Healthy Aging, Disease Prevention and Autophagy

Healthy Aging, Disease Prevention and Autophagy

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*The following article is a summary of the findings from a recent study titled "Healthy Aging, Disease Prevention and Autophagy." Further information and details on this study are located in the links below.*

 

Autophagy is one of our most important cellular processes in our body. It is the process responsible for clearing out damaged cellular material to maintain optimal cellular function and create space for new organelles to be created. Autophagy is important for maintaining homeostasis and allowing our bodies to adapt efficiently to better handle our day to day lives. As we age, however, our natural process of autophagy begins to slow and creates blockages within our cells that create an opportunity for diseases to develop and our overall health and functioning to decline. Research has emphasized the link between autophagy, aging and the diseases that come with aging. Additionally, there has been clinical evidence that demonstrates a positive relationship between autophagy modulators and a reduction in age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Despite these previously established connections, we still know very little about all of the pathways autophagy is involved with. Research into autophagy’s role in the hallmarks of aging will continue to reveal positive associations between this process and preventing age-related diseases and promote long-term health.

The biological process of aging can be defined as a time-dependent decline in cellular function which ultimately results in a poorer quality of life. This decline also increases the risk for diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Several different links between autophagy, aging and disease have been established: 

  • A compromised level of autophagy is a key hallmark of aging.
  • Autophagy’s role in regulating protein homeostasis.
  • Ensuring the availability of macromolecules and metabolites.
  • Specific subcellular autophagic process (i.e. mitophagy, nucleophagy and lysophagy).
  • Xenophagy (pathogen-specific autophagy) and tissue-specific autophagy.

Furthermore, many diseases have been associated with defective autophagy processes, including chronic inflammation, cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and cancer.

While all of these risks can be scary and overwhelming, there is strong evidence that demonstrates the role autophagy-modulating substances have on not only combatting the diseases that can occur as we age, but also improve healthspan and longevity of an individual as well. The polyamine Spermidine, a naturally occurring molecule in our body, is one of these autophagy modulators.

There is growing evidence supporting the fact that autophagy plays an extremely important role in how our bodies age and whether we develop the diseases that are often associated with age. This leads us to the conclusion that the decline in autophagy is a hallmark of normal aging. Finding the right balance to prevent the decline in autophagy without overstimulating it is the secret to enhancing longevity. The selective induction of autophagy also shows promise in being used as a therapeutic solution to several different diseases. The promising results science has produced only encourages more research into autophagy and it’s relation to how we age and age-related diseases. As more research is done, we will understand even more about autophagy's relation with aging and better understand how to “hack” this natural process to improve our longevity and live a longer, healthier and happier life.

 

Resources:

  1. Aman, Y., Schmauck-Medina, T., Hansen, M. et al. Autophagy in healthy aging and disease. Nat Aging 1, 634–650 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43587-021-00098-4