The "Aging Process" (Cont'd)
The aging process is generally defined to be the progressive physiological deterioration of all organs and systems in the body. Over time, this physiological deterioration progresses to the point where disorders appear. Later, as the deterioration progresses, one or more of those disorders develops into a chronic degenerative disease. Finally, a disease progresses to the point where the subject dies.
Most scientists define aging in terms of the ultimate outcome, which is death, and thus identify the problem in terms of life expectancy or longevity. Their goal is to extend the ultimate termination date through genetic manipulation, drastic lifestyle changes or otherwise. By so doing, they maintain that they will be able to delay the onset of the aging process itself, and thus all of the chronic degenerative disorders. The Hypothesis takes a different approach. Although the ultimate outcome may be death, the scientific focus should be on the inception of the disorder. The progressive deterioration of all organs and systems that characterizes the “aging process” typically commences while we are still in our 20s.
The threshold issue is to determine the role of evolution, or genetic programming. Many believe that we are genetically programmed to age and die, and the chronic degenerative diseases are the mechanism devised by evolution to achieve that result. Others argue that we are not genetically programmed to die, but that aging is the result of evolutionary neglect. The evolutionary neglect hypothesis posits that once humans have reached reproductive maturity, evolution no longer cares what happens to them. Thus, adult humans are not blessed with the same maintenance processes as young humans. In the absence of those maintenance processes, we age, suffer through the chronic degenerative disorders, and ultimately die.
Evolution works through the process of natural selection -- choosing those traits that enhance an organism’s likelihood for surviving and reproducing. Through that process, evolution has, over the past billion years or so, created some remarkably complex organisms. The key to enhancing the likelihood of surviving and reproducing is, of course, ensuring functionality. Adding a system or organ that malfunctions and ultimately kills the organism is counterproductive, and thus would be rejected by natural selection.
The human brain is generally considered the ultimate achievement of evolution. Increasing intelligence is such a powerful indicator of enhanced survivability and reproductive capability that much of recent human evolution appears to be driven primarily by the imperative to enhance brain function. But, with the typical healthy human, the brain starts to physiologically deteriorate while we are still in our 20s. In other words, the “aging process” causes progressive brain dysfunctionality that commences before we reach the age of 30. Similar statements can be made with respect to every organ and system in our bodies. And now that we are seeing chronic degenerative disorders and diseases in children, we can make the statement that the “aging process” starts inflicting damage on various organs and systems in some humans while they are still children.
The Hypothesis posits that dysfunctionality that strikes at such a young age cannot be the inevitable result of "aging" nor can it be the intended result of evolution. All organisms, including humans, are genetically programmed to function perfectly throughout their lifespans. Included within our genetic programming is a specific set of instructions that our bodies not deviate from the programming. The chronic degenerative disorders are not the inevitable result of the aging process or the passage of time. The chronic degenerative disorders result from a deviation from our genetic programming that is caused by a behavioral choice.
Since all humans tend to lose functionality and show other signs of aging with the passage of time, scientists assume that the declines associated with aging are the result of declines in genetic potential over time. The Hypothesis takes a different approach. Science has long recognized that what we are (phenotype) varies from our genetic potential (genotype). That variation or deviation is universally ascribed to environmental factors. The Hypothesis ascribes declines in functionality to a deviation between phenotype and genetic potential that is caused by an environmental factor. The critical environmental factor that causes a huge deviation between the typical human phenotype and genetic potential is exercise. All animals, including the precursors to humans, regularly engage in intensive exercise. If they don't, they starve or are killed by predators. Thus, intense exercise, and the dramatic changes in body chemistry that result from that exercise, are a critical part of our natural environment. Altering that natural environment by electing not to exercise is what causes phenotype to deviate from genotype.