Forget about crow's feet, laugh lines, and counting the candles on your birthday cake or the spots on your hands; there's now a better, more accurate way to tell how much your body has aged. In the near future, it may slow down the aging process that most of us take for granted.
With a few Botox-crazed exceptions, most people resign themselves to the imminent reality of aging at some point in their lives — and reasonably so.
Apart from "death and taxes," there are very few things in life as certain as the reality of our aging bodies and the complex biological processes that underpin it.
However, maybe gaining a better understanding of such processes will soon let us intervene and reverse the irreversible.
This is something that Aubrey de Grey and other representatives of the anti-aging movement seem to believe. Anti-aging researchers view aging as a disease that can, and must, be stopped, and a newly developed test may offer these scientists a reliable tool to help them measure how anti-aging therapies fare against these aspirations.
A team of Chinese-based scientists designed a simple urine test that can tell how much our bodies have aged by measuring a marker of cellular damage.
While knowing with precision your body's biological age may sound depressing to some, the newly developed test could be a useful tool for predicting the risk of age-related illness and mortality.
Jian-Ping Cai, a researcher at the National Center of Gerontology in Beijing, China, led the research behind this new "aging diagnostic" tool, and the findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
Cellular damage and the aging test
How much our cells get damaged with time depends on various factors, including genetics and lifestyle.
According to the (rather controversial) "free radical theory of aging," oxidative damage is the main cause of aging. As Cai explains, "Oxygen byproducts produced during normal metabolism can cause oxidative damage to biomolecules in cells, such as DNA and RNA."
"As we age," he continues, "we suffer increasing oxidative damage, and so the levels of oxidative markers increase in our body." One of these markers — called "8-oxoGsn" — is the result of RNA oxidation.
Previous animal research carried out by Cai and his colleagues found that levels of 8-oxoGsn tend to increase with age and can be detected with a simple urine test.
In the new study, therefore, they wanted to see if the same applied to humans. So, using a rapid technique called ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography, the researchers analyzed urine samples from 1,228 Chinese participants aged between 2 and 90.
Cai summarizes the findings, saying, "We found an age-dependent increase in urinary 8-oxoGsn in participants 21 years old and older [...] Therefore, urinary 8-oxoGsn is promising as a new marker of aging."
"Urinary 8-oxoGsn may reflect the real condition of our bodies better than our chronological age, and may help us to predict the risk of age-related diseases."
Also, levels of 8-oxoGsn did not seem to differ among men and women. However, postmenopausal women had higher levels of the marker. This, the authors speculate, may be due to the drop in estrogen experienced after menopause. Estrogen is a natural anti-oxidant.
Overall, Cai concludes, the test may offer a much-needed tool for assessing how well our bodies cope with aging.
And this is most helpful, regardless of whether we choose to see aging as a disease that must be eradicated or just a natural part of life.