Discovering the cause of aging is key to eventually stopping the clock. New research suggests that brain cells control aging to a greater extent than previously known.
People in the West are obsessed with stopping the clock. We invest in plastic surgeries and anti-aging treatments, as well as a wide variety of supplements purported to stop aging or at least slow the process. However, new research suggests that we should be looking deeper when we seek the cause of aging. Could we be approaching the process of aging from the wrong angle? Could brain cells control aging?
What Causes Aging?
While few people wish to live forever, most of us want to age as slowly and gracefully as possible. However, aging is difficult to stop because its effects are not just evident on our skin, but in every cell of our bodies. In addition to wrinkles and external signs of aging, people also suffer slower cognition, memory loss, reduced organ function and even changes to the body’s circadian rhythm. Our senses, including hearing, vision and even taste, gradually become dull and even shut down.
While we do not know all of the causes of aging, the loss of telomeres appears to be at least a contributor. Telomeres are protective “caps” on the ends of our chromosomes that protect them from damage. As we grow older, these telomeres grow shorter for reasons that we do not completely understand. When the telomeres are completely worn down, our DNA is easily damaged, leaving cells unable to repair themselves. However, there appear to be other mechanisms that influence aging as well.
How Brain Cells Control Aging
Brain cells also appear to have an effect on how quickly we age. In particular, stem cells in the hypothalamus have recently been linked to the aging process. These stem cells are responsible for tending to dead or damaged neurons. Researchers found that when mice are young, they have high amounts of these stem cells, allowing them to quickly repair any damage to brain tissues. By old age, the stem cells are completely depleted. Interestingly, the aging process stops when these brain cells are regenerated by adding more stem cells to the hypothalamus. Mice who underwent this treatment not only had better memory and cognitive performance, but also better stamina.
This is not the first study to link aging to the hypothalamus. Previous research has found that inflammation in the hypothalamus can lead to a variety of negative symptoms, including decreased muscle strength, impaired memory, lower scores on cognition and other challenges that we associate with aging. This may be due to the role of GnRH, a hormone released from the hypothalamus. As we age, the hypothalamus produces less and less of this hormone. Could this partially contribute to aging?
Aging: All In Your Head?
Many of the symptoms that we associate with aging are “in our heads.” For example, memory loss and slower thinking are known to be part of aging for many people. While it is not surprising that brain cells may be responsible for these aspects of aging, the news that they affect cells throughout the body could change the way we view aging. While we do not yet have the technology to lengthen our telomeres or replenish brain tissues, there are a few ways that we can slow the process of aging. Consider making the following positive lifestyle changes which all promote healthy aging:
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, as these contain antioxidants to prevent damage to cells, including those in your brain.
- Avoid chemicals that can contribute to aging, such as artificial fragrances, smoke and other volatile airborne compounds.
- Reduce stress in your life, as this can increase inflammation and thus aging.
- Maintain a fulfilling social life with meaningful connections to others.
- Get plenty of sleep, as melatonin helps cells to repair damage accumulated throughout the day.
- Avoid the sun and other sources of ultraviolet light.
- Get plenty of exercise, which helps to keep your cardiovascular system as well as your muscles strong.
- Regularly engage in a variety of cognitive and memory tasks to increase brain power.
Although these lifestyle choices will not reverse aging, they will help your body to replenish itself and keep your organs and mind in good working order. While it can be difficult to incorporate these ideas into your life, it will pay off in feeling better as you age.
This new research on hypothalamus cells and aging does not currently have practical applications for people who wish to reverse aging. However, knowing more about what causes us to age is the first step in developing new treatments. Soon we may be able to live longer, happier lives with less of the mental and physical decline that we associate with growing older.