Aging is simply the process of growing old. At this stage there are many activities the aged person can’t do. Science explains that aging is largely a result of a process known as “epigenetic changes” — the alterations that make genes more or less active.
During life, cell-activity regulators get added to or removed from genes. In humans, these changes can be caused by smoking, pollution or other environmental factors — which dial the genes’ activities up or down. As these changes accumulate, our muscles weaken; our minds slow down and we become more vulnerable to disease.
Researchers have tried for centuries to discover how to reverse aging in humans. Even before the era of classical antiquity, researchers knew about the elixir of life and immortality. This is sometimes equated with the philosopher’s stone, a mythical potion that supposedly grants the drinker eternal life and/or eternal youth. Alchemists in various ages and cultures sought the means of formulating the elixir, but never succeeded.
Early this year, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in the United States announced in a study that they have been able to reverse the aging process in mice and in human cells. The study, published in the journal Cell, said the researchers altered genes that turn adult cells back into embryoniclike ones, reversing the aging of mice and human cells invitro. This alteration, the study revealed, extended the life of the mice. The study also stated that the technique employed by the researchers also successfully promoted recovery from an injury in a middle-aged mouse. The researchers said their study proved that by undoing changes in gene activity, it is possible to slow or even reverse aging in humans.
The latest on this topic is that researchers in Switzerland have also announced they found a vitamin that is capable of stopping human organs from aging. The study published in the journal Science said the new study is a breakthrough for regenerative medicine.
According to the study, researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne gave mice the vitamin known as Nicotinamide Riboside (NR). NR has proven to have a positive effect on the functioning of stem cells. The researchers explained this was the first time a study has successfully tested a vitamin’s ability to help the internal organs of elderly mammals regenerate their cells.
The researchers said they hoped their discovery would prove useful for treating several degenerative diseases, allowing vital organs and muscles to regain the regeneration process that deteriorates with age.
According to the researchers, they already know that organs are constantly renewed by generating new cells for themselves. Unfortunately, this occurs at the time the body’s ability to produce new cells is in decline. This leads to many disorders that only happen with age. The problem led researchers to hunt for the cure to the degeneration process.
The researchers said the source of power in cells are the mitochondria – organelles that act like a digestive system which takes in nutrients, breaks them down, and creates energy-rich molecules for the cell. This makes the mitochondria crucial in metabolism.
The researchers believe that the mitochondria is not only necessary in metabolism, but also is essential for the life of stem cells— the better the mitochondria, the better the stem cells.
Working with 2-year old mice (which are very old relative to humans), the researchers could demonstrate that by feeding mice with the NR vitamin (which is very useful to the mitochondria), the mice had much better health. Their organs were said to be much healthier than the mice that were not fed with the NR vitamin. This prolonged the lives of those fed with the NR.
Lead researcher Johan Auwerx said the study is a breakthrough for regenerative medicine and could have profound implications for treating diseases like muscular dystrophy. According to the data from the study, the muscular power of mice that took the NR noticeably improved.
“This work could have very important implications in the field of regenerative medicine. We are not talking about introducing foreign substances into the body, but rather restoring the body’s ability to repair itself with a product that can be taken with food,” Auwerx said.
But despite the success, the researchers said caution should be exercised when it comes to branding NR an elixir of youth. The researchers said further studies are needed on the vitamin to make sure the vitamin does not also boost the functioning of pathological cells, such as those found in cancerous tissue.