Age Old Problem

Aging has always been of great interest as one gets older and feels the pressure of physical changes. Different species have quite different lifespans and the size of the animal makes a big difference. The maximum lifespan potential, MLSP, of an elephant is much greater than a shrew, for example.

Rats and pigeons are warm blooded creatures of similar body mass whose MLSP numbers are often compared by cognoscenti on matters of aging. The MLSP of your average rat is 5 years while that of your pigeon is 35 years.

Why is the rat keeling over so much earlier? Montgomery et al are now challenging the received wisdom that it was due to the lower level of oxidation in the mitochondria of the pigeon’s cells that was the cause. Recall that the mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells and oxygen radicals damaging these is bad.

With more extensive analysis of tissue of rats and pigeons, the authors show that the real area of differences in oxidative damage is the cell membranes. Rats have a higher concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially the omega-3’s, in their cell membranes and it these molecules that are the more vulnerable to oxygen radicals.

The big questions now are how do we get the right lipid mix in our cell membranes and are we getting enough vitamin C?


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