Scientists may have uncovered the key to slowing down the ageing process

Scientists have made a key discovery in terms of why people live longer, healthier lives. (Getty Images)
Scientists have made a key discovery in terms of why people live longer, healthier lives. (Getty Images)

Scientists believe they may have uncovered the secret to slowing the ageing process, thanks to the discovery of a previously unknown piece of genetic code.

From trying to prevent wrinkles to attempting to keep our bodies healthy as we age, the search to put the brakes on the speed at which we age is ongoing.

But researchers believe they have made a key discovery in the strive to live a longer, healthier life.

A team of scientists, from the University of Edinburgh and the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany, have uncovered a link between high iron levels in the blood and the ageing process.

Using genetic data from more than one million people researchers attempted to discover why some people age at different rates.

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The team pinpointed 10 regions of the genome (the full collection of genes that make up an organism) linked to three measurements: the length of a life – lifespan, the number of years of life lived free of disease – healthspan, and being extremely long–lived – longevity.

The findings, published on Thursday in the journal Nature Communications, revealed that sets of genes related to iron were the most commonly found when looking at all three measures of ageing. 

Could iron in the blood be linked to ageing? (Getty Images)
Could iron in the blood be linked to ageing? (Getty Images)

Having high amounts of iron in the blood was linked to age-related conditions like Parkinson’s and liver disease and made it harder for the body to fight infections.

Researchers therefore concluded that maintaining healthy levels of iron in the blood could be key to ageing better and living longer.

“We are very excited by these findings as they strongly suggest that high levels of iron in the blood reduces our healthy years of life and keeping these levels in check could prevent age-related damage,” explained Dr Paul Timmers, of The University of Edinburgh.

“Through ageing, our bodies slowly decline over time and eventually develop fatal diseases, including heart disease, dementia, and cancers.

“But the process happens at different speeds for different people.” 

Researchers also believe the results of their study may shed light on a link between certain diets and age-related illnesses.

“We speculate that our findings on iron metabolism might also start to explain why very high levels of iron-rich red meat in the diet has been linked to age-related conditions such as heart disease,” Dr Timmers continued.

Read more: Exercising regularly could have an anti-ageing effect on the body

Study authors now believe their research could help accelerate the development of drugs to reduce age-related diseases, extend healthy years of life and increase the chances of living to old age disease-free.

“Our ultimate aim is to discover how ageing is regulated and find ways to increase health during ageing," Dr Joris Deelen, from the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing said.

The ultimate hope is that their findings could lead to drugs that could mimic the effects of iron controlling genes and could be a step towards overcoming some of the effects of ageing. 

But before you chuck out the anti-wrinkle cream in anticipation, the team noted that there's a lot more work to go before humans can have a chance at slowing down ageing.

“The ten regions of the genome we have discovered that are linked to lifespan, healthspan and longevity are all exciting candidates for further studies,” Dr Deelen added.

Science may well have uncovered the key to living a longer, healthier life. (Getty Images)
Science may well have uncovered the key to living a longer, healthier life. (Getty Images)

Read more: Drinking three cups of tea a week linked to a longer and healthier life

The study follows further research suggesting that Generation X are more likely to suffer more years of bad health than older baby boomers now in their 60s and early 70s.

And earlier this year scientists discovered that wealthy people can expect to live, on average, eight to nine more “healthy” years of life compared to those who are less well off.

The study, published in the Journal of Gerontology, examined how long adults can expect to live a disability-free life, rather than looking at simply life expectancy.

It was found that the biggest socioeconomic advantage in terms of disability-free life expectancy was wealth.

As well as wealth, researchers also believe being kind could help you live longer.

Dr Kelli Harding from Columbia University in New York believes showing compassion lowers our blood pressure, while giving our immune system a boost.

Additional reporting SWNS.