The search for the Elixir of life, everlasting youth and even slowing down the ageing process is one that has dogged mankind since the Egyptians thought that mummification would preserve their bodies for eternity. Today, despite huge leaps forward in technology, we’re still succumbing to the last ‘great adventure’ at the end of our relatively short lives. So how close are we to extending our four score years and ten?
Life extension – a scientific approach
Life extension, also known as anti-aging medicine, experimental gerontology and biomedical gerontology, refers to attempts to slow down or reverse the processes of ageing to extend both the maximum and average lifespan. Some researchers in this area, and “life extensionists” or “longevists” believe that future breakthroughs in tissue rejuvenation with stem cells, molecular repair, and organ replacement will eventually enable humans to have indefinite lifespans through complete rejuvenation to a youthful condition. But as yet, the maximum life span a human can reach is around 120 years, with most of us shuffling off the mortal coil in our 70s and 80s.
The best we can hope for at the moment is to ensure that the lifespan we do have is as healthy as possible, and this is why in the Western world we have looked back to what nature can provide us in the way of supplements, vitamins and plant extracts. The television is filled with cosmetics companies, all lauding the latest anti-aging product complete with plant complexes and even things not normally associated with beauty products such as caffeine, but is there any proof that these products actually help prolong if not our lives, then at least our looks?
Ageing is an accumulation of damage to macromolecules, cells, tissues and organs. As yet, science is unable to stop the ageing process at the genetic level, but superficially, it can help to at least make us look younger. A healthy diet free of damaging ‘free radicals’ can help to reduce cell damage, but halting the inevitable march of time is as yet a distant dream.
Turning back to nature for the answers
But the relentless search for miracle elixirs goes on. And there are some products that have the scientists excited. One of the most interesting is resveratrol.
Resveratrol is a phytoalexin produced naturally by several plants when under attack by pathogens such as bacteria or fungi. Resveratrol has also been produced by chemical synthesis and is sold as a nutritional supplement derived primarily from Japanese knotweed. In experiments, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar-lowering and other beneficial cardiovascular effects of resveratrol have been reported, and it is undergoing further trials across the world to see if these effects can be replicated in humans. If the trials are successful, reservatrol could play an important part in the future of genome research and the continuing efforts to find a trigger that can turn off the ageing gene.
The use of vitamins, supplements and minerals such as reservatrol for the purpose of prolonging life is mainly anecdotal, but that doesn’t stop the public spending millions of pounds every year in the search for eternal youth and prolonging their life. A healthy diet, regular exercise and supplementing your diet with natural products such as reservatrol may certainly make you healthier and more likely to live longer. But that magic bullet to eradicate ageing, whether it comes from nature, from man’s efforts in the laboratory or by nanotechnology, is still a long way off. The best we can do now is to make sure that every day we live is as healthy as possible, no matter how long we’re here for.
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* The aging population is growing at an increasing rate. http://ccpe.kennesaw.edu/gerontology/ Now more than ever, it’s important that we learn about the social, psychological and physical aspects of serving this population and meeting its needs. Our Professional Development in Gerontology Certificate provides student with a foundation in the field of gerontology, helping a wide range of individuals as you’ll see in this video: from medical professionals to business owners to those taking care of aging parents.
Zola Thurmond: I wanted to take the Gerontology program. First of all, working with the aging population is my passion. The second thing is I wanted to be more educated about the aging process and I want to be able to give back to the community, and that is very important to me. And this Gerontology class has enlightened me, educated me and allowed me to learn and find my niche in dealing with the aging population.
Diana Hishta: I wanted to do something new. I had been actively involved in more of a pediatric/adolescent medicine kind of career the last 13 years. And I knew I wanted to keep up with nursing, but I felt like I wanted to change. I didn’t want to keep doing what I was doing. When I saw this course, I literally just jumped at it. I was like “Oh my gosh, look at this in this catalog that they have. This is exactly what I am looking for. I can go to class one day a month and fulfill the needs that I have. This is the type of course I am looking for.” And it was just perfect.
Soukhy Clark: As a nursing home administrator as an executive director managing a retirement community, I have a deep passion for seniors, and I feel that this certificate in Gerontology will enable me to do better work in terms of serving the needs of the aging population. Through this certificate in Gerontology, I believe that I will be able to do great work in serving the needs of seniors and also empowering my employees and my team members to also be advocates in the field of aging.
Fran Crute: This course helped me to take care of my parents. I am a caregiver for my parents. Both of them have dementia, diabetes, and high blood pressure. At my age, I never thought that I would be in this situation to be taking care of my parents. I thought they were going to be living forever, taking care of themselves. And I really, really learned a lot. And I am thankful for this class.
Now, I want to go and be a social worker to help other people and other families because that’s really why I wanted to do it: to help other families like mine, to help them walk through this process.
Zola Thurmond: You know, we all have a purpose, and for me to be able to find my purpose now, I almost feel like it’s too late, but on the other hand it’s just time. And so I am enjoying the process. This class is the best thing to ever happen to me. This Gerontology class should be a required course. It is the best thing that’s happened to me. And I don’t want to leave, but I’ve got to go — I graduate.
Gerontology Student Q&A: Why Study Gerontology?