As I sit here, celebrating my birthday today, I’m struck by how weird it is to age. Sure, I don’t feel any different than I did yesterday. Or maybe even last year. But rewind three or five years and yes, I can definitely say I feel a bit older. But while different parts of me feel as young as ever, others feel those birthdays adding up. My cheek, for instance, has what I thought was darkened pigmentation from pregnancy. But now that I’m almost 20 months past that pregnancy, I’m certain it’s just the beginning of an age spot. My ankles, always a weakness, have begun to remind me to slow down if I try to do too much too fast. But my brain still feels like it’s 20, and I’m wondering when it’ll catch up to the rest of me.
It almost seems that different body parts age differently, and new research shows that this may be true—at least on a cellular level. Scientists were recently able to identify a so-called internal timepiece—a biological clock—that accurately gauges the age of human organs, tissues and cell types. The goal is to help scientists improve their understanding of what speeds up and slows down the human aging process. The researcher was able to test the clock’s effectiveness by comparing a tissue’s biological age to its chronological age—and it worked over various tissues and organs, like the heart, brain, lungs and cartilage.
While the biological age and chronological age matched in many of the samples, some of them didn’t, notably breast tissue. It turns out that healthy breast tissue is two to three years older than the rest of the body. Yep, your breasts are actually biologically older than you are. Interestingly, if a woman has breast cancer, the healthy tissue next to the tumor clocks in at a notable 12 years older than the rest of her body. The results may explain why breast cancer is the most common cancer in women—and why age is a risk factor for so many cancers.
One other interesting finding in the study is that stem cells are basically newborns with an age of basically zero, so scientists are looking how that can factor into new approaches in keeping us young. I won’t hold my breath that there will be therapies to keep me forever young anywhere in my lifetime, but hopefully there is potential for using this as a way to decrease women’s risk for breast cancer in the future. And maybe, just maybe, keeping our bodies feeling as young as our minds do!
Also from Erin: