Anti-ageing creams, wrinkle fillers, antioxidant treatments… the world is obsessed with halting the ageing process. A recent scientific study on life expectancy in mice has raised some interesting questions: Why exactly do we age? Why do wrinkles form? And are scientists on the way to finding a means to lengthen life?

The answer to why our bodies grow old over time lies in our cells. Our body’s cells need to replicate many times to stay alive, but each cell has a limited amount of times that it can replicate. This limit helps to prevent changes to DNA which could cause fatal diseases such as cancer. However, this precaution in cells presents problems of its own: ageing. Every time ours are copied, the ends of the coding material, DNA, are cut off. Ultimately the DNA strands become too short for the cell to divide further. These cells either die or remain living but produce harmful substances. Over time this lessens the body’s ability to respond to stress, making it more fragile.

We often associate becoming older with developing wrinkles, but how do they actually form? Cells are held together with protein linkages, which become dense over time. This causes the skin to look rough, wrinkled and to become brittle, leading to those tell-tale lines that we all dread.

So, what can we ourselves do to remain young and healthy?

It’s thought that vitamins C and E are involved in preventing the signs of ageing. The daily consumption of these antioxidants is thought to slow ageing, so remembering to take these vitamins could be key.

Keeping out of the sun is also a good idea. We all love getting a tan but although it may look healthy, it actually damages our cells. Unfortunately, many of the techniques suggested to reduce the effects of ageing are somewhat in conflict with a student lifestyle: exercising, as well as drinking less alcohol, reduce the risk of ageing. In terms of foods, there are claims that a low carb, high protein and calorie restricted diet is beneficial.

Are scientists on the way to discovering how to keep us young?

There’s a lot of ongoing research into this field. In a study on mice, genes were modified enabling cells to undergo more replications. Mice treated at the age of 1 were seen to live for 24% longer on average. This definitely shows a positive step forward in ageing research.

So with all this knowledge and these new scientific studies, are we on the brink of immortality, or a substantially prolonged life? For now, further research is needed but it is clear that we are on a promising road on this score, as a result of the successes coming from the anti-ageing experimental treatments. But who knows, scientists may, in the very near future, discover the elixir of life.

Jennifer Rajan

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