his team also looked at other factors that can contribute to aging differently. More specifically, they compared the aging profiles of healthy insulin-sensitive individuals with those of insulin-resistant participants whose organisms could not effectively process blood glucose.
“The differences in aging between healthy and insulin-resistant people are something that has never been seen before,” says the lead researcher.
“In total, we found that there were about 10 molecules that differed significantly between insensitive and insulin-resistant people as they aged.” Of these molecules, many played a role in the functioning of the immune system.
But the researchers found another noteworthy finding: During the 2 years they collected data on participants, not all of them showed a change in “age indicators”.
It is also noteworthy that, for some people who changed their lifestyle – especially in terms of diet – the “age indicators” decreased over time, which, in some cases, meant that these people were aging at a slower rate.
In some participants, age-related changes in the levels of the essential molecules glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) and creatinine, which are associated with renal function, occurred at a slower rate.
According to the researchers, in some of the people who took statins, a decrease in creatinine levels was observed, indicating better renal function, while in others who changed their lifestyle, there were no significant improvements.
Analyzing and studying his personal biological samples, Professor Snyder estimates that lifestyle changes will be more effective.
“I started exercising and lifting weights,” he says, trying, as he explained, to slow down his average aging rate over time.
The team also notes that their current findings are just the beginning of a long and complex journey to understanding how aging works. Many unanswered questions remain and, over time, researchers hope to find more answers.