How and why people age differently has been a long-time question for scientists and physicians. Good news—there may be some insight on the horizon. Results from recent research discovered markers that pointed to four distinct aging type categories—now known as ageotypes. Four types are defined, but there could be more—a lot more, admits Michael Snyder, professor and chair of genetics at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California. Read on to find out more about your potential ageotype and how this science may help extend your lifespan and improve your quality of life.
What are the four ageotypes?
The four ageotypes describe the body systems that mark particular areas of aging:
- The Metabolic type relates to the chemical processes in your body.
- The immune type relates to your body’s ability to resist and protect from threats.
- The hepatic system connects to your liver.
- The nephrotic relates to your kidneys. Snyder recognizes that cardiovascular (heart) and molecular (stem cells) systems could be added to that list after further research.
What does that look like in the body?
If you’re dealing with sugar intolerance, diabetes, for instance, then your ageotype would be a Metabolic ager. Suffering from conditions such as rheumatoid or osteoarthritis (both inflammatory conditions) would put you in the Immunological agers ageotype. Your category will be Hepatic if you live with hepatitis, for example, or Nephrotic if you suffer from kidney stones.
If you think you might fit into more than one type—you’re right. It’s similar to personality type testing when you find yourself in a combination of categories, but then they culminate into one type.
How does this science help?
Currently, we prevent or slow down our aging process with a broad stroke of the brush. We look at our family genetics and witness what our relations go through and assume we will probably deal with the same fate. Or, we look at our lifestyles and our environment to make informed and healthy choices and decisions, hoping they will make a long-lasting impact. We know to eat well, exercise regularly, keep mentally engaged and so on.
We also know that life’s situations, such as stress, grief, and poverty, all affect our immediate health and longevity. So, we manage all those aspects as best as we can to instill some control over personal aging symptoms.
Can we slow aging?
Is it possible that any of those actions can sway or change our ageotype, or are we just stuck with them for life? The research I have seen does not answer that question yet. But it does say that we have a chance of slowing down the aging process by knowing our ageotype. If there was a test that could assess our health status and type, then health professionals could devise the best possible treatment and lifestyle options and plans for us. At least that is the hope of the researchers who aim to have a simple test available at every doctor’s office.
“There are drugs and various kinds of dietary interventions and lifestyle interventions through which it may be possible to modulate some of these aging processes,” says Dr. James Kirkland, a gerontologist and head of the Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota,
With only 48 participants in the two-year study, the scientists recognize that results are not entirely conclusive and that more research is necessary. Nevertheless, the results are a step toward examining all the potential contributors and measuring them against other real-life living examples is an ongoing and worthwhile enquiry.
Can centenarians teach us something?
Researching centenarians and their lifestyles all over the world might confirm some researcher’s findings. The United Nations states that there are approximately 570,000 (0.00731% of total 7.8 billion pop.) people aged 100 and over in the world. The US can vouch for 90,000 (0.027%) while close to 11,000 (0.029%) of them live in Canada.
Compared to the 1950s, where the USA had 2300 (0.0015%) and 53,000 (0.017%) in 2010, the growth is exponential. But in the “Blue Zone” parts of the world, like Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California a staggering percentage of the population (nearly ten times more per capita than the US) reach the age of 100 and over.
Is the waistline the only thing worth measuring?
We do very well measuring the hard facts of our lives in North America: what and how much we eat, how often we exercise, what we need to do to increase our heart rate or lower our blood pressure, how we grow or maintain our income, etc. These are all factors we monitor for a healthy life. Contrast that to life in the “blue zones” where they measure life differently. Their days may include more family meals, being with friends, a daily walk or two to get groceries or just some air. Diets may also include regular intake of strong coffee, chocolate, oily foods, and maybe a glass of wine or beer. Their focus on connectedness outweighs the implications of imbibing the “forbidden fruits.”
As we evaluate the implications of aging, we should consider all aspects. The four physical ageotypes included with the softer social elements are all valuable parts of the bigger picture. If we want to have some control over the rate of our aging, let’s stay curious about all those contributing factors.
Today, knowing our blood types is as easy as a pinprick test and enormously helpful during health-related crises. Knowing our ageotypes will someday be just as easy and useful.
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