HNG—a protein in our mitochondria, the 'powerhouse' of our cells—seems to decrease as we get older, and this could be the key to ageing and, eventually, our death, say researchers at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
Diminishing levels of HNG seems to be linked to the number of children we have. In other words, it's a trade-off between reproduction and longevity, and so people who have large numbers of children may not live as long. It could be an evolutionary hang-over, says Kelvin Yen, one of the researchers. "The goal of life is to reproduce and then you're done, but if you can't reproduce, you should try to hang around as long as possible, and a side effect of that is longevity."
Having said that, having high HNG levels could be genetic. The researchers found that children of centenarians had higher HNG levels than those whose parents died earlier.
HNG levels don't only determine our lifespan; low levels have been linked to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
Having identified HNG as such a key player in health and longevity, the next stage will be in developing supplements that can be used therapeutically and prophylactically, the researchers add.
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