Academic journal article Generations

Anti-Aging Medicine: Hype, Hope, and Reality

Academic journal article Generations

Anti-Aging Medicine: Hype, Hope, and Reality

Article excerpt


The science at the root of the questions.

The term anti-aging is an oxymoron because, in time, everything in the universe ages or changes.

The loss of fidelity in biological molecules is inevitable. The only biological property that is long-lasting on an evolutionary time scale is the information that is transmitted by the genome, but even that is subject to mutation or change. In addition to the physical problem of intervening in an inevitable process, there are the ethical and practical problems that would occur if it were to become possible to arrest, prevent, or reverse the aging process in humans.

The notion that aging requires treatment is based on the belief that becoming old is undesirable. Aging is a negative term because it connotes deterioration, approaching pathology, and death. The hundreds of thousands of septuagenarians who follow the sun in their RVs, no longer have child-rearing responsibilities, have good health, and a modest income will disagree. To them, and others who believe that their intellectual growth does not stop, arresting adult development at an earlier age would be unthinkable.

It is most likely not the fear of aging but the fear of approaching death that motivates the anti-ageists. The term prolongevist, first coined to describe a proponent of the "significant extension of the length of life by human intervention" has precedence over the illogical term anti-aging and has a long history that has been well described in the monumental work by Gruman (1966).

While prolongevists differ as to whether intervention in the aging process means stopping, slowing, or reversing it, all assume that intervening is not only possible but also beneficial. However, neither successful intervention nor a beneficial outcome is likely The notion of stopping or reversing the process defies fundamental laws of physics and chemistry, and slowing the process would be rife with unintended negative consequences. If advocates of intervention were to define aging properly and distinguish it from disease and the process of longevity determination, then the folly of intervention should become apparent (Hayflick,1996).

Biological aging is a loss of molecular fidelity- an increase in molecular disorder throughout the body caused by random events -that occurs after reproductive maturation in animals that reach a fixed size in adulthood. Biological aging is an expression of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or increasing entropy, or disorder, in a system. Aging is not a disease, so the concept of seeking a cure for it is tantamount to seeking a cure for embryogenesis or child or adult development.


There are thousands of manifestations of the aging process that few would consider to be pathologies or diseases in need of a cure. Emergency room personnel would not look kindly on patients who sought admission because of complaints that their hair is turning gray, that they have wrinkled skin, that their reaction time has increased, or they have experienced shortterm memory loss. Similarly, the 25-year-old Olympic champion sprinter who arrived at the ER to say that she could no longer reach the running speed that, at age 19, had won her the gold would not be treated for this complaint. These examples are all representative of the hundreds of thousands of systemic losses in molecular fidelity that lead to age changes and that are not pathologies. But, when molecular disorder occurs in cells, or cell products, that are part of vital systems and accumulate sufficiently to increase vulnerability to pathology, a trip to the emergency room may, indeed, become a necessity.

The inexorable loss in molecular fidelity that defines aging can either lead to changes that may be an affront to vanity, or inconvenient, or simply uncomfortable. When the same kind of molecular mischief occurs in the cells of vital organs and then leads to an increase in vulnerability to disease or pathology, treatment is required because the person's life may become threatened. …

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