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're all on our way to the exit, but research on worms, flies, mice and monkeys show that going at this speed isn't inevitable. Diet and lifestyle changes (and, perhaps, upcoming anti-aging drugs) can curb decay and give us many more years of life, especially healthy life.
A brake on ageing
A new discovery suggests that a protein in the brain could 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 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 with the study of the "inflamed brain": many diseases of old age are associated with low-level chronic 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 huge role in aging throughout the body. The VMH has a wide range of functions, including the control of appetite, body temperature and glucose metabolism: therefore, when it malfunctions, 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 pace 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 could be because Menin is a "scaffold protein," regulating the activity of multiple enzymes and genes involved in inflammation and metabolism.
"We believe that the decline in Menin expression in the hypothalamus may be one of the drivers of aging," Leng says.
Menin may be the key protein connecting the genetic, inflammatory and metabolic factors of aging. And it wouldn't be a simple brake: by favoring the production of a neurotransmitter called D-serine, Menin triggers a "virtuous spiral" that also accelerates cognitive recovery.
The idea that chronic low-level inflammation in the hypothalamus drives aging is not new. As early 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 curb aging and give researchers time to score more successes, 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 caloric intake (without neglecting 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 on everyone. A recent study found that more moderate reductions in calorie intake can provide some improvements in the signs of aging without much of the drawback.
Intermittent fasting and limited time feeding? They "mimic" calorie restriction, but whether they work long-term remains to be seen.
drugs such as rapamycin, metformin and resveratrol they appear to be promising candidates for reducing age-related diseases and curbing aging by lengthening life. Again, long-term safety and efficacy remain to be established.
The common denominator "brake": inflammation
And for those who have an aversion to strict diets and anti-aging drugs? Among the simplest ways to fight inflammation, there is obviously exercise, reducing saturated fat and increasing polyunsaturated fat.
In summary: let's take care of the hypothalamus while the researchers do their job.