Caloric restriction (CR), undernutrition without malnutrition, remains the only experimental paradigm that has been shown consistently to extend lifespan and slow aging in short-lived species. Decades of research, mostly in laboratory rodents, have shown that CR consistently extends lifespan, reduces or delays the onset of many age-related diseases and slows aging in many physiological systems. In recent years gerontologists interested in CR have focused on two unanswered questions. 1) What is the relevance of this nutritional paradigm to human aging?
Recent developments in biogerontology--the study of the biology of ageing--suggest that it may eventually be possible to intervene in the human ageing process. This, in turn, offers the prospect of significantly postponing the onset of age-related diseases. The biogerontological project, however, has met with strong resistance, especially by deontologists. They consider the act of intervening in the ageing process impermissible on the grounds that it would (most probably) bring about an extended maximum lifespan--a state of affairs that they deem intrinsically bad.
Many years ago, Alex Comfort experimentally refuted Bidder's hypothesis that fish potentially were immortal. Later morphological and physiological studies, together with observations from fish populations in the wild, revealed that fish age in a way similar to that in other vertebrates. More recently, assessments of the age of fish have been revised, and have shown that some species live much longer than was estimated.
Comparative biogerontology evaluates cellular, molecular, physiological, and genomic properties that distinguish short-lived from long-lived species. These studies typically use maximum reported lifespan (MRLS) as the index with which to compare traits, but there is a general awareness that MRLS is not ideal owing to statistical shortcomings that include bias resulting from small sample sizes. Nevertheless, MRLS has enough species-specific information to show strong associations with many other species-specific traits, such as body mass, stress resistance, and codon usage.
Interactions between nutrition and the ageing process are a fascinating field of research. The assessment of the nutritional status is an important part of medical examination. Generally it is assumed that energy intake and energy expenditure decrease with age. In fact they vary widely and are very different in healthy, in sick or in institutionalized elderly. Nutritional requirements depend on many social and physiological factors in the free-living elderly population. Surveys indicate that dietary requirements are qualitatively grossly comparable to those in middle-aged adults.
Where should we look to find the causes of and cure for aging? This essay considers a number of scientific discoveries, not yet made, that might dramatically increase the proportion of biogerontologists doing useful work. I will consider, in turn, problems and prospects in the areas of comparative biology, mammalian and invertebrate genetics, biomarker research, caloric restriction, and clonal senescence and then conclude with a discussion of potential links between aging and late life disease.
Preventive gerontology is the study and practice of those elements of lifestyle, environment, and health care management that will provide the maximal longevity of highest quality for individuals and the population. As such, it focuses on a personalized hygiene agenda that varies in its emphasis according to a person's age, sex, and risk factor profile. It includes a matrix of strategies relating to diet, exercise, and the avoidance of substance abuse and adverse environmental exposure.