Posted on 26 August 2022
Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.
Why is this research important: Changes in the metabolism – the ensemble of chemical processes occurring within the body – seem to have an important role in the ageing process. The earliest animal experiments showing that lifespan could be extended did so by targeting the metabolism. An unhealthy lifestyle, especially low physical activity and high calorie intake, slowly causes the metabolism to malfunction, which contributes to many age-related diseases. But what about people who remain exceptionally healthy well beyond average life-expectancy? What does the metabolism look like in these people, and can this teach us more about the ageing process and how we might be able to slow it down?
What did the researchers do: In this paper, researchers explore what we know about the metabolic changes that occur in old age. They also discuss the relationships between metabolic changes, longevity, and human data concerning interventions that are effective for maintaining a healthy metabolism.
Key takeaway(s) from this research:
The authors highlight the main metabolic changes that usually occur as part of normal ageing:
The authors note that in comparison to the average person, centenarians (people who live to age 100) have been found to have better control over their blood sugar because their tissues respond better to insulin. This aligns with other research showing that sensitivity to insulin is associated with healthy ageing in many species. Differences in the fat tissue may also play a role. Fat doesn’t just store excess calories, but also regulates the metabolism by releasing various molecules including adiponectin, which seems to reduce the risk of some diseases. One study found that centenarians and their children have increased adiponectin levels.
Many of the habits practiced commonly among centenarians have been shown to improve metabolic health in human studies. Exercise is vital and resistance exercise may be particularly beneficial for limiting age-related changes in muscle tissue and improving insulin sensitivity. Some evidence also suggests that a higher protein intake is also necessary for older adults to derive the full benefit of exercise. Diets that sharply restrict calories, such as various forms of fasting, also appear to benefit metabolic health.
Since many people struggle to adhere to these practices, efforts are being made to find drugs that can mimic their effects. Resveratrol, for example, is a plant compound that some research suggests may preserve the health of fat and muscle tissue. The emerging strategy of destroying senescent fat cells (‘zombie’ cells that have lost their ability to divide) may also be an effective strategy for limiting these age-related changes.
Metabolic changes in aging humans: current evidence and therapeutic strategies: https://doi.org/10.1172/JCI158451
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