Slow Aging: Are Healthy Proteins the Key to Longevity?

The unpleasant consequences of aging have inspired a host of research, much of which has looked into the mechanisms behind aging, though some has ventured into potential ways to physically slow aging as well.

Is it Really Possible to Slow Aging?

Aging is both an unfortunate and inevitable aspect of life.  While it’s a far cry from the most pleasant thing to think about, its repercussions are something that worry many of us at all too regular intervals.

Getting older means seeing declines in physical capacity, seeing changes in the way you look, and a growing inability to do the things you used to be able to do.

Learn More: Tools for Life-Long Wellness: Understanding Why and How You Age

Now, a bit of disclaimer: none of this research has found a way to actually stop the aging process.

Many researchers think that, no matter what you do, the human body is unlikely to make it beyond 125 years of age (which let’s face it, is still pretty amazing!).

On a positive note, research has shown there are certainly things you can do to increase your chances of actually seeing out all of your possible 125 years, while ensuring that you maintain health and function throughout the majority of your lifetime.

And the body’s proteins offer a key piece to that puzzle.

What are proteins and what do they do?

Proteins are most commonly considered for their role in promoting the growth and repair of muscle tissue.  But it is important to know that they are much more than that.

Proteins are extremely complex molecules that play a number of integral roles throughout the human body.  In their various forms, they are what allow all of our cells to function and survive on a daily basis. They provide structure and integrity to all of the body’s tissues and organs and regulate each of the body’s systems.

So in short: proteins are important!

If we go a little more in depth, protein molecules are made up of smaller units, known as amino acids.  There are twenty different types of amino acids, each appearing in abundance throughout the body.

Biochemists and cell biologist call amino acids “the building blocks of our cells.”  And for good reason.  These key compounds attach to one another to form long chains of amino acids that provide different services to the human body (AKA proteins).

The sequencing of these amino acids dictates shape, structure, and role of the protein within the human body.

What’s the role of protein in aging?

As proteins are ultimately responsible for maintaining the health and function of the entire human body, they offer one of the many mechanisms behind its degradation during aging.

See, proteins are responsible for the production of all new cells.  They coordinate DNA repair and cell growth, division, and death.

Now while this is all well and good if your proteins are healthy (and therefore functioning well), but it can also cause some issues if they are not.

If your proteins become damaged or unhealthy (and start functioning inefficiently), their ability to fill these key roles becomes inhibited.  This means that the quality of your cells decline, as does your body’s ability to maintain normal function.

One of these important functions is the body’s ability to produce new cells to a high standard.  The proteins that regulate cell production start letting more and more unhealthy cells into the body, which ultimately ends up limiting function, reducing health, and accelerating the aging process.

There are actually two key types of proteins that play the largest role in these processes.  This means that these two proteins play the largest role in regulating aging, as well.

 When they are healthy, they offer you with a key to slow aging.  When they are unhealthy, they may actually accelerate it.

The first of these key proteins is a protein-complex known as a proteasome and the second is the group of proteins responsible for carrying out an essential cellular process known as autophagy.

The Proteasome

The proteasome is a large, unique, and specialized complex of proteins that is found in every single one of your body’s cells.

Its primary role within the cell is to breakdown unhealthy and malfunctioning proteins, and convert them into something useful.  When a protein enters the proteasome, it is broken down into the single amino acids that it was comprised of.  The cell then uses these amino acids to produce other, healthier, proteins.

It’s really quite a nice circular process, and one that ultimately reduces the risk of early aging.

Unfortunately, like any other protein, proteasomes are also at risk of becoming damaged or unhealthy.

In this scenario, your cells’ ability to detect and break down unhealthy proteins becomes severely limited.  These unhealthy proteins end up staying in the cell, failing to perform their specific roles in rather spectacular fashions.

This severely impacts cellular function and is thought to be one of the key reasons we see age-related declines in mental and physical capacity.


Autophagy is a process that essentially replicates the role of the proteasome, albeit on a much larger scale.

You see, autophagy describes the process of breaking down and recycling malfunctioning and unhealthy cell structures, such as proteasomes and mitochondria (a key type of organelle).  Autophagy is the body’s ultimate safety net.  It provides quality control for those key cells and structures that manage the health of our smaller, yet essential, proteins.

To carry out this key process, small proteins known as ubiquitin drag the damaged structures to an autophagosome.

The autophagosome is a spherical ‘stomach’ that sits right in the middle of your cells.  It contains key enzymes that break down unhealth structures, ensuring that they do not remain in the cell wreaking havoc with the body’s systems.

Many would argue that ensuring optimal protein function, by streamlining the functions of proteasomes and autophagosomes, is the future of aging research.  This may, eventually, offer us a way to mitigate the negative effects associated with aging, or even slow aging itself.

Proper Protein Digestion

Now while it’s all well and good to suggest that these key proteins can theoretically slow aging and enhance function, it is easier said than done.  While research has established the importance of these essential structures, how we can enhance their effectiveness still remains unclear.

We would argue that the ensuring the health of all the body’s proteins would be a reasonable place to start.

And a key component of boosting the overall health of all the proteins in the body would be ensuring that your digestive health is up to scratch.  This is essential for allowing you to efficiently breakdown complex proteins from the food you eat and absorb their amino acids (which you can, in turn, use to create your healthy proteins, including your proteasomes and ubiquitin).

What is the role of protein in aging?

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Take Home Message

Aging is aspect of life that we all have to deal with – but that doesn’t mean that we have to accept it completely.  The evidence suggests that maintaining the healthy function of your body’s essential proteins may offer an excellent way to slow aging and stave off any age-related declines in function.  While how we can ensure their health and function still remains unclear, improving the health of your whole body is likely an excellent place to start.

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