You know it: over time all of our body's repair systems deteriorate, our DNA and proteins accumulate damage, metabolism stumbles and cells stop doing their job. That's life, beauty.
We are all on our way to the exit, but research on worms, flies, mice and monkeys shows that going at this speed is not inevitable. Changes to diet and lifestyle (and, perhaps, upcoming anti-aging drugs) can put the brakes on decay and give us many more years of life, especially healthy life.
A brake on aging
A new discovery suggests that a protein in the brain may be a switch to control inflammation and, with it, many symptoms and consequences of aging. If scientists can figure out how to distribute it safely in humans, we will have finally put the first major brake on the aging process.
How does the research conducted by Lige Leng at the Institute of Neuroscience of Xiamen University in China (I link it to you here)? It all starts from the study of the “inflamed brain”: many diseases of advanced age are associated with chronic low-level inflammation in the brain, organs, joints and circulatory system. A phenomenon sometimes called “inflammaging”.
Bring down inflammation
Inflammation in the part of the brain called ventromedial hypothalamus, or VMH, appears to play a very important role in aging throughout the body. The VMH has a wide range of functions, including the control of appetite, body temperature and glucose metabolism: for this reason, when it functions poorly it affects everything else.
Well, research on mice first led to the discovery of a protein in VMH cells, called boy, which acts like a brake pedal to reduce inflammation and slow the rate of aging.
In summary? High levels of the protein protect mice from thinning skin, bone loss, memory loss, even depression. Low levels accelerate aging. This may be because Menin is a “scaffold protein,” which regulates the activity of multiple enzymes and genes involved in inflammation and metabolism.
“We believe that the decline of Menin expression in the hypothalamus may be one of the drivers of aging,” says Leng.
Menin may be the key protein that connects the genetic, inflammatory and metabolic factors of aging. And it wouldn't be a simple brake: by promoting the production of a neurotransmitter called D-serine, Menin triggers a "virtuous spiral" which also accelerates cognitive recovery.
The idea that chronic low-level inflammation in the hypothalamus drives aging is not new. As many as 10 years ago, in 2013, another group of researchers concluded that suppressing inflammation in the hypothalamus could optimize lifespan and fight age-related diseases.
The discovery of the physiological role of the Menin protein is an important turning point in line with these findings, and deserves undivided attention.
What can we do in the meantime?
To rein in aging and give researchers time to make more breakthroughs, there are several things we can do.
By now there is abundant evidence from studies of nematode worms, fruit flies, rodents and monkeys that a severe restriction of calorie intake (without leaving out essential nutrients) can fight age-related diseases and increase lifespan by revitalizing the body's repair systems.
Unfortunately, for humans a calorie restriction too severe causes side effects: lack of energy and reduced libido for everyone. A recent study found that more moderate reductions in calorie intake can provide some improvements in signs of aging without much inconvenience.
Intermittent fasting and time-limited feeding? They “mimic” calorie restriction, but it remains to be seen whether they work in the long term.
drugs such as rapamycin, metformin and resveratrol they seem promising candidates to reduce age-related diseases and put the brakes on aging by extending life. Again, long-term safety and efficacy remain to be established.
The common denominator "brake": inflammation
What about those with an aversion to strict diets and anti-aging drugs? Among the simplest ways to fight inflammation, there is obviously physical exercise, reducing saturated fats and increasing polyunsaturated fats.
In summary: let's take care of the hypothalamus while researchers do their work.