Life / Health

Aging study hopes to give us moves like Jagger in our old age

For almost two-and-a-half hours at Toronto's ACC on Saturday night, Mick Jagger did what he does best—bounding all over the stage, getting the crowd riled like a hip-hop hype man, while belting out the Stones’ hits or dancing frenetically with his microphone shoved in the front of his pants.

Check out Jessica Smith's review of the show here.

For those of us in the audience, it was hard to not wonder, where does he get the energy? How can a man, at 69, with a face that shows each and every one of those years, dance for hours?

“One thing is that he is physically active and trains for performances,” says Dr. Parminder Raina, the lead principal investigator of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA). The CLSA recently launched a study that will follow the health of about 50,000 Canadians between the ages of 45 and 85 over at least 20 years.

“In later years he’s probably gone on to healthy diets and there’s probably genetics in there as well,” continued Raina. “Having a fair bit of money helps, too.”

The CLSA will look at all of the genetic, environmental and social factors of aging. So far, the researchers have recruited more 20,000 volunteers and more are needed. Of the 50,000, 20,000 will answer health questions by phone, the rest will undergo a elaborate series of tests on a regular basis.

The study’s authors promise generations of researchers will use the data collected from volunteers to “explore previously unimagined areas of research on aging.”

“There’s already a fair bit of interest,” said Raina.

For example, there is a lot of research currently ongoing connecting chronic inflammation to many symptoms of aging, said Raina.

“Underlying inflammation is one of the import factors in how aging happens,” said Raina, adding that the data collected by the study will allow researches to examine how inflammation affects the cardiovascular system and the brain.

Researchers will then be able to connect the results of those studies with a large databank that includes not just medical information, but social information about life stress, wealth and other factors.

One recent study involving mice found the hypothalamus is an important regulator for aging and inflammation, impacting lifespan. In the mice’s case, researchers were able to increase lifespan by 20 per cent.

Dongsheng Cai, a professor of molecular pharmacology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, found that activating a signaling pathway called NF-κB in the hypothalamus of mouse brains accelerated aging, which was shown in physiological, cognitive and behavioral tests.

By blocking the NF-κB pathway in mice, researches slowed aging.

“Everything here is based on mice,” he said. “But we predict this can be translated to humans.”

Hopefully, with more data, tests and hard work, the findings could be helpful in developing treatments for aging-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, said Cai.

As for the fountain of youth, Cai doesn’t think his research will lead to immortality, because cell deterioration would not be affected.

“Some fundamental principals of aging, at the cell level, seem like just nature’s process,” he said. “We can slow down aging, we can reduce the magnitude of age-related diseases, but I don’t think aging can be stopped. It seems like it’s not nature’s design.”

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