Harvard researchers discover how to reverse aging

The aging process is completely natural and inevitable. At least, so far it seemed inevitable. That’s because a team of researchers at Harvard University, in the US, seems to have discovered a way to reverse this process. The study used DNA repair in mice and was published in January in the scientific journal Cell.

“For a long time, it was believed that changes in DNA itself, called mutations, were the main cause of aging. But the findings of the present study support another hypothesis: the aging process is associated with changes that affect DNA expression, called epigenetics,” says Dr. Cintia Guedes, dermatologist and member of the Brazilian Society of Dermatology (SBD).

The expert explains that epigenetics is a series of environmental factors that modify the way genes behave. This happens without necessarily causing changes in the DNA sequence. “These factors can include, for example, diet, exposure to pollutants, smoking, obesity, stress and physical activity,” adds Cintia.

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How are researchers reversing aging?

The researchers created temporary, rapidly regenerating cuts in the DNA of mice to simulate the effect that certain environmental and lifestyle factors have on the epigenetic pattern of DNA.

Such cuts caused changes and, consequently, malfunctions in the epigenetic pattern of the mice. This made them look older, even showing increased biomarkers of aging.

The scientists then gene-treated the animals to reverse the epigenetic changes. They reset the epigenetic pattern and thus reversed the aging the mice suffered.

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“The researchers observed that by activating a series of genes that are normally activated during embryogenesis, i.e. during embryonic development, it is possible to safely reverse the aging process by more than 50%. This is because such genes trigger a process that, although not yet well understood, is capable of reversing biological age and restoring tissue function. The restoration would allow, for example, the reversal of the deterioration of vision, the reduction of attention and the weakening of the skin tissue”, emphasizes the dermatologist.

The effect on humans

While this isn’t the first time the work has used epigenetics to study aging, the researchers believe this is the first study to point to epigenetic change as a primary driver of aging in mammals. “For example, previous research has shown that epigenetics is able to prove a person’s biological age. That is, the real age of our body and the speed with which we age, as opposed to the chronological age, the one we calculate in the calendar,” says the doctor.

It is also worth noting that the present study has its limitations. Like, for example, the fact that it was made with mice. Therefore, more research is needed to test the results in larger mammals or even humans.

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“However, the research is proving to be of great importance in transforming the way we view the aging process and how we approach treating the signs of aging. After all, it is the first study to demonstrate that we can have precise control over the biological age of a complex animal, being able to increase or decrease it as needed,” Cintia emphasizes.

Is it possible to slow down aging naturally?

But we don’t have to wait until more research comes out before we can start acting on how fast we’re aging. There is an extensive scientific literature showing measures that can delay aging. And it’s simpler than it seems.

“When it comes to reversing our biological age, small lifestyle changes can have a big impact. For example, try to eat a diet rich in nutritious foods, including lots of greens, vegetables, herbs, and spices like beets, turmeric, and green tea, which have the ability to rejuvenate our genetic expression. In addition, try to exercise regularly, reduce your stress levels and get a good night’s sleep,” advises the doctor.

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