No. 2997: AGING

by Andy Boyd

Click here for audio of Episode 2997

Today, some things never get old. Some things do. The University of Houston presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

Though the storyís almost certainly myth, Ponce de Leůnís name will forever be linked with the search for the Fountain of Youth. Yet the thought of magical waters that help us live longer with more vitality is a captivating idea. Thatís why we see so many anti-aging remedies stocked on the shelves of health food stores.

Fountain of youth
Lucas Cranach the Elder's painting The Fountain of Youth. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/The Yorck Project

We really are seeking a Fountain of Youth — and the medical community is finding it. In 1970, average life expectancy in the U.S. was 71. By 2012 it was just a hair under 80 — an increase of 9 years. The reasons are many. And weíre researching new ideas all the time, including one particular eau de vie: hormones. Hormones are just one of the aging remedies under investigation by the National Institute on Aging. The Institute is part of the National Institutes of Health, our nationís foremost agency responsible for health related research.

Weíre all familiar with hormones since theyíre responsible for life altering changes to our bodies. Puberty, complete with a physically maturing body and a host of new mental states, is set in motion by a chain reaction of hormones. Menopause occurs when a womanís ovaries reduce production of the hormone estrogen.

Hormones are produced by the bodyís endocrine glands. Somewhat circularly, the endocrine glands are defined by their ability to produce hormones. Hormones travel from the glands to different parts of the body through the bloodstream. From there, they regulate activities like metabolism, the immune function, and growth.

So itís no surprise that hormones have been the focus of considerable research. Perhaps by introducing hormones into the human body, the thinking goes, we can cheat death — or at least hold it at bay for a while.

So where does the National Institute on Aging stand on hormone therapies. Do they help prevent aging? The answer is both clear and unequivocal: we donít know. But in taking this position, the Institute adds that until more is known, itís important to keep in mind potential health risks as well as benefits. Pumping testosterone into aging men may lead to a more energetic lifestyle, but it may also lead to prostate cancer.

And the list doesnít end with hormones. Does the use of antioxidants to reduce free radicals help prevent aging? We donít know. Does extreme dieting and fasting help prevent aging? Yes, for some single-celled organisms and fruit flies. For humans? We donít know.

So we continue our search for the Fountain of Youth. And while we may not find it gurgling in some remote jungle, weíll certainly continue to discover new ways to live longer, healthier lives. Thatís good, as long as we remember the more important search; the search for a life thatís happy and fulfilling. After all, life isnít measured by how long we live, but by what we do with the time we have.

Happy Child
Happy child finds joy. Photo Credit:Wikimedia Commons/Steve Hillebrand

Lovely Old Couple
Affectionate old couple with the wife holding on lovingly to the husband's face. Focus on the husband's eyes. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Ian MacKenzie

Iím Andy Boyd at the University of Houston, where weíre interested in the way inventive minds work.

(Theme music)

For a related episode, see ABOUT AGING.

Can We Prevent Aging? From the National Institute on Aging website: http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/can-we-prevent-aging. Accessed February 26, 2015.

 

This episode was first aired on March 12, 2015