23 January 2020

Worried about ageing? Scientists discover 4 distinct ageing patterns

Want to know how you can age better? Scientists have gained a better understanding of why people age at different rates.

If you ever splurged on skincare products, supplements or procedures to try and slow the ageing process, you might be interested to know what determines ageing in the first place.

Ageing is a natural process and occurs when our cells start to deteriorate. How we age differs from person to person. While one person’s heart health is fine, their eyesight might be the first to go. Another person’s kidneys may work perfectly well, while their joints are riddled with arthritis. 

According to a study published in Nature Medicine, scientists recently determined that people fall into four distinct categories, depending on which of their biological systems first starts ageing.  

What are the four different categories?

The researchers divided 43 participants into categories named “ageotypes” which were based on biological samples collected over two years – these samples included blood, inflammatory substances, microbiomes, genetic compounds, proteins and by-products of metabolic processes.

The researchers then studied the changes in the samples over time and determined 600 distinct things – so-called “markers” of ageing that predict the functional capacity of a tissue and estimate it’s biological age.

From these markers, the team identified four distinct categories: immune, kidney, liver and metabolic. While some people fell wholly into one category, some overlapped into all four.

"Now, it's going to be a lot more than just four categories," said senior author Michael Snyder, a professor and the chair of genetics at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California in a news report

In a clinical setting, that means population-based markers might not be the best measure to determine how a patient is ageing, or what combination of medical treatments might suit them best, he added. 

What these categories may mean for your health as you age

While the ageing process is obviously a lot more complicated than can be explained by four categories, the researchers aim to study the participants closely to see how their ageing profiles morph over time.

From this research, they also plan to develop a simply ageotype test that can be used by doctors to assess your health status and plan prevention of future diseases.

"There are drugs and various kinds of dietary and lifestyle interventions through which it may be possible to modulate some of these ageing processes, "but in order to apply those correctly, we have to know which people to apply which drugs to, or which dietary interventions to use to in order to get the most bang for their buck," Dr James Kirkland, a gerontologist and head of the Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told NBC News .

How to start ageing well now

The so-called “ageotypes” still need a lot more research to help scientists understand what all the markers really mean. But for now, medical experts should rely on standard vital science to track their patients' health over time, according to the news report.

But what exactly can you do to take your health future into your own hands? These are the most basic steps:

  • Eat a healthy balanced diet which includes lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Stick to a healthy weight by incorporating exercise into your routine.
  • Take preventative measures by going for all your vital health checks, keeping an eye on your glucose levels, blood sugar and blood pressure. While you might not be able to prevent a disease, you may be able to detect it sooner.
  • Stretch every day to stay limber and to improve flexibility.

Image credit: iStock


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