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The tips of chromosomes, known as telomeres © Getty Images
© Getty Images

What happens in my body as I age?

Published: 20th April, 2022 at 16:00
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As we grow older, out hair goes grey and our skin goes wrinkly. But what happens inside our cells to cause these changes?

Scientists have started to identify key features or ‘hallmarks’ of the ageing process. Therapies that target these hallmarks have the potential to slow ageing and prevent, ease or delay diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. As a result, the hope is not just that we will live longer, but that we will lead healthier lives too.


What happens in my body as I age?


DNA becomes unstable as mutations build up


Cells find it difficult to communicate with each other


The tips of chromosomes, known as telomeres, start to unravel


Old, worn-out 'senescent' cells accumulate and cause damage


Tiny cellular batteries, called mitochondria, become faulty


Stem cells, which can help to repair tissue, become exhausted


Epigenetic changes occur

These are chemical changes that don't affect the DNA sequence, but do have an effect on gene activity.


Cells become less able to make and maintain key proteins


Nutrient sensing becomes flawed

Are there anti-ageing drugs?


Quercitin is a plant flavonol with a bitter taste, found in dietary supplements, beverages and food. It’s known as a ‘senolytic’ because it kills the senescent cells that contribute to ageing.

Senolytic drugs have been shown to extend life and stave off disease in animals. Human clinical trials are underway.


Rapamycin is an immunosuppressant drug. It targets several of the hallmarks of ageing (described above), including impaired nutrient sensing, dysfunctional mitochondria and declining stem cell function.

In one key study, three months of rapamycin treatment improved the healthy lifespan of middle-aged mice by 60 per cent.


Metformin is used to treat type 2 diabetes. It’s a particularly exciting anti-ageing drug because it targets all of the nine known hallmarks of ageing.

A landmark clinical trial called Targeting Aging With Metformin (TAME) is currently underway in the US and assessing if the drug can slow ageing and defer age-related disease.

Read more about ageing:



Helen Pilcher
Helen PilcherScience writer, presenter and performer.

Helen Pilcher is a tea-drinking, biscuit-nibbling science and comedy writer, with a PhD in cell biology.


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