No longer considered an inevitability, growing older should be and is being treated like a chronic condition.

The concept of aging is undergoing a rapid transformation in medicine. The question has long been asked: Is aging a natural process that should be accepted as inevitable, or is it pathologic, a disease that should be prevented and treated? For the vast majority of medicine’s history, the former position was considered a self-evident truth. So futile was any attempt to resist the ravages of aging that the matter was relegated to works of fantasy and fiction. But today, the biomedical community is rethinking its answer to this question.

The controversy has been fanned, to a great extent, by one Aubrey de?Grey, a Cambridge University–trained computer scientist and a self-taught biologist and gerontologist. Over the past decade, de Grey has undertaken an energetic campaign to reframe aging as a pathologic process, one that merits the same level of attention as, say, cancer or diabetes. Although many of de Grey’s claims remain controversial—notably, that the first person who will live to 1,000 years old is already among us—I agree that we can and should pathologize aging. In fact, it seems we already have.

“Aging” is a term we use to describe the changes our bodies undergo over time. Colloquially, we tend to refer to early changes, say from infancy to early adulthood, as maturation or development and reserve “aging” for changes that occur thereafter. The early changes are generally considered good: stronger muscles, wiser minds, and so on. The later changes are far less popular: thinning skin and hair, weakening bones, and other forms of decline.

In a biological sense, the mere passage of time is pathological.

To complicate matters, the human body comprises a number of different systems that each develop at its own pace. The nervous system seems to reach full maturity in our 20s, for instance, while the skeletal system may peak a decade later. Of course, this physiologic natural history is subject to environmental influence. For example, a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, along with weight training, can increase bone density and strength. Nevertheless, these environmental factors ultimately act on a foundation that, beyond a certain age, is inexorably deteriorating. There is a finite limit beyond which environmental factors cannot save us.

The changes of aging vary in their specifics from one system to another, but common mechanisms are at work...contunua su: