old men seated in a row

How You Age Is in Your Hands

old men seated in a rowAs we get older, most of us tend to worry about how aging may affect our bodies and health. But a new study in Aging Cell suggests that worry might be misplaced.

While it’s easy to think that aging predisposes you to disabilities and chronic health issues, the truth is, we all age differently. Time alone can’t account for the biological differences in the aging process. Certainly, with an improved life expectancy, we have a larger population of seniors – and thus, we see more age-related disease and disability overall.

But that doesn’t mean we can pin everything on age.

Researchers suggest our worry can be mediated by learning to identify what health looks like. Some have tried to determine individual biomarkers that correlate with physical function, anabolic response, and immune function. Others have suggested multiple biomarkers to be more telling, more able to integrate key factors of health and disease. This systems approach might then allow us to identify specific “signatures of aging.”

Based on this, the authors of the new study proposed a systems-type analysis of circulating biomarkers.

The biomarkers were selected based upon their noted quantitative change with age and specificity for inflammatory, hematological, metabolic, hormonal, or kidney functions. The intuition of the approach is that in a sample of individuals of different ages, there will be an ‘average distribution’ of these circulating biomarkers that represents a prototypical signature of average aging. Additional signatures of biomarkers that may correlate to varying aging patterns, for example, disease-free aging, or aging with increased risk for diabetes or cardiovascular disease (CVD), will be characterized by a departure of subsets of the circulating biomarkers from the average distribution.

For the study, researchers identified 4935 participants between the ages of 30 and 110. Each participant had 40 blood biomarkers measured at enrollment. After removal of biomarkers that didn’t change with age or sex, about half the participants were determined to have an average signature of 19 blood biomarkers. This was identified as the norm.

But fewer than half had some deviation from the norm. These suggested an increased probability of specific medical conditions, levels of physical function, and mortality risk. One of these deviant signatures corresponded with disease-free aging. Others were associated with dementia, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

In total, researchers reported identifying 26 predictive biomarker signatures.

The “good news – bad news” here, researchers noted, is that if one biomarker changes, it could impact overall health either positively or negatively.

And that offers a good reminder that, regardless of your age, you can be in control of your health. You have the ability to improve your wellness.

And that is powerful medicine, indeed.

Image by Andrea Squatrito, via Flickr