The quest for immortality is one that’s been on our scientific radar for a long time now. In that process, we often look at the process of aging. The goal is to understand the minute details of aging so that we can figure out how to control it. Most of our efforts are focused on slowing it down.
And while there is a lot of work being done in that space, that’s not our only approach. There are also researchers working on something called the longevity program.
Typically, it focuses on finding different ways in which we can get to optimal health. And a part of that is understanding youth in humans so that we can prolong it.
The study of youth is often referred to as juventology and here’s what we know about it.
Juventology: The Study Of Youth
The word juventology comes from the Latin word ‘iuventus’ which means ‘the age of youth’. It describes the study of a time period when an organism is young and healthy.
Now, there are several longevity programs in the body that focuses on understanding how the body fights diseases and repairs the damages caused because of these diseases. That comes from understanding the symptoms. Sometimes, these diseases are a result of aging.
There is new research that is called the Fasting Mimicking Diet or FMD which focuses on how we can use diet patterns and various foods to increase our lifespan. The goal is to try and prevent degenerative diseases that are a result of aging. Eventually, we hope to find a way to reverse their impact on the body.
This approach is usually a part of what functional medicine doctors use to cure their patients. Functional medicine is sort of an extension of regular medicine in the sense that they delve into a lot more details to understand the root cause of a health problem to treat the patient instead of treating the symptoms.
This is usually the approach when someone has chronic illnesses that are not getting resolved with regular treatment. Now, the focus of practices like functional medicine is to understand how genes and other pathways regulate our lifespan.
It also includes studying how nutrients and proteins that play a role in signal transduction in the human body are linked to aging. Identifying these connections has led us to prove that there are many longevity programs in the body that can be tinkered with to regulate our lifespan.
Which longevity program will give you the results you seek depends on the nutrients that are available in the body and how we regulate them. Now, there is evidence to show that certain dietary practices like calorie restriction and periodic fasting could help with longevity.
This happens because of the way the cells are protected while being allowed to function optimally. But some of these practices also have the potential to rejuvenate the body by activating specific regenerative processes in the body.
Now, the roadblock that exists currently in this study is that some of these regenerative processes cannot undo the rate of aging that has already happened before the process of restriction happened. That means you can’t go back to a time before you started the dietary pattern. So, it’s not much of a reversal.
Where Juventology Comes In
Juventology, or the study of youth, is a strategy where the focus is not so much on the aging process but on looking at the period of youth and trying to maintain that state. So, it’s about keeping an organism youthful, completely functional and healthy. And it comes with the added promise of low mortality.
The 5 Day Fast Mimicking Diet triggers the physiological mechanisms that are linked to survival. It was a process developed by Dr. Valter Longo, a gerontologist at University of Southern California’s Longevity Institute. He’s also the director of the Program on Longevity and Cancer in Italy’s cancer research institute IFOM.
According to Dr. Longo, we need to understand what happens to the cells and molecules in our body to optimize the prevention and treatment of diseases. We need to know how to get these cells back to the state of youth when they were fully functional.
Gerontology is the study of aging. Whereas Dr. Longo wants to study youth to understand how to get cells and molecules back to that state. His theory is about understanding how our body stays young instead of understanding how it ages and trying to reverse it.
So, he proposed that we focus on what he calls health span instead of our lifespan. That’s why periodic fasting, which promotes physiological resistance to stress, is an interesting concept.
It works by activating processes that are to do with cell protection, cell regeneration and their rejuvenation. Now, we know that when the availability of glucose, amino acids and proteins is reduced intermittently, it downregulates the signaling of certain growth hormones.
At that point, they also have the capacity to activate processes that can cause rejuvenation. So, according to Dr. Longo, if all major diseases are caused due to aging, it is a smarter move to tamper with the process of aging rather than treat the symptoms of the diseases one after the other.
Because it doesn’t matter if you’re able to cure one disease since there is always the risk of another one making that success irrelevant, he says that the average lifespan will be increased only by about three years if we cure cardiac diseases or even cancer.
As mentioned earlier, there are many theories that say that as natural selection starts to decline, aging accelerates dysfunction and damage in the human body. But we must consider that aging is at least partially the result of a longevity program in the human body that is restricted by how long it can keep an organism young.
Now, the study of how this longevity program protects the cells, repairs and replaces them is under the purview of juventology. Programmed longevity is a theory that states that when certain genes switch on and off in a specific sequence, it leads to aging. And senescence is the time in which deficits because of aging start to manifest.
Simply put, deficits are the things that lead to age-related diseases that are the result of aging which happens because of natural changes in our genes. We don’t have much or any control over how these changes happen and that’s why we haven’t been able to tamper with the natural course of aging…yet!
Now, there are many programs in the body that are led by certain enzymes to keep us functional. They are also the things that allow us to reproduce and propagate our species. Juventology aims to target these enzymes so that the state of youth is extended indefinitely.
So, it’s not just about not aging but about staying young and healthy.
Now, studies have been conducted on yeast and this is what we know. There is a program that will allow yeast to stay alive for six days and be highly functional for three days.
The same program allows mice to stay alive for 2.5 years and be highly functional for about one year. Some of it has been tested on monkeys too, using drugs, periodic fasting and dietary restrictions to understand genetic mutations it might cause.
We don’t yet know how that will play out in humans. That’s because we don’t yet have enough information to understand the outcome of these interventions with respect to the human youth span.
In simpler organisms that can be studied in bulk, we can determine youth span by observing their age-based mortality. It’s easier to understand other key factors like their stress resistance, reproductive and cognitive functions. That is true for mammals like mice that also fall under this category.
You can determine them by conducting a few extra physical tests (compared to simpler organisms like yeast) like the speed of running. Now, some of this might be used to assess how frail our seniors are. But humans are a lot more complicated and the same parameters cannot be applied to young people.
That’s because tests that can determine physical factors like grip strength, running speed and so on vary based on muscle groups. And there’s a huge difference between those in their youth and the elderly.
What Is Juventology? In Conclusion
Clearly there is a lot of work to be done whether you follow the path of aging or of juventology. But we know that there are many different approaches to increasing our lifespan or should we say health span!