Why Age? Should We End Aging Forever?
Voice of Biotecnika – Episode No: 51
Hello everyone. Welcome to another podcast by Voice of Biotecnika. Today’s session is all about age! Why we age? Why do we need to age? Can we stop aging? If yes, Should we end aging? Let’s find out the answers to all these questions and more!
All of us have heard the phrase “Health is wealth”. Without health, there is nothing that we can do in life. It is the most precious thing we have in life, but we tend to forget that until we lose it. A person is born, then he starts getting old. Eventually, diseases start catching up and then one day he dies. Life follows this pretty standard cycle for most people. That does sound harsh but isn’t that just an accepted fact of human life!
Decades ago this life span was short, and humans died very young. Then gradually we started to learn how to use the resources around us to treat ourselves, and our lives became better with each day. And today because of all the great discoveries, we are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. But this has its own unanticipated consequence.
Nowadays getting old means spending more time in pain. People dread dying in hospital beds! And also fear the same for our dear and near ones. With every single day passing, we find ourselves being sicker and in need of extra care. The medical community has certainly optimized the life-spans but in doing so they forgot to optimize the health-spans, the part of our lives during which we’re disease-free. What if we somehow increase the healthspan too? What if we had the liberty to choose how long we would want to live? What if there may be a possibility that we can stop being sick with age, and that too forever!
To achieve this we need to target the root cause of most of the diseases and that is nothing but aging! Just imagine if we prevent aging, we can cure all age-related diseases because prevention is better than cure. Just like: it will save more lives if we can stop people from smoking than doing research for cure of cancer!
But do you know why is it that our bodies are more susceptible to disease as we age? The prime reason for this is “senescent cells” which in layman language can be understood as expired cells or let’s say zombie cells. In the human body as the cell divides they copy the chromosomes with every division but shrink too. To protect the chromosomes from being cut, the DNA is protected with telomeres at the end. After a number of divisions, the cells grow old and become damaged due to telomeres disappearing and enter into a state of senescence. Senescent cells no longer fulfill their roles nor support the tissues of which they are part of. Our bodies have a self-destruct mechanism to dispose of these unwanted cells called apoptosis. But over time this program becomes less effective. And the senescent cells don’t die, rather they stick around. The older one gets the more of them are inside the body. They harm tissue around them and are linked to many diseases that accompany old. Our bones, muscles, immune system, everything starts to weaken. And then one fine day, all our parts break and death take us over. But what if we could stop this and kill all the senescent cells that are making us old? Probably then we can decide how much do we want to live.
Unknown to most, the science of aging has made enormous progress in the last few years. Scientists are already on the path of manipulating age and are about, to begin with, human trials to put a halt to the seed of our poor health, the process of aging.
Aging is a part of our life, it is neither supernatural nor inevitable. With all the developments in the world, it looks like we might be able to stop or delay it during this lifetime.
But even if we could this, the question that comes next is should we look at age as our enemy? Should we end aging forever?
To understand this scenario consider that we have already discovered a cure for aging. This cure is not a fountain of youth. It will just make the aging process cease. So, if you take the cure at the age of 65, you will remain 65. If you take the cure at the age of 25, you will remain 25 years old indefinitely. At first, you might be exhilarated by the halting of the aging process. But as you ponder over the consequences of having the entire world stop aging, your euphoria will be replaced by dread and depression. Imagine what will be the toll of this cure of aging on the environment. There will be a shortage of resources, the world will run out of gas. The population explosion will make the price for even a drop of water scorching high. Also, the cure does not even prevent you from dying from cancer, heart attack, alcohol-induced liver failure, or other illness. If you become too old, it will be too late to take the cure since your internal system will already be too damaged. And there is no going back.
In religious contexts also immortality has often been stated to be one of the promises of God (or other deities) to human beings who show goodness or else follow divine law. In Rigveda, a collection of ancient Vedic hymns that are a cornerstone of Hindu mythology, there is a drink Amrit that bestows immortality. Also in Greek mythology, there is a story about king Tithonus. His wife Eos asked the Greek god Zeus to grant her husband eternal life and the god consented. But Eos forgot to ask for eternal youth specifically. So Tithonous grew old and withered and later transformed into a grasshopper.
Frankly speaking, this idea disturbs most of the people. Muddling with the natural order of life doesn’t make people comfortable. People are more comfortable with the fact that they will have to die one day rather than avoiding death entirely. Anyways the end of the biological cycle of aging doesn’t even guarantee the end of death. The absence of aging would provide humans with biological immortality, but not invulnerability to death by disease or physical trauma.
When asked people what is their idea of being old, they had different statements to give.
One was: “I don’t ever remember being afraid of “oldness”.
Another famous quote: “aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.”
And my favorite is “My face carries all my memories. Why would I erase them?”
Maggie Kuhn, an American activist known for founding the Gray Panthers movement, after she was forced to retire from her job at the then-mandatory retirement age of 65, said: there are six myths about old age:
1. That it’s a disease, a disaster.
2. That they are mindless.
3. That they are sexless.
4. That they are useless.
5. That they are powerless.
6. That they are all alike.
All these quotes make me think that we should celebrate the idea of living long enough to experience old age. People even call them the golden years of one’s life.
Honestly, if I were given the opportunity to take the cure, I probably would take it up and later I’m sure I’d end up regretting it. It’s just like going to a good restaurant to have dinner. You would want to keep eating, have little more of the delicious food but your stomach would ask you to stop. It is not that you would want to keep eating forever but you would like to have a little more fun. But the moment you overeat, you know it will have after-effects! The same is with life extension. There has to be a stop to it otherwise it will have its own consequence.
It is just another phrase for medicine. What scientists should do is try and improve life by minimizing suffering and, hence prolonging life. Though the medicines nowadays are doing the same but in a very ineffective manner. It is just curing the diseases once they have been acquired by us.
There is a group of people who live extraordinarily long lives called centenarians. Not only that, they become afflicted with the chronic diseases of aging very late in life, a process known as compression of morbidity. We should probably focus on developing drugs that enable ordinary people to live like the centenarians, a long lifespan with a better healthspan involving a much shorter period of disability.
But that is my opinion! You can have your own. So asking again, if you could choose to cease aging, would you? If it was in your hands to decide how your future could be, what will be your choice?
Today’s Voice of Biotecnika Is Dr. Pallavi Rungta.