Every time a new gray hairs appear or our back hurts, they remind us that our bodies are aging. One day, we will die.
But for a woman, that day may never come. Her name is Adaline Bowman and she is 107 years old. However, she doesn’t appear to be older than 29, the age when she died in a car accident and came back to life.
Adaline’s mysterious body, which never ages, anchors the sweeping sci-fi romance, Adaline’s era. But for Adaline, eternal youth is more of a curse than a blessing, forcing her to live a lonely and isolated life, until she falls in love with a charming young man.
This sci-fi concept may seem like a Hollywood fantasy, but is there any truth to the idea that you could just… stop aging?
reel science it’s a Reverse series that reveals the real (and fake) science behind your favorite movies and TV shows.
What does it mean to grow old?
Getting old is not as simple as you think. Matthew Yousefzadeh, a research assistant professor at the Niedernhofer Laboratory’s Institute for Biology of Aging and Metabolism, discusses the two ways we typically define age.
First, there is your chronological age, or how long you have been on planet Earth. Another way to think of chronological age is the number on your driver’s license. In Adaline’s case, her chronological age is 107, although since she uses forged IDs, her license always says 29, the age when her body stopped aging.
“Adaline Bowman will henceforth be immune to the ravages of time. She will not age another day,” says the film’s narrator.
Adaline has not stopped aging chronologically – technically still a hundred years old. However, he has stopped aging. biologically. Biological age is a second way experts in the field talk about aging. Your biological age is not necessarily an exact number, but rather a broader assessment of your body’s physiological functions, genetic activity, and increased risk of disease, all of which change as you age.
But not everyone ages at the same rate. Two people can have the same chronological age even though their bodies have aged differently. Genetics, lifestyle and environment all play a role in how each person ages.
“There’s a 50- or 60-year-old about to die, then there’s Brad Pitt, you know? So, you have the different ends of the spectrum,” says Yousefzadeh. (Brad Pitt is 58 years old, in case you were wondering.)
Another way to view aging is through the “lifespan” versus “health” framework. Life expectancy refers to how long a person lives, while Yousefzadeh describes life expectancy as “the disease-free survival period” in a person’s life. So someone may be 85 years old, but perhaps they contracted Alzheimer’s disease at age 70, which means that their period of health ended at that time. Some experts hope that we can extend longevity by focusing on reducing disease occurrence.
“There’s also a thought process that if we can extend life expectancy, maybe that will indeed have some effect on extending life expectancy as well,” says Yousefzadeh.
Can you really stop aging?
Weather Adaline’s era may offer an interesting scientific examination of the aging process, its central assumption, that the body can stop aging, is not true in the least.
“There is currently nothing that can ‘stop’ aging in an adult human,” says Morgan Levine, a founding principal investigator at the San Diego Institute of Science at Altos Labs. Reverse.
“Reverse” aging only occurs during conception when a sperm and egg from two adults unite to form a zygote.
“These cells go through a reversal of aging process and ‘reset’ to form an entirely new organism,” adds Levine.
Yousefzadeh agrees, stating that the film’s main premise is “not workable based on our current knowledge, adding “That’s Hollywood, that’s science fiction.”
The film tries to get around the fact that it is currently not possible to stop aging by devising a fictitious “Von Lehman Principle of Electron Compression in Deoxyribonucleic Acid”. This method will be discovered in the year 2035 and will go some way to explaining Adaline’s condition, but the film offers no further explanation beyond a description of the event that occurred at the time Adaline stopped aging.
Adaline, then 29 years old, is in a car accident. Her car falls into a body of water and her heart stops beating. But a bolt of lightning at the fortuitous moment causes her heart to ignite again and she emerges from it, alive, but suddenly trapped in a frozen state of aging.
While the details of this event are not plausible, the general idea that a major event can delay aging is somewhat realistic, “but not on the level of immortality,” Yousefzadeh explains.
Yousefzadeh discusses the biological process of hormesis, in which a mild amount of stress can help activate the body’s antioxidant response, which can help slow aging to some extent. The antioxidant response refers to the way the body responds to oxidative stress, a phenomenon in which the body is unable to detoxify certain tissues and cells.
“In experimental animals, mild dietary stress without malnutrition delays most age-related physiological changes and prolongs average and maximum lifespan,” write researchers in a 2010 study on hormesis.
But too much stress from a single event can also accelerate aging. In a study published earlier this year, researchers found that monkeys that suffered from natural disasters experienced a seven-year accelerated aging compared to their peers.
The future of aging research
Even if you take cosmetic products to reduce the appearance of age markers such as wrinkles, you will continue to age biologically. She may look eternally young like Blake Lively’s Adaline, but that doesn’t mean she Stop aging inside.
But if instead we ask if it is possible to “slow down” the rate of aging, then sure, that’s more likely according to the current scientific literature.
“There is evidence that certain behaviors like exercise can slow you down, but we all get older,” says Levine.
There is a growing field of scientific interest around the concept of “antiaging”, and it is a very broad field, ranging from “biohackers” looking for a miracle drug or gene therapy to reverse their own aging process, to scientific researchers seeking delay the onset of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
“The term anti-aging can be problematic, but the concept is actually a good one,” says Levine.
She adds: “When scientists refer to anti-aging, they mean finding ways to counter all the problematic molecular and cellular changes our bodies experience during our lifetimes.”
Most researchers like Levine aren’t looking for an elixir of life to make everyone eternally young, but instead hope to curb age-related disease and improve the quality of life for people of older chronological age. Considering the growing elderly population in countries like the US, it is a very relevant field of research.
“But, as in all fields, there are also snake oil salesmen on the prowl, so beware if something sounds too good to be true,” says Levine.
Yousefzadeh says a research project known as the TAME trial has produced evidence that the drug metformin, which is used by many diabetes patients, can be used as a therapy for aging. People who took metformin lived longer than those who didn’t. There are also studies in mice that show it’s possible to delay or reduce signs of aging, such as cognitive decline, but translating those animal trials to humans is tricky.
“However, showing efficacy in mice is often a first step in developing something that can actually save human lives, so there is hope,” says Levine.
These nuanced complexities of anti-aging research may not be easily explored in Hollywood, where youthful beauty is idealized on screen and older actresses have difficulty finding work due to age discrimination. However, as Adaline’s era suggests, aging may not be something we should strive to avoid, but rather fully embrace. The fact that we grow old and inevitably die is what makes life so precious.
As Adaline tells her daughter, if they can’t grow old together, then “love is just heartbreak.”
Adaline’s era It is now streaming on Netflix.