The Science of Aging. What an awesome experimental op!
Honestly, I think Joe is comparatively razor-sharp. In fact, I think we should elect him for not another term but for three more terms...in the name of science. Can't Congress authorize something?
President Biden and the Science of Aging
Why are some 90-year-olds sharp while those 10 years their junior aren’t? Look to their telomeres.
Allysia Finley, WSJ
March 12, 2023 5:34 pm ET
There’s no shame in growing old. Everyone will eventually, though some will age more gracefully than others. Our 80-year-old president looks and acts every bit his age. Yet many people remain mentally agile and physically vigorous well into their 90s.
There’s something to the adage that age is only a number. Scientists increasingly are distinguishing between chronological and biological age. Someone can be biologically younger or older than his years on earth, depending on how his body and cells age. The best measure of that number comes from our telomeres—strands of DNA that cap chromosomes and protect genes.
Telomeres get shorter each time a cell replicates, which occurs iteratively as we age. When telomeres get too short, cells die or become senescent—they permanently stop replicating. Senescent cells can build up in tissues and send off inflammatory signals that damage nearby cells, contributing to diseases such as osteoarthritis and Alzheimer’s.
Some people are born with longer telomeres owing to genetic inheritance and maternal health. Mothers with higher anxiety, worse nutrition and unhealthy lifestyles are more likely to bear infants with shorter telomeres. So some people start off in life biologically younger than others, so to speak, though the differences aren’t visible.
Environmental and lifestyle factors also significantly affect the rate at which telomeres shorten as people age. Smoking, excessive drinking, pollution, stress, social isolation and eating processed foods, among other things, create oxidative stress, which causes telomeres to shorten faster. Oxidative stress also causes direct damage to tissue. If some people feel as if they’ve aged faster during the pandemic, they may be right.
On the other hand, physical activity, high levels of social support, and healthy diets rich in antioxidants can slow the rate at which telomeres shorten and reduce oxidative stress. So not only do healthy lifestyles reduce the risk of chronic diseases; they also slow the aging process.
Numerous studies have found an association between telomere length and heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline and other aging-related diseases. A study published last month found shorter telomeres were associated with symptoms of depression, cognitive problems, and higher levels of the inflammatory cytokine IL-6—secreted by senescent cells—among physically healthy seniors between 60 and 79.
People with shorter telomeres also tend to die younger, though it isn’t clear whether telomere length is a limitation on lifespan. One study found that among people over 60, those with shorter telomeres were three times as likely to die from heart disease and eight times as likely to die from infectious disease.
Younger generations may also be aging biologically faster than their elders. A 2019 study from Blue Cross Blue Shield found millennials were seeing their mental and physical health decline faster than the previous generation and predicted they could see mortality rates climb by more than 40% compared with Gen-Xers at the same age. This is in part because millennials have higher levels of depression, substance abuse, hypertension and high cholesterol. Notably, deadly strokes and heart attacks have been increasing among young adults over the past decade. Is 30 the new 50?
Biotech startups are exploring pharmaceutical treatments to slow or delay the effects of aging. One strategy may be to elongate telomeres, yet some scientists worry this could cause cancer. Triggering an enzyme that prevents telomeres from shortening and dying could also produce cancerous cells that can replicate indefinitely.
Another strategy is to clear senescent cells that could be causing collateral tissue damage. Unity Biotechnology, backed by Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel, is researching drugs that destroy senescent cells. A 2016 study found that clearing senescent cells in a mouse born on the same day, from the same litter, and raised in the same conditions as his brother made him look younger and delayed onset of cataracts and bent spine. Removing senescent cells also extended mouse lifespans by as much as a third.
As for delaying cognitive decline, there are currently hundreds of treatments being developed that use different strategies. Yet the most natural approach—a healthy lifestyle and lower stress—seems to reduce the risk of developing dementia. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week found that seniors with higher levels of perceived stress were more than 50% more likely to experience cognitive impairment even after adjusting for differences in socioeconomic and lifestyle factors, such as exercise and alcohol use, as well as chronic health conditions.
Alzheimer’s has also been linked to shorter telomeres. But puzzlingly, some people have all the pathological hallmarks of the disease in their brains but don’t suffer symptoms. Scientists suspect these people have higher cognitive reserve—that is, resilience to brain damage—which is associated with higher education, mentally demanding occupations and healthy lifestyles.
This partially explains why some 90-year-olds are still sharp while some 80-year-olds have lost their fastball. Is President Biden too old to run for re-election? Maybe not chronologically, but his telomeres would almost certainly show his faculties are fast declining.