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Why do we age, and how could we do it better?

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Aging skin beauty
 Key learnings
  • The two main theories of aging are the programmed theory and damage or error theory
  • Glutathione plays a key role in preventing damage and therefore aging from occurring within the body
  • Compounds such as vitamin C, selenium and lactoferrin can all protect against aging


Getting older is a fact of life, though there aren’t so many facts about why it happens.  Even without a full understanding of what causes aging, there are some strategies that can be implemented to delay many factors associated with aging.

There are two main categories of prevailing theories regarding aging:

One is the damage or error theory, insinuating that environmental exposures can lead to a build-up of damage to the body, causing aging. Another is the programmed theory, stating that aging follows a timetable governed by our gene expression, affecting systems responsible for defending, repairing and maintaining the body.

Within these two broad categories are a number of sub-categories.

Damage or error theory (1)

  • Wear and tear theory – Vital parts of our cells and tissues wear out with use
  • Rate of living theory – The greater the metabolic rate of an organism, the greater the amount of oxidation, leading to a shorter lifespan
  • Cross-linkage theory – the accumulation of cross-linked proteins causes damages to cells and structures, causing a decline in bodily processes
  • Free radical theory – Free radicals such as superoxide cause damage to certain cell components. As damage accumulates, the cell’s function is impaired and eventually organs see declined function.

Programmed theory (1)

  • Aging by program – Hormones control biological clocks which influence the pace of aging
  • Gene theory – The sequential switching on and off of certain genes
  • Autoimmune theory – There is a programmed breakdown of self-tolerance over time, causing autoimmune tendencies, leading to aging



Something common to all these theories is the benefit of glutathione — no wonder it has been dubbed an anti-aging molecule.

Relating to the damage or error theory, glutathione, being the body’s master antioxidant, can reduce the amount of cellular damage accumulated over time.  On top of this, adequate glutathione plays a key part in phase I and II detoxification of both endogenous and exogenous toxins.  The more of these toxins that we have within our body, the faster the rate at which we accumulate damage.

For the programmed theory, it is glutathione’s gene signalling effects that are most useful.  Our DNA is given to us at birth, but through processes such as methylation, cells control which genes are switched on or off.  The field of study concerning this is known as epigenetics.  Glutathione is able to influence methylation and thus impact on which genes are activated (2).

Thus, ensuring an adequate intracellular production of glutathione is key to aging better.


Beyond glutathione

There are a number of bodily functions that can be improved upon to slow the aging process:


Digestive system

Tight junctions are able to regulate what enters the bloodstream from our gut.  Intestinal permeability occurs when these tight junction stay open longer than is optimal, causing larger food molecules to enter the bloodstream.  The immune system recognises these as foreign, causing an immune response, triggering inflammation and potentially autoimmunity.

Lactoferrin is one such compound that improves tight junction integrity, reducing the amount of large molecules entering the bloodstream (3).

Alpha-lactalbumin also improves gut health, by increasing mucin production, necessary to protect our stomach from the acidic nature of our digestive secretions (4).


Immune system

Compounds like alpha-lactalbumin also has some immunological effects, improving the body’s defenses against a number of pathogenic organisms such as Klebsiella pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus (5).

Beta-lactoglobulin, from an undenatured source, enhances the immune system by stimulating cell proliferation (6).

Vitamin C and selenium are two compounds that also support the immune system and reduce cell damage.



Lactoferrin improves our cell’s ability to receive and metabolise glucose into ATP.  In doing this, it reduces hyperglycaemia and hyper-insulinism, states that contribute to systemic inflammation, oxidation and therefore aging (7).  On top of that, lactoferrin binds free iron, a cause of oxidation to the body (8).


Tissue repair

Even with the best protective strategies, damage will still occur to cells.  Thus, it is important to prioritise repair as well.

Adequate protein is necessary to build structures and tissues.  DNA, hormones, enzymes and cells all have protein as a major component of them.

On top of protein, vitamin C, selenium and lactoferrin also stimulate regeneration (9).



The exact reasons for aging have yet to be agreed upon scientifically.  However, looking at what is common amongst them, it is clear that both oxidative stress and cellular health are important factors in aging.  Thus, optimising glutathione levels should be at the forefront of our anti-aging strategy.  Beyond just glutathione, many other nutrients can assist our gut health, immune health, inflammatory response and tissue repair mechanisms to ensure aging is slowed down and graceful.



  1. Jin, K., 2010. Modern biological theories of aging. Aging and disease1(2), p.72.
  2. García-Giménez, J.L. and Pallardó, F.V., 2014. Maintenance of glutathione levels and its importance in epigenetic regulation. Frontiers in pharmacology5, p.88.
  3. Chen, P.W., Liu, Z.S., Kuo, T.C., Hsieh, M.C. and Li, Z.W., 2017. Prebiotic effects of bovine lactoferrin on specific probiotic bacteria. Biometals30(2), pp.237-248.
  4. Ushida, Y., Shimokawa, Y., Matsumoto, H., TOIDA, T. and HAYASAWA, H., 2003. Effects of bovine α-lactalbumin on gastric defense mechanisms in naive rats. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry67(3), pp.577-583.
  5. Pellegrini, A., Thomas, U., Bramaz, N., Hunziker, P. and von Fellenberg, R., 1999. Isolation and identification of three bactericidal domains in the bovine α-lactalbumin molecule. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-General Subjects1426(3), pp.439-448.
  6. Tai, C.S., Chen, Y.Y. and Chen, W.L., 2016. β-lactoglobulin influences human immunity and promotes cell proliferation. BioMed research international2016.
  7. Zapata, R.C., Singh, A., Pezeshki, A., Nibber, T. and Chelikani, P.K., 2017. Whey Protein Components-Lactalbumin and Lactoferrin-Improve Energy Balance and Metabolism. Scientific reports7(1), p.9917.
  8. Adlerova, L., Bartoskova, A. and Faldyna, M., 2008. Lactoferrin: a review. Veterinarni Medicina53(9), pp.457-468.
  9. Cornish, J., & Naot, D. (2010). Lactoferrin as an effector molecule in the skeleton. BioMetals,23(3), 425–430.

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