Every day in the United States 10,000 people turn 65.  This means every week is a football stadium full of brand new 65-year-olds.  These demographics are expected to continue for the next 14 years. Currently, people over the age of 65 in the United States outnumber the entire population of Canada.

Understanding the biology of aging is important because of the increasing social and economic burden associated with aging.  The exact etiology of aging is yet to be discovered.  The process of aging is complex and is a result of a variety of different mechanisms.  Not all organisms age.  An example is a hydra that appears to be immortal. The most important aspects of aging are certainly genetic and environmental factors.  This would explain why certain groups of humans are known to have long lifespans.  This includes primarily women from Okinawa and Ashkenazi Jews.  Women of these groups typically live past the age of 100.  Known causes of aging include damage to our cellular DNA, overall wear and tear, the development of reactive oxygen species known as free radicals, and perhaps most importantly, reduced stem cell function.

Factors that are proposed to influence biological aging fall into two main categories, programmed and damage related.  Programmed aging is a whole series of biological factors that cause a decrease in cellular function, which appears independent of any environmental factors.  The direct relationship of biological aging and chronological aging is not very high.  We all observe people who are in their 60s or 70s, but appear to be in their 50s or 60s.  This is certainly due to genetic factors, and what may be called living a healthy lifestyle.  It has scientifically been shown that maintaining an appropriate weight, avoiding smoking, and avoiding known harmful environmental factors can decrease biological aging.  Known environmental factors that improve biologic aging is diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, the amount of sleep we obtain on a regular basis, physical exercise, avoidance of chronic stress improve biologic aging.

Stem cell function may be the most important aspect in slowing down biologic aging.  The mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) may be the most important cell in your body to slow or reverse aging.  This is due to its amazing ability to modulate our immune system and reduce chronic inflammation.  Many researchers feel chronic inflammation may be the most important cause of biologic aging. The MSC decreases in numbers as we age.  The decrease in our circulating stem cells, specifically the MSC, may be a major cause of biologic aging.  The MSC is the most studied stem cell in the world.  Extensive research around the globe is underway to evaluate the safety and efficacy of utilizing this stem cell to treat various autoimmune diseases. This research is centered around adding millions of these cells via an I.V. to an animal or human. The MSC is also the perfect stem cell for 3D scaffolding to potentially to create brand new organs to replace aging organs and treat arthritis.  The future use of the MSC may allow humans to live longer chronologically with youthful bodies biologically!

Kenneth Pettine

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