Cellular Aging: What Causes Cells to Age?
Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
It’s likely you’ve never given much thought to your cells. After biology courses, most of us don’t end up in jobs studying tiny organelles on a daily basis.
However, the ones among us who did have found the secret to aging healthfully, and it all has to do with your cell biology.
Aging isn’t just chronological, it’s biological. Your cells determine your biological age, which can be older or younger than your chronological age. Because our bodies are foundationally made of cells, as our cells age, we age.
Learning how our cells age, what causes them to age prematurely, and how we can take better care of our cellular health will give us the ability to fight the hands of time better than any pricy wrinkle cream or facial injection.
Here’s what you should know about cellular aging, and what you can do to proactively care for your cells.
Why Cells Matter
If you’re already in good health you may not think focusing on cellular health and aging is that important, but you would be wrong. The foundation of your health is in your cells. Therefore, the measure of your cellular health is a good indicator of your overall health.
Everything in your body consists of cells. Different cell types make up the tissues that make up the organs, that make up every system in your being. When your cells are sick or declining in function due to age, there’s a trickle-up effect that results in age-related disease and decline.
If our goal should be keeping our cells healthy, we need to understand what causes them to decline and eventually die.
How Cells Age
Aging can be measured using biomarkers, which are indicators that help scientists study how cells age. Gene expression, or the way genes are turned on and off, plays a big role in this process.
RNA is a molecule that helps read the information in our DNA. Scientists study RNA through a process called sequencing to understand how gene expression changes in aging cells.
Changes in gene expression can be caused by many things, including epigenetic factors — epigenetic changes affect how our genes work without changing the DNA sequence itself.
Genome instability is when our DNA becomes damaged or changed. This can happen due to errors during DNA repair or from harmful somatic (non-inherited) mutations. Our cells respond to different stimuli or signals, like stress, which can cause these changes.
All of this said — your cells age, which is essentially why you age. Cells divide and replicate (called cell proliferation) until they can no longer do so, at which point the cell reaches a point called senescence, which means it can no longer divide. Eventually, the cell dies.
There are three major factors that result in senescent cells: telomere erosion, oxidative damage, and declining autophagy.
The DNA found in your cells replicates when your cells divide. If you remember the classic DNA chain, you’ll remember it has a double helix pattern, with two strands intertwining.
Your cells do a great job of replicating one strand of DNA, but the second strand, which must be replicated in reverse, presents a harder task. This little kink in the system could leave the ends of your cell’s chromosomes raw and ragged, which could cause further damage upon the next replication.
Thankfully, your chromosomes have a protective cap on the end of each one called a telomere. Telomeres are made of non-coding DNA, which means it isn’t replicated when a new cell is formed. Each time your cells replicate, the telomere on the end of the chromosomes shortens, even has a helpful enzyme called telomerase works to try and add length back as best as it can.
Cell division is healthy and a part of cell life, but at some point, your cells cannot copy themselves properly any longer, resulting in transcription dysfunction, mutations, uncontrolled cell growth, and more.
When the telomeres are too short and the cell is too damaged, the cell then reaches a point of cellular senescence.
Telomere length can tell a scientist your biological age, which can be very different from your chronological age. Cellular damage (including DNA damage), premature aging, and cellular stress can all affect the cell cycle, causing your cells to age faster than they would normally.
The faster the telomere shortening occurs, the faster you age biologically.
Stress to the cells can also cause your cells to reach senescence prematurely. Oxidative stress, also known as free radical damage, happens internally but also happens as a result of external stressors.
To understand oxidative stress, we have to talk about atoms. Atoms make up molecules that make up your cells, and it’s within atoms that oxidative stress occurs.
Free radicals (also called reactive oxygen species) are unstable atoms, which means they have an odd number of electrons. They need to be balanced, so they seek out stable atoms with even electrons, and steal an electron from them. When this happens, the molecule (and the cell) where that atom lives becomes damaged.
This damage isn’t usually repairable. In fact, it alters the cell’s DNA, carrying the damage with it if the cell is still able to replicate. Once a cell becomes so damaged by oxidation, it reaches senescence.
Your cells have a housekeeping system that helps keep them clean and sweeps away damaged and broken organelles. Lysosomes are organelles that devour cellular waste and digest it, cleaning the cell and ensuring the waste doesn’t build up inside the cell walls.
As you get chronologically older, your cells naturally lose some of their autophagic ability. Lysosomes begin to malfunction, which means broken organelles, waste, and cellular garbage can collect inside the cells. This buildup produces proteins that can short circuit a cell’s ability to divide properly, and also lead to senescence.
What Causes Cells To Age Prematurely?
Your cells don’t need any help getting older. They naturally age and mature over time. However, genetics, lifestyle choices, and external factors can all put our cells on the fast track to aging, which means a faster biological aging process that is both physical and visible in our bodies.
Factors that can cause cells to age faster include:
- Free radical exposure from the sun, cigarette smoke, and pollution
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Chronic inflammation
It goes without saying, we want to do everything we can to avoid causing our cells to age faster than they should. If we want to approach human aging at its core, we have to take better care of our cells.
How To Help Your Cells Age Healthfully
If you’re a healthy adult, maintaining a healthy lifestyle will pay dividends into your cellular health account and lifespan. Here are four tips to help your cells age healthfully with lifestyle interventions.
1. Eat Right
Your diet is important to your cells. Your cells rely on the vitamins and nutrients in your food for energy, digestion, and repair. If you aren’t eating a balanced diet with enough high-quality nutrients, you are robbing your cells of their ability to function properly.
It’s also important to make sure you avoid pitfalls in your diet, like excess salt and sugar, which can add empty calories without nutrition. This results in weight gain that can make your cells sick, and place you at a higher risk for developing certain diseases.
Regular exercise has been shown to increase longevity and promote healthy aging on a cellular level. Exercise improves all aspects of your health, including your mental health and cognitive function. Exercise is also able to influence all cellular hallmarks of aging.
Getting at least 150-225 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week (i.e. 2.5 to 3.75 hours), along with strength training, can keep your cells functioning properly and help them age more healthfully.
3. Get Good Sleep
Sleep is necessary to your cellular function. It’s during sleep that your cells do most of their repair work, specifically during a particular phase of your non-REM sleep. It’s important that we not only get enough sleep (usually between 7-9 hours for healthy adults) but that we also get quality sleep.
Each night you sleep, you cycle between two different types of sleep, non-REM and REM. This cycle repeats about 4-5 times every night. It’s important you experience every sleep phase because each phase helps your body restore itself.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your cells suffer, and they won’t be able to carry out cellular function as well as if you’d had enough rest.
4. Take a Supplement
Supplements can help support your health and increase your wellness. They can help fill in dietary gaps and make up for deficiencies. However, not all supplements are needed, nor are they worth taking.
There is now a newly discovered essential fatty acid that science supports as being able to reverse cellular aging.
Pentadecanoic Acid and Cellular Aging
Cells that are breaking down have some similar characteristics: they have cell membranes that are wearing thin, allowing for a higher occurrence of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress leads to fragile cell walls and eventually cell death via apoptosis or necrosis. Additionally, they have impaired mitochondrial function, which means less cellular energy to replicate and function.
C15:0 (aka pentadecanoic acid) is an essential, odd-chain, saturated fatty acid that dives deep into your cells, strengthening them and giving them a fighting chance as they age. C15:0 helps your cells in two big ways:
It strengthens cell membranes. C15:0 has the power to integrate into your cell walls, fortifying them and keeping them safe from external stressors.
It boosts mitochondrial function. Research has shown that C15:0 has the power to increase mitochondrial function by 45%, so your cells can continue operating like they did when you were younger.
Because C15:0 is found predominantly in whole-fat dairy products, and you may not be getting enough in your diet. Thankfully, there’s a solution.
Fatty15 is the once-a-day supplement that contains just one ingredient: the pure, vegan-friendly version of C15:0.
By taking fatty15 once a day, you can give your cells the support they need to keep them healthy and fight against premature cellular aging. In terms of your cellular health, it’s one of the best decisions you can make.
Take control of your cellular health and age on your own terms by getting started with fatty15 here.
Aubert G, Lansdorp PM. Telomeres and aging. Physiol Rev. 2008;88(2):557-579. doi:10.1152/physrev.00026.2007
McHugh D, Gil J. Senescence and aging: Causes, consequences, and therapeutic avenues. J Cell Biol. 2018 Jan 2;217(1):65-77. doi: 10.1083/jcb.201708092. Epub 2017 Nov 7. PMID: 29114066; PMCID: PMC5748990.
Carapeto PV, Aguayo-Mazzucato C. Effects of exercise on cellular and tissue aging. Aging (Albany NY). 2021 May 13;13(10):14522-14543. doi: 10.18632/aging.203051. Epub 2021 May 13. PMID: 34001677; PMCID: PMC8202894.
Eric Venn-Watson M.D.
Senior Scientist, Co-Founder
Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.
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