|Stormy weather ahead? Image credit: r000pert|
Perhaps the first question that needs answering before we can fully understand the ageing process is whether it’s something coded into our genes, or simply a case of our bodies ‘wearing out’. From an evolutionary point of view, once an animal has passed reproductive age it’s of little use, and may not be worth the food needed to keep it alive. This means it makes sense for animals to die as soon as they are no longer fertile. There have been some suggestions that human women live so long post-menopause because they were useful in helping to look after their grandchildren, so their offspring were more successful. However it isn’t clear that this benefit would run to humans living as long as we do now. Another possibility is that rather than being an evolutionary advantage, ageing is purely a result of damage accumulating in our bodies - meaning that if we could prevent that damage, we may be able to extend our lifespans indefinitely.