The Pain of Aging

Moacir Schnapp, M.D.

A new day, a new pain. With age we acknowledge that aches and pains will become inevitable and just part of getting old. What is it about the aging body that makes us hurt, that stiffens our joints, and slows us down? Planned obsolescence, that's it!

One of the most interesting fields of neurobiology is the one that studies internal clocks. For instance, we are familiar with the built-in timer that determines our sleep cycle, even when a person is kept in total darkness. Most of the new research, however, centers on the DNA that is enclosed in the cells of our body, which also contains its own clock. This DNA clock has been described more like a time bomb, programmed to kill the cell that contains it, a process called apoptosis.

Apoptosis allows a young body to get rid of obsolete cells and tissues to open space for new ones, but it is also the main process behind aging. A young body can sustain substantial damage and still be able to repair itself, while the daily wear and tear of an older person inevitably leads to failure of the organism. This is true for the cartilage in our knees, for the muscle cells in the heart, and for the skin, which being on the outside, allows us to actually see that process first hand.

The funding for apoptosis research comes in part from benefactors who are themselves advanced in age and who desperately seek the fountain of youth. Alas, no magic cure for aging has been found so far. The closest scientists in the lab have reached to a solution for this problem is starvation. It seems that rats fed a diet containing ten percent less calories than normal live substantially longer than other rats. Looking back, this sounds reasonable since obesity has been linked to a shorter life span and premature aging of the joints and cardiovascular system, among others.

It is still not clear what implications this has for humans since no long-term studies have been completed yet. Furthermore, starvation diets bring with them a whole new set of stresses for the body and, if done improperly, it can lead to heart problems, muscle wasting, neurological damage and vitamin deficiency. It is also reasonable to assume that a younger person may benefit more than an older person from restricted calories, since less permanent damage has occurred. To put things in perspective and to make the issue even more complex, one has to remember that many older folks actually lose an unhealthy amount of weight as they age, and continue to do so despite all attempts to reverse it.

Bottom line: avoid obesity, burn the extra calories with a sensible exercise program and, if on a diet, take your supplements.


What is Good Posture?

What Causes Poor Posture?

As Long As You're At It...

The Internal Organs and Posture

The Pain of Aging