Senior Health

10/26/2021 | By Terri L. Jones

People age differently. All you have to do is look around at the people in your peer group to see the outward signs of these differences. But aging disparities are more than just skin deep. According to a 2020 study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, these differences are also showing up at a molecular level. Distinctions called ageotypes measure how you age.

What is an ageotype?

The Stanford University study, which was published in Nature Medicine, followed 43 healthy adults ranging in ages from 34 to 68 over the course of two years. The researchers assessed their blood and other biological samples at least five times during this period.

During this two-year period, the researchers discovered not only that some people age more quickly or more slowly than others but also that the aging process for each person often follows one of four specific pathways: kidney, liver, immune, and metabolic. They labeled these pathways or types of aging: “ageotypes.”

While there was one specific pathway for many study participants, some participants fit multiple ageotypes, with others aging in all four categories. This study was limited to four main aging pathways; however, there are probably other ageotypes as well.

Through their analysis, the researchers pinpointed four different “ageotypes,” or aging pathways. These were: metabolic (relating to the buildup and breakdown of substances in the body), immune (relating to immune responses), hepatic (relating to liver function), and nephrotic (relating to kidney function).

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How does your ageotype affect you?

People that are aging along the metabolic pathway may be at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes, whereas kidney agers may be predisposed to kidney disease. The same goes for the immune and liver ageotypes, who will be more prone to these illnesses. Essentially, your ageotype is a signpost for what is up ahead for you in terms of your health.

What can you do about it?

If ageotypes measure how you age, does that mean your age is somewhat pre-determined?

Your aging pathway may be laid out for you, but preliminary studies indicate that certain interventions such as lifestyle changes and medication may alter its direction or at least slow the process (more research is needed to determine the exact impact).

While changing your diet or starting an exercise regimen is difficult, perhaps if people knew their specific risks, speculates Professor Michael Snyder, senior author of the study, it might give them the incentive to make these adjustments and adhere to them more faithfully.

“The ageotype is more than a label,” said Snyder, “it can help individuals zero in on health-risk factors and find the areas in which they’re most likely to encounter problems down the line.”

He added: “Most importantly, our study shows that it’s possible to change the way you age for the better.”

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide. She also writes for many other local magazines and publications.

Terri L. Jones