Story at a glance

  • Scientists believe the study can help understand why people age differently.
  • The study involved a group of 43 healthy participants between the ages of 34 and 68 over a two-year period.
  • Researchers say they were able to see clear patterns of how individuals experience aging on a molecular level.

New research is shedding light on why people age differently, and how one day humans can have an impact on their own aging through medication and lifestyle changes. 

A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine published in Nature Medicine has identified at least four different ways in which people age at the molecular level.

Scientists found biological pathways they call “ageotypes,” that influence the way people grow older. These include metabolic, immune, liver and kidney — but there could be others. 

The study claims metabolic agers may be at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes as they grow older, while immune agers may be more at risk for immune-related disease. Liver and kidney ageotypes may be more likely to develop liver or kidney diseases.

“We know already there are a handful of nice molecular and clinical markers, such as high cholesterol, that are more common in older populations,” Stanford genetics professor Michael Snyder said in a statement. “But we want to know more about aging than what can be learned from population averages. What happens to an individual as they age? No one has ever looked at the same person in detail over time.”

Researchers tracked 43 men and women between the ages of 34 and 68 for two years. They measured the participants biological markers to identify molecular changes, and were able to identify different types of aging. They also found that people can age at different rates. 

“People are aging at different rates, but what’s equally or even more important is where you see they’re aging differently,” Snyder said.

Some participants in the study fit several ageotypes, and some were aging in all four categories. 

Researchers found some participants were able to slow down their rate of aging during the two-year period by losing weight or eating a healthier diet. Snyder said more research is necessary, but the study shows “it’s possible to change the way you age for the better.” 

Researchers said understanding what form of aging we are predisposed to enables us to come up with a strategy to prevent specific health problems and possibly slow down the aging process. 

Dr James Kirkland, a gerontologist and head of the Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., told NBC News there are drugs and dietary interventions that may make it possible to modulate aging processes. 

“But in order to apply these correctly, we have to know which people to apply which drugs or which dietary interventions in order to get the most bang for the buck,” Kirkland told NBC.

Published on Jan 15, 2020