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  • Writer's pictureSarah Albiston

WHY do we age differently?

New Science Explains Research on "Ageotypes"

Anyone who has been to a class reunion has seen it. The former classmate you don't recognize because they have aged so drastically. Then, there are the ones who look almost like they did on graduation day. Believe it or not, science tells us there are reasons beyond living well and good genes that contribute to how we age.

A highly acclaimed report in Nature Medicine takes a deep look at what’s going on inside us at a cellular level, offers a possible explanation for why we age differently, and raises the enticing possibility that we will one day have vastly more effective ways to improve our individual aging process through targeted medication and lifestyle changes.

The research on what scientists are calling "ageotypes" — is still in its infancy. But outside experts heralded the study as an important step toward learning more about aging.

In the study, researchers tracked 43 healthy adults over a two-year period, analyzing blood and other biological samples along the way to look for a variety of molecular changes.

"People are aging at different rates, but what's equally or even more important is where you see they're aging differently," said study author Michael Snyder, a professor and the chair of genetics at the Stanford University School of Medicine. That is, where in the body is the aging process most active?

They found people tend to fall into one of four biological aging pathways, or ageotypes: immune, kidney, liver, or metabolic.

Metabolic agers, for example, may be at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes as they grow older.

Immune agers may generate more inflammation, and therefore be at higher risk for immune-related disease.

Liver and Kidney ageotypes may be more prone to liver or kidney diseases, respectively.

There are likely other pathways, such as cardio agers who may be more prone to heart attacks, for example, but this study was limited to four main aging pathways.

Interestingly, some study participants fit multiple ageotypes, while others were found to be aging in all four categories.

Although more research is underway, scientists are quick to add that the existing knowledge we have today about eating right, getting regular exercise, and kicking bad habits such as smoking, is still imperative to follow, to maximize longevity.

The hope is that as we learn more about our own ageotypes, and find that we can personalize our lifestyle adjustments for greater impact, perhaps more of us will find greater motivation to protect our health.

Good Words on Senior Living is my blog dedicated to helping seniors and their friends and families learn more about the process of retirement planning and healthy living.

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