- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 25, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0471296465
- ISBN-13: 978-0471296461
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.7 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,581,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Why We Age: What Science Is Discovering about the Body's Journey Through Life 1st Edition
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Before we know why we age, we need to know how we age. According to Steven Austad, we should blame the process on rusting and cooking. Oxygen causes our cells to rust, and glucose causes some of our tissues to take on the qualities of cooked meat. If we eat less food, we cook more slowly and we live longer. So, why do we age? Austad claims that we've evolved to have a certain reproductive usefulness, and after that the species doesn't need us anymore. What about all the "antiaging" equations modern science promises? Generally, the best they can do is prevent premature death. Sound harsh? Well, that's life, and Why We Age is one of the most entertaining and comprehensive guides on aging that you'll find.
From Kirkus Reviews
The problem with long life is that one keeps getting older; here's an able and clearly written summary of the latest theories on why we age and what might be done to ameliorate the process. Austad, a biologist at the universities of Idaho and Washington and science advisor to NPR, begins with an examination of longevity. Despite anecdotal claims of ages in excess of 150 years, modern medicine has concluded that there is no evidence of a human living much past the age of 120. While the human life span has unquestionably undergone a dramatic increase during this century, almost all the gain has come in the elimination of infectious diseases, especially those of childhood. If a complete cure for cancer were discovered tomorrow, it would add at most a couple of years to the average life expectancy. Austad notes other fascinating patterns, such as a huge leap in the male death rate during the period of ``testosterone dementia'': adolescence and early maturity. The discussion then turns to the biological mechanisms of aging. Among the explanations that have become current at various times is the notion that aging and death are evolutionary mechanisms for removing obsolete stock from the gene pool. Another theory is that there is an arbitrary limit on the number of times a given cell can divide; Austad refutes these and other theories. Especially interesting is his examination of the relation between menopause and aging, and the use of hormone therapies to inhibit aging in older women. Finally, he turns to the current theories, scientific and otherwise, on therapies to postpone aging: reduced calorie intake, exercise, and such trendy nostrums as melatonin. While he is skeptical of many of the claims for such anti-aging therapies, he remains optimistic that continued research may enable our descendants to look forward to a longer and healthier lifespan than we can. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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The argument that he develops from evolutionary biology is very subtle, but persuasive and profound. It's not that the ageing of individuals is good for the species. That's a fallacy, although it works that way. And it is not because of limited cell division. That too is an effect. Rather it is because evolution does not support system maintenance past the age of reproduction. In other words (this is a slippery, but nonetheless cogent and persuasive argument) no gene that either maintains the system or tears down the system or even just leaves the system as it is past reproductive age is selected. None are selected. All post-reproductive age mechanisms are instead randomly selected; that is, selected by accident. Since there is the second law of thermodynamics, or entropy, a random system will just run down. It will go to chaos; and for our bodies, that means breakdown. Simple as that.
Still, the question remains, why don't we continue to reproduce as we grow older? Or, why isn't our reproductive age unlimited? The answer is subtle: such a system wouldn't work because it would be static and couldn't change with the environment. The old reproducers would, through the strength of their experience and position, control reproduction and naturally work against change. Consequently, they would drift away from their changing environment and become less fit. Also, the faster an environment changes the faster the species must adjust; therefore, reproduction at an earlier and earlier age would be selected for, consistent with the ability to gain subsistence. As is noted here and elsewhere, it is a melancholy fact that we age and die because of sexuality. Sexual reproduction only works if the young have a better chance at reproducing than the old. It should be realized that someone a generation younger is, paradoxically, a generation older in terms of genetic experience. The gene pool has mixed one more time. The young can only have the advantage if the experienced and powerful get old, weak and die. And so we do.