Bring Up Ageing—What We Can Expect With Growing Older

From where I stand, there is nothing sweeter than a newborn baby. It is so pure, an impeccable blank slate. However, this condition only lasts for a moment. Indeed, as soon as babies are born, they begin growing older, which embarks them on transformative journeys. Actually, this last sentence suggests that ageing starts at birth, but this is not exactly right. We now have legitimate reasons to believe that it would happen before labour even kicks off. Scientists are claiming that they observed the first signs of ageing at the blastocyst stage, which occurs as early as five days after fertilization. Not quite yet an embryo, the blastocyst is composed of three main parts: an inner cell mass (embryoblast), an intramembranous liquid (blastocoel) and an outer cell layer (trophoblast). 

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The embryoblast, which results from many cellular divisions, is responsible for forming what becomes the early embryo. So, we seem to possess a better understanding of the moment when ageing begins. Yet, we don’t really grasp what is going on before the blastocyst stage, but we know a few things. We realize that the blastocyst comes from the cellular divisions of the fertilized eggs. We also recognize that the female gametes, at the time of fertilization, can be very old. They can be anywhere between 12 and 51 years old, which corresponds to our reproductive age. Thus, the reason behind our ability to produce offspring that are cellularly and physically younger than us is pretty enigmatic. Somehow, the cells go through a reversal ageing process, but there is no existing explanation yet revealing how this process could even be possible.

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Anyhow, even if research on ageing is still failing to reveal the mysteries behind this rejuvenation—maybe it is time travel, we do not know! 😉—, we are still discovering quite a lot about ageing in human development. We presently realize the power we each hold in slowing down ageing and potentially reversing it to some extent. At this point, we are all aware of the public recommendation promoted by our respective health officials to reduce physiological ageing. We should adopt a healthy diet that may include fruits and vegetables, oily fish and nuts. And should exclude most, if not all, processed food. We should get at least 3 hours 30 min to 4 hours of physical activities per week. One-third of that time should be used toward vigorous aerobic activities and two-thirds toward moderate aerobic activities. At last, we should all sleep enough, which approximately corresponds to eight hours per night. I know you’ve heard about all these health recommendations, and each of them probably more than once. Yet, the recommendations for proper brain care are clearly not as well advertised, even though some of them are considerably similar.

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Still, we should be even more careful about our brains since they contain the oldest cells of the human body, neurons. Even though we can still generate a few neurons throughout our life, most neurons that we have will never be substituted. Typically, once neurons die, they are gone forever. Thus, we must take great care of these wondrous cells and provide them with the proper stimulation they require and rest. Research has revealed some crucial roles that the brain must fulfill in order to thrive. It seems to all rest on these three elements: executive function (thinking and reasoning), social cognition (interacting with others) and emotional regulation (maintaining a state of well-being). And similarly to the physiological health guidelines, our cerebral health also has its own set of recommendations for us to follow.

Caring for our brain might very well be the same as caring for our gut microbiota. Our gastrointestinal tract hosts a vast and complex range of microorganisms. These microorganisms are essential to our overall health, as well as our brains. They are responsible for absorbing minerals and nutrients, synthesizing enzymes, vitamins and amino acids and producing short-chain fatty acids. Moreover, in recent years, it has come to our knowledge that these microorganisms were also responsible for even more than previously thought. For example, scientists have discovered that a few were able to produce certain neurotransmitters, like serotonin. This revelation suggests that our gut may have more impact on our well-being than what we are attributing them. But caring for our digestive tract can be a sensitive task since any slight change to our environment might jeopardize it. The most important risk (after a faulty diet, of course!) might be regularly switching our intimate partners. Kissing exchanges microorganisms, some foreign to us, which may attack and endanger that sweet balance gained over our lifetime. On that front, I risk nothing; I’ve kept the same partner for over ten years. I’m safe!

Although our gut may also benefit from a stable and healthy diet, our brain might prefer a fattier diet. Beware that I am not talking about fast food or processed food here; I am merely talking about healthy unsaturated fat. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids have been gaining a lot of attention in the last decade. And now we know more about their impact on the brain. Even though we eat lots of omega-6 fatty acids, we don’t eat enough omega-3 fatty acids. We now consider the ideal ratio to be 1:4, compared to our average consumption ratio of 20:1 (omega-6: omega-3). Omega-6 is essential, but we should consume it moderately. Whereas omega-3 fatty acids have a neuroprotective effect and, as such, we should eat more of them. A good source of omega-3 fatty acids is oily fish, spinach and flax seeds. I typically also enjoy chia seeds and walnuts as my source for omega-3.

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To protect our brain, we also need to stay active. Other than the previously mentioned guideline, we must remember to get up every hour of sedentary work for at least 10 minutes. Otherwise, we risk abolishing all the gain produced from our regular activities. If you follow these rules correctly, you might fully deserve your beauty sleep. And it is genuinely as important to sleep as to eat or be active. Despite what we have all come to understand, it is wrong to believe that we need to sleep less as we age. Studies have revealed that it does not matter how old you get; you still need those 7 – 9 hours of sleep every night. Personally, I love going to sleep, and I won’t complain about this recommendation.

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Now that we have mentioned digestion, diet, physical activity, and sleep, what more can there be? Three more things. We must try our best to nurture our social relationships. Being social is essential to reduce stress and loneliness, which comes under emotional regulation. Then, we can find a new skill to learn. How about learning a new language? How about Russian? Learning Russian was the endeavour I assigned myself three years ago. Although I am improving, I am not nearly disciplined enough that I can speak it yet. Still, I can understand a decent amount of written words.

There is one last piece of advice to strive for, which is to stay happy. Personally, this pursuit of happiness is not technically a pursuit. I have learnt to embrace all the positive that life has to offer while trying to let go of the negative. Happiness seems to be not the absence of the negative but the experience of the positive. I realized that achieving an overall state of happiness meant staying present. I had to learn to let go of regrets and past trauma and explore the distant future only as a thought.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Biophilia—What makes us particularly attracted to nature

No one can dismiss the amazing feeling we get after spending some time in nature. We instantly feel relaxed and reinvigorated. Some might attribute this effect to time spent far away from work, and even though they could be correct, it is not the whole picture. Biophilia is a relatively new concept that brought the…

Bring Up Blood—How our oxygen gets carried throughout our body

Good evening my dearest followers, Please, take a moment to enjoy this excerpt for my newest post (Bring Up Blood). We could most certainly not live without blood. It is absolutely essential for the survival of our most distant limbs and organs. Even though almost all of our respiration is thanks to our respiratory organs,…

Bring Up Sun and Stars – What makes them special

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My very favourite summer activity is stargazing and I don’t know if you do share the same feeling about it as I do. If you do, you probably find that the stars are fascinating too. Here beware that I am not talking about the shooting stars we happen to see during a meteor shower. They’re still cool, but they are no stars at all, they are as you may now suspect meteors. Now coming back to the stars, I may assume that even our ancestors liked looking at the stars. Our ancestors would indeed stargaze and by doing so came to all kinds of conclusions about their nature. From being the spirit of their dead ancestors to being used as tools for prediction, stargazing holds somewhat of a spiritual nature. Always to be respected, those giants of the night sky are notably recognized to have guided humans in their escapades. 

Sometimes we often forget that our sun is also a star. However, if you’re thinking about stargazing, forget to consider the Sun as your next subject. As a matter of fact, the word “stargazing” is commonly referred to as the act of contemplating the stars in the night sky. At night, the Sun is, fortunately for you, nowhere to be seen. It’s hiding away on the opposite side of Earth, casting the shadow from which we can observe what we call the night sky. Only from its shadow can we observe the other stars. Looking directly at the Sun is strongly discouraged for reasons that can be explained by both its location and its characteristics.

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The Sun is very close to us, but this unique element wouldn’t do much to us if it weren’t a yellow dwarf, to begin with. These very features are what provide the Sun with the ability to project huge amounts of heat and sunlight at us. This is the reason why we can’t look directly at the Sun. The Sun is projecting an important amount of radiation in the form of sunlight. Staring at the Sun unprotected is a sure way for you to burn down your retina, which could cause you to become permanently blind. Despite this issue, the Sun in all of its grandeur is a good thing for us and other forms of life. Its proximity provides sufficient heat to allow us to survive, and thrive for that matter.

The heat, as well as the light, comes from radiation produced through nuclear reactions. Its light is so powerful that, when it shines directly at us, it can interfere with the light of all other stars that are much further. This is why you can hardly see any stars during daylight. Even though looking directly at the Sun is a risky endeavour, with adequate protection, we can safely gaze at it, especially when extraordinary phenomena happen like solar eclipses. Solar eclipses happen when the moon comes between Earth and the Sun. The Sun is then blocked by the moon which casts a shadow on Earth. The shadow can, at that moment, block either partially or completely the sunlight causing the annular form we see.

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Something very difficult to discern with the naked eye is how different each and every one of the stars is. They can be compared by size, by gas composition, by age and by many other criteria. Yellow dwarfs (e.g. the Sun) are, in terms of heat emitted, slightly warmer than red dwarfs. These two dwarf stars are the most prevalent stars of our galaxy. Eventually, as they burn through their fuel, they can either cool down to become red giants or transform into white dwarfs becoming suddenly much warmer. Other known star types are blue giants, supergiants, brown dwarfs, neutron stars and pulsars. As a general law, the bluer a star is, the warmer it is and reciprocally the redder, the cooler it is.

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Now if you start to worry, don’t, our sun is still young and has a lot of fuel left to burn before turning into a red giant. It’s estimated to be merely 4.5 billion years old, yes that’s still young, I promise you. The Sun is a very stable star that is expected to remain this way for the next 5 billion years. At that point, you and I will be long gone. We won’t have the chance, or should I say the misfortune, to see Earth’s annihilation when it’s going to morph into its next phase. We can hope that, by the time we come to this, we as humans will have succeeded in finding new areas to conquer in our galaxy or maybe even the universe.

Let’s now stop lingering on Earth’s gloomy prospect and let’s simply enjoy the Sun’s presence while it lasts. As I mentioned earlier, thanks to sunlight we can prosper. Not only we as humans but we as all living things. The most obvious example of its benefit on Earth is photosynthesis. Animals may use carbon as the primary source of energy, but plants have developed a strategy to extract their energy from sunlight. Through a cellular apparatus called chloroplast, they can absorb light and transform it into energy. On one of its inner membranes, the thylakoid membrane, are located the chlorophyll pigments which are the ones responsible for absorbing light frequency corresponding mostly to blue and red. Green light is reflected causing the typical green colour we see in plants. When in contact with the pigments, the light energy from the sunlight excites electrons from within and sparks a chain reaction that produces energy in the form of ATP and NADPH. The electrons then need to be replenished and this is done through electrolysis of water, meaning that hydrogen and oxygen are split apart. Hydrogen ions are then used as electrons. This last bit is the part responsible for the plant’s oxygen emission.

Although we also know that the plants are famous for absorbing lots of carbon dioxide (CO2). This occurs mostly at night, in the absence of light. Outside of the chloroplast, CO2, with the use of ATP and NADPH, is transformed into sugar chains. Afterward, the sugar chains are transported to the mitochondria, which is the powerhouse of any cells. The process at this point is very similar to what we can observe in our cells. The mitochondria change the sugar to meet the metabolic demand of its host, or it’s stored away. For plants, the storage of sugar is in the form of glucose or starch. In sum, plants through photosynthesis are essential to our survival by providing the required oxygen we so dearly need.

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Sunlight does not only benefit us through plants or the heat it produces, it does also through intricate maintenance of the balance in gas compositions. Sunlight is one of the principal sources of energy that triggers naturally occurring chemical reactions. All these chemical reactions happen at a specific rate that allowed formation then but now maintains our atmosphere. If there were too much solar energy, water would sublimate and the atom of its molecule would split apart forming hydrogen and oxygen. Oxygen would eventually burn away and hydrogen would explode. With too little solar energy, there would not be enough water evaporation causing an eventual depletion of oxygen in the air.

Furthermore, the plants and the atmosphere are not the only ones to benefit directly, we do too. Though, we might only come to realize this when it makes itself scarce. Some northern regions may experience extremely long winters where they can go months without seeing the Sun. This can lead people to experience some discomfort. Yet, even places that don’t see such drastic changes in sunlight exposure during winter might feel this way. This mere reduction seems sufficient to induce troubles. The discomforts can sometimes be so severe that they cause the person to be completely unproductive. This reaction is commonly caused by a seasonal affective disorder, which is regularly referred to as winter blues. Turns out that the lack of sunlight exposure leads to dysregulation of our circadian rhythm and a lower release of serotonin and/or melatonin. These changes make us more likely to develop sleeping issues, eating issues, depression and fatigue. The solutions to avoid this are easy; either you spend more time outside boosting sunlight exposure or you buy a luminotherapy lamp. Usually, these changes only are sufficient to resolve the situation, and thus there is no need for medication.

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Personally speaking, the Sun is what I would consider the closest thing to a god. This belief is motivated by the fact that the Sun first created us; now it keeps us safe and provides for us, but later it could also very much destroy us all in the snap of a finger. It’s powerful and always there, even if we can’t always see it. But every star in the night sky is as great and powerful as our sun, even though they appear from our perspective to not be any larger than the tip of a needle. So the next time you get the pleasure to stargaze, remember to enjoy the show that they are offering you and admire their inherent beauty and forces.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.