Everyone ages. There are choices we can make to slow the process, but what causes aging in the first place? To answer that question we need to be able to examine and characterize what’s going on at the cellular level. A novel study was able to do just that by taking a closer look at aging and the cell.

Absolutely everything that happens in our bodies is the result of a cellular process. Whether we’re talking about the leg movement involved in running, or the complexities of digestion, or getting energy from food, or being able to think critically and encode things into memory, or healing, or hair graying. It’s the ability of our cells and the individual parts of those cells that accomplishes all we do. The aging process is the breakdown of the effectiveness of those functions.

One of the primary functions of any cell is to maintain homeostasis, which basically means keeping everything in the optimal balance. To do that the cell needs to manage both what’s coming in and what’s going out. One of the ways that cells accomplish this occurs in a part of the cell called the endoplasmic reticulum, which builds three-dimensional bridges to allow proteins to be secreted into the blood.

This process is called redox (reducing/oxidizing) homeostasis. In a study reported July 31, 2015, in Science News, German researchers found that the endoplasmic reticulum loses oxidative power in advanced age, which reduces its ability to build the bridges that allow communication with the outside of the cell. Since the proteins can’t be effectively secreted to mature in the bloodstream, they build up in another part of the cell called the cytosol. This causes the phenomenon called protein misfolding, which is responsible for such neurodegenerative diseases as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

While this latest discovery is not expected to result in treatment, it has the potential to become a new diagnostic tool.  In the meantime, studies have shown that we can intervene positively in the process of aging by exercising, making good dietary choices, and tackling biomechanical issues when they come up rather than waiting until major injury occurs. Keeping hormones in optimal balance by physician-supervised age management is another good tool.

“Could Aging and the Cell Come Down to the Ability to Build Bridges?” first appeared as a post on the Regenexx blog.

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