Most people probably wouldn’t look at aging like one, but aging is actually fairly similar to a disease, one that ultimately catches up with everyone. There’s no real smoking gun with regards to what causes us to age, but there are a few culprits:
- Every normal cell has within it an ultimate limit on the number of times the cell can divide before dying. This limit is known as the Hayflick Limit, and ultimately determines when cells in the body die. It is believed that this limit is a direct result of the influence of the enzyme telomerase whichs repairs the end of DNA segments. In most cells it’s turned off, meaning that the bits on the end of each DNA sequence are split in half when the cell divides. Eventually those ends fray, similarly to the ends of shoe laces, and the DNA breaks down, causing the cells to die. Telomerase can actually be activated in cells, and is often activated in cancer cells, making them effectively immortal
- Proteins in the body react with sugar, forming what are known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These cross-linked proteins cause all kinds of problems, and are primarily responsible for the degradation in skin elasticity over time, including the elasticity of muscles such as the heart
With regards to the second item, there is a lot of research currently going on into a class of drugs known as AGE breakers. These drugs can actually undo the cross linking, which possibly might extending the human lifespan, or at least, help ward off health problems a bit longer. Initial research shows things like blood pressure drastically improving while using AGE breakers.
Coincidentally, one of the most potent inhibitors of AGEs is actually a form of vitamin B6 known as Pyridoxamine. It used to be readily available in the form of a herbal supplement. But wouldn’t you know it, big business has decided to intervene:
in the United States, the FDA ruled in January 2009 that pyridoxamine must be regulated as a pharmaceutical drug because it is the active ingredient in Pyridorin, a drug designed to prevent the progression of diabetic nephropathy. As a consequence, pyridoxamine can no longer be marketed in the United States as a dietary supplement.
That is, because it has the potential to be a revolutionary drug, both for heart disease and diabetes, the FDA has decided it shouldn’t be sold as a low cost supplement anymore. So, if you want it, you’ll probably have to pay through the teeth for it. Score another one for big business.