Everyone gets old, if they’re lucky enough. There are choices we can make to slow down parts of the aging process, but what causes aging in the first place? To answer that question you need to be able to examine and characterize what’s going on at the cellular level. A novel study was able to do just that by taking a closer look at aging and the cell.
Absolutely everything that happens in our bodies is the result of a cellular process. Whether we’re talking about the leg movement involved in running, or the complexities of digestion, or getting energy from food, or being able to think critically and encode things into memory, or healing, or hair graying – it’s the ability of our cells and the individual parts of those cells that accomplishes all we do. The aging process is the breakdown of the effectiveness of those functions.
One of the primary functions of any cell is to maintain homeostasis, which basically means keeping everything in the optimal balance. To do that the cell needs to manage both whats coming in and going out. One of the ways that cells accomplish this occurs in a part of the cell called the endoplasmic reticulum which builds three dimensional bridges to allow proteins to be secreted into the blood.
The new study looked into this particular process which is called redox (reducing/oxidizing) homeostasis. They found that the endoplasmic reticulum loses oxidative power in advanced age which reduces it’s ability to build the bridges that allow communication with the outside of the cell. Since the proteins can’t be effectively secreted to mature in the bloodstream, they build up in another part of the cell called the cytosol. These issues together cause the phenomenon called protein misfolding, which is what causes neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
The upshot? My mother is a retired RN. Her patients used to tell her, “The golden years, they’re not so golden!” While this discovery is not expected to result in treatment, it has the potential to become a new diagnostic tool. In the meantime, studies have shown that there are definitely things we can do to intervene positively in the process of aging, like exercise, preventing metabolic syndrome by making good dietary and physical activity choices, and listening to our body and avoiding surgery by tackling biomechanical issues when they come up rather than waiting until major injury occurs. Physician supervised Age Management by keeping hormones in optimal balance is another good tool. So unlike my Mother’s patients long ago, we have many tools at our disposal to stay active as we age and polish up those golden years!