Is Aging a Treatable Disease?

Aging is inevitable. Luckily, pioneers in the study of aging are making discoveries every day that may not only lengthen our lives, but enhance the quality of our lives by extending the healthy years of our lifespan.

This Sunday, on Breakthrough: The Age of Aging, director and Hollywood visionary Ron Howard introduces viewers to researchers who are delving into the science of aging and, more importantly, the treatment of aging as a disease.

Each week, we’re inviting experts and thought-leaders from a range of topics explored in the series to contemplate and investigate some of the provocative topics brought to light in each episode. This week, we looked to some of our favorite health, medical, and science experts to share their view on the following question:

By treating aging as a disease, are we just prolonging the inevitable, or can we change the course of our lives?

Here’s what they had to say…

Patricia Salber, M.D., M.B.A., of The Doctor Weighs In writes about the many different kinds of medical specialties today, from diabetologists to hepatologists and beyond. With all these varying niche areas in mind, she reflects, “Some clinicians, such as primary care doctors, try to pull it all together, but they too are often addressing their patients as an agglomeration of different conditions rather than people who may be experiencing all of those conditions because of the underlying biologic process that we call aging.” Dr. Salber also highlights a poignant quote from Dr. Ed Kamin, who is featured in the episode. He says, “In all my years of practice, I never found a patient who was feeling well, had accepted the infirmities of age, who said to me, ‘enough, I want to quit,’ because it’s wired into us that we want to continue living.”

Science Blogs’ Greg Laden, a biological anthropologist, says in Greg Laden’s Blog, “I think it is helpful to put aging, and changes in human patterns of aging, in a broader anthropological and evolutionary perspective.” He goes on to explain that “we (humans, and to a somewhat lesser extent, primates in general) are modified version of mammals, and there are indications that mammals were never originally designed (by natural selection) to live long lives.” Finally, he looks at aging in relation to reproduction, noting, “Not only have humans (following the primate lead) extended their life span and slowed down their reproduction, but they have added, apparently, another phase of life: Post reproductive.” Laden concludes, “Studies have shown that elder women in foraging societies contribute significantly to the health and well-being of their own children’s offspring. Grandmothers are an adaptation!”

Family physician, best-selling author and nutritional researcher Joel Fuhrman, M.D., writes on his site, Dr.Fuhrman.com, “Aging is not a disease. Aging may be accompanied by chronic disease such as atherosclerosis, hypertension and diabetes, but aging itself is not the primary cause of those common chronic diseases; the cause is predominantly one’s diet.” He continues, “Over many years of eating a less than ideal diet, those diseases develop ubiquitously in modern societies.” Dr. Fuhrman calls for a “nutritarian diet” to prevent common diseases, arguing, “Thousands of scientific studies support these advances in nutritional science to give us a unique opportunity in human history to live healthier and longer than ever before, free of the common diseases associated with aging.”

Carol Bradley Bursack, author, columnist and founder of Minding Our Elders, shares her view that “Aging is a process and it’s not all bad. We gain hindsight and wisdom. We gain experience from our successes as well as our mistakes. The wisest among us gain perspective about what really matters as we each navigate our personal path through life.” Bursack goes on to discuss the connection between stress and aging and the importance of getting rid of toxins, such as bad relationships, from our lives. “Rather than thinking of aging as a disease, or just accepting that there’s nothing we can do to improve negative symptoms of aging, I’d rather think of aging as something that we can do with grace,” she says.

A big thanks to all of our experts for sharing their perspectives on this intriguing topic, and don’t forget to tune in to Breakthrough The Age of Aging this Sunday, Nov., 29, at 9 p.m. ET on National Geographic Channel.

Watch a preview from Sunday’s episode, The Key to Living a Longer Life:


The goal of researchers at the Buck Institute is to slow the aging process and thus slow down the onset of the many diseases that affect us as we get older.