As we age, cells show an increase in self-preserving signals that result in damage elsewhere in the body. Altered intercellular communication contributes to symptoms and diseases that are associated with declining health.

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Today, we conclude our nine-part series on the Hallmarks of Aging. If you have followed along, you will find that each hallmark either directly or indirectly affects the other. (Start here if you’d like to start with the first hallmark.)

The first four hallmarks are considered primary since they are believed to be actual causes of aging and have a definitive negative effect on DNA. They are what first initiate cellular damage, which then leads to accumulation and progressive loss of function. They are:

·  Genomic instability

·  Telomere attrition

·  Epigenetic alterations

·  Loss of proteostasis

The next three are called antagonistic, as they ultimately respond to the damage caused by the primary hallmarks. However, they are initially designed to have protective factors. It is only when bodily conditions become chronic and/or aggravated that they contribute to cellular damage. They are:

·  Deregulated nutrient-sensing

·  Mitochondrial dysfunction

·  Cellular senescence

The last two hallmarks are thought to be integrative because they “directly affect tissue homeostasis and function.” These come into play once the accumulated damage caused by the primary and antagonistic hallmarks can no longer be stabilized. Once this happens, the functional decline is inevitable. They are:

·  Stem cell exhaustion

·  Altered intercellular communication

This week, we will cover the final hallmark: altered intercellular communication. The primary and antagonistic hallmarks each contribute to the variety of breakdowns in communication within and around our cells, thus the reason for altered intercellular communication is identified as one of the two integrative hallmarks.

Communication is everything

Our cells process millions of signals every day. Scientists have spent entire careers discovering how different signals and intercellular pathways work. It’s that important. When communication gets disrupted, it can allow disease to set in, such as cancer cells growing out of control. In fact, most diseases involve at least one breakdown in cell communication.

How a cell gives and receives messages with its environment and with itself is critical to its survival. It processes information from the outside, such as changes in temperature, variation in light levels, and availability of nutrients. It also communicates with other cells via chemical and mechanical signals, which cause alterations in their function.

Protein receptors embedded in the cell membrane connect membrane signals that affect the inner chemistry of the cell. This allows the direct passage of molecules between the internal and external compartments of the cell. All of this translates into how our cells adapt and change based on our environment and what our bodies need. This includes functions from gene expression and glucose regulation to our overall development.

Inflammation and aging don’t mix

As we age, the signals that send chemical messages across our bodies tend to become more inflammatory. This inhibits our immune system and can cause muscle wasting, bone loss, and other detrimental effects. This gradual increase of systemic inflammation in the body as we age is called inflammaging.

This consistent growth in inflammation leads to cells increasingly activating a chemical in their nuclei that regulate inflammation. This protein complex, called NF-kB, is involved in responses to heavy metals, free radicals, bacterial and viral antigens, and even stress. When it is over-produced, it leads to damaging consequences and becomes a significant risk factor as we age.

Cellular senescence, one of the antagonistic hallmarks of aging, is one of the main factors contributing to inflammaging. Senescent cells are known to negatively affect neighboring cells because they release pro-inflammatory cytokines, growth factors, and proteases that affect the function of nearby cells and incite local inflammation. This is a concept known as the bystander effect.

Inflammaging also hinders our immune system’s ability to effectively clear pathogens and dysfunctional cells, such as those that turn into cancer. This is known as immunosenescence. 

And as inflammatory reactions accumulate, neurohormonal signaling also becomes deregulated as we age. When NF-kB is activated in the hypothalamus, it has been shown to inhibit the production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). The reduction of this hormone can lead to skin degradation, muscle weakness, and bone fragility. It can also affect food intake and metabolism.

How to improve intercellular communication

Dietary/caloric restriction, mentioned in many of our blogs in this series, is one of the most studied ways to potentially restore, or at least improve communication between our cells as we age. As recently as February 2020, scientists in the US and China collaborated to study the cellular effects of a calorie-restricted diet.

“The primary discovery in the current study is that the increase in the inflammatory response during aging could be systematically repressed by caloric restriction,” says co-corresponding author Jing Qu, also a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Including more foods that are known to reduce inflammation, such as green leafy vegetables, fatty fish, berries, and olive oil can help to reduce the effects that inflammaging has on our bodies as we age. “A healthy diet is beneficial not only for reducing the risk of chronic diseases, but also for improving mood and overall quality of life,” Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, says.

Additionally, since the gut microbiome is an integral part of our immune system, it appears possible to extend healthy aging and lifespan by focusing on the health of our intestinal bacterial ecosystem.

What else can I do?

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TruAge™ works by using mathematical models and a powerful algorithm to measure DNA methylation-based biomarkers. Methylation is what modifies the function of the genes in the body by adding what’s called a methyl group to DNA, which is what signals genes to turn on or off. DNA methylation is the best indicator of age-related changes and is the best-studied biomarker of age. This comprehensive testing method determines your epigenetic, or biological age, and can detect the acceleration of aging before the signs of aging even begin to appear.

The Longevity Equation Epigenetic Consult is intended to give you a snapshot of your biological age, as well as the lifestyle and environmental shifts you can make right away to start adding vitality and wellness into your life. Click here to schedule your consult!

More about The Institute for Human Optimization

The Institute for Human Optimization is committed to helping you create a personalized plan for living your longest, healthiest life possible. My team and I leverage the most cutting-edge advances in genetic testing, nutritional analysis, and functional medicine to get to the root biological imbalances that cause aging.

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