Scientists believe they may have uncovered the secret to slowing the ageing process, thanks to the discovery of a previously unknown piece of genetic code.
From trying to prevent wrinkles from attempting to keep our bodies healthy as we age, the search to put the brakes on how quickly we age is ongoing.
But researchers believe they have made a key discovery in the strive to live a longer, healthier life.
A team of scientists, from the University of Edinburgh and the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany, have uncovered a link between high iron levels in the blood and the ageing process.
Using genetic data from more than one million people researchers attempted to discover why some people age at different rates.
The team pinpointed ten regions of the genome (the full collection of genes that make up an organism) linked to three measurements; the length of life – lifespan, the number of years of life lived free of disease – healthspan, and is extremely long-lived – longevity.
Having high amounts of iron in the blood was linked to age-related conditions like Parkinson’s and liver disease and made it harder for the body to fight infections.
Researchers, therefore, concluded that maintaining healthy levels of iron in the blood could be key to ageing better and living longer.
“We are very excited by these findings as they strongly suggest that high levels of iron in the blood reduce our healthy years of life and keeping these levels in check could prevent age-related damage,” explains Dr Paul Timmers, of The University of Edinburgh.
“Through ageing, our bodies slowly decline over time and eventually develop fatal diseases, including heart disease, dementia, and cancers.
“But the process happens at different speeds for different people.”
Researchers also believe the results of their study may shed light on a link between certain diets and age-related illnesses.
“We speculate that our findings on iron metabolism might also start to explain why very high levels of iron-rich red meat in the diet have been linked to age-related conditions such as heart disease,” Dr Timmers continues.
Study authors now believe their research could help accelerate the development of drugs to reduce age-related diseases, extend healthy years of life and increase the chances of living to old age disease-free.
“Our ultimate aim is to discover how ageing is regulated and find ways to increase health during ageing,” Dr Joris Deelen, from the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany explains.
The ultimate hope is that their findings could lead to drugs that could mimic the effects of iron controlling genes and could be a step towards overcoming some of the effects of ageing.
But before you chuck out the anti-wrinkle cream in anticipation, the team noted that there’s a lot more work to go before humans can have a chance at slowing down ageing.
“The ten regions of the genome we have discovered that are linked to lifespan, healthspan and longevity are all exciting candidates for further studies,” Dr Deelen added.
The findings revealed that sets of genes related to iron were the most commonly found when looking at all three measures of ageing.