Frontiers In Genetics article: ‘It is time to classify biological aging as a disease‘
argues exactly that – aging should be treated as a disease
subject to intervention. Rather than separating age-related disease from the aging process itself, the piece maintains that the two are one and the same and that aging should be considered an affliction to be both treated and ameliorated.
Whilst death as a result of the aging process is often considered ‘death by natural causes’, infection and cancer also come under this umbrella term. Historically ‘disease’ has been a highly subjective word and often been culturally defined, enabling behavioural differences such as sexuality to be classed as malfunctions. The general definition of disease is unclear and varies depending on the source, but this piece suggests that progress and expectation define disease; essentially it’s dependent on our view of health itself. In order for a condition or experience to be classified as a disease, it must be measured against a baseline of health itself, which has changed dramatically through history. This subjectivity means that it has become increasingly hard to justify older perceptions of health with ‘natural’ claims, when nasty companions to old age like cancer are almost unanimously decried despite being intrinsically tied to ‘normal’ human biology.
It seems more rational perhaps to view disease as a more flexible term, given that there is no benchmark of innate perfection. Infection is after all ‘natural’ and somewhat inevitable unless you live in a sterile box, but humans have generally decided it’s an unacceptable state of affairs. If there is, and can be no perfect, natural set of instructions constituting a person, then health and expectations of health become elastic and subject to contextual evolution. Failing to class aging processes within the category of disease inhibits funding and makes things unnecessarily complicated, whereas the authors here argue that grouping age-related disease with aging would simplify and aid research – given that treating the prior requires knowledge of the aging process.
‘What is becoming increasingly clear is that aging also has specific causes, each of which can be reduced to a cellular and molecular level, and recognizable signs and symptoms’
Call to Fight Aging by Maria Konovalenko
Now that aging is scientifically understood as the above, it is no longer an entirely mysterious process, instead being a result of specific events, each of which can be targeted. Because those same specific areas can contribute to the chronic conditions we regularly class as disease, combating them essentially combats aging itself. If our bodies decline differently, but getting dementia at 60 as opposed to 90 is seen as intolerable, then treating it might also treat fundamental, underlying ‘aging’. Because all of the connected ‘diseases’ are tied to aging (which in itself currently isn’t considered one), we find ourselves in a situation in which, as we spot fix each ailment we actually delay and prevent aging itself. This piece wisely argues for greater clarity; classifying aging as a disease would improve a broken healthcare system and the approach towards health as a whole would become less convoluted – alleviating greater suffering.
If we want truly want a world in which no-one develops any of the afflictions that become more frequent with age, then our perceptions of both health and disease have to change and evolve.
Read the article at Frontiers In Genetics