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‘Retarding age will protect against disease’


Washington : Slowing down the ageing process would be a better insurance against ill health than conventional therapies against disease, according to a new line of thinking.

Medical research is geared to preventing or curing diseases, but as people in the Western world live ever longer, they are experiencing ever more age-related diseases.

Which is why researchers argue that as our susceptibility to disease increases with age, the soundest approach to combating disease and disability is a “systematic attack on ageing itself”.

University of Illinois scientist S. Jay Olshansky believes that the effectiveness of the disease-specific approach — even if a “cure” were found for any of the fatal diseases — would have minimal effect on life expectancy.

Recent advances in understanding biological mechanisms behind ageing means that the time is ripe for the new model of health promotion and disease prevention, he said.

All living things, including humans, are known to possess biochemical mechanisms that influence how quickly we age and these are modifiable, said Olshansky.

For example, dietary restriction and genetic alteration have been shown to extend the lifespan of many lab organisms and postpone age-related diseases like cancer, cataract and cognitive decline.

In an article in the British Medical Journal, Olshansky and colleagues have called for increased funding to investigate how diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s and most cancers interact with ageing.

They have also sought more research into the “fundamental cellular and physiological changes that drive ageing itself”, alongside continued research into individual diseases.

Success in increasing longevity in lab organisms has demonstrated that ageing is not an irreversible process.

If human ageing was slowed by seven years, the age-specific risk of death, frailty and disability would be reduced by about half that at every age, said Colin Farrelly of Waterloo University in Canada, in an accompanying analysis.