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UPDATED: November 29, 2010 NO. 48 DECEMBER 2, 2010
Warding off Senility
Fighting against mental deterioration in ageing

ON SALE: Whey protein powder is now widely available in supermarkets in China (CFP)

It's commonly accepted by scientists that if the extension of life is possible, the secrets of senility must be uncovered.

How does senility occur and develop? How does it influence individuals? How can we interfere with it to keep healthy and to reduce occurrence of diseases? After years of research, Chinese scientists have now found answers to these questions.

From the aspects of gene, protein and cell, scientists have done research on the cause of senility, discovering new theories, methods and technologies for postponing senility as well as preventing and curing geriatric diseases.

"Uncovering the rules governing senility has become a hot research topic in international life science, and a greater deal of importance is being attached to it," said Chen Xiangmei, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, also the chief scientist of the research project in China. Her research on the molecular activity of cell and organ senility and evaluation of individual cases won this year's China Medical Science and Technology Award.

"The search made an exhaustive study on key issues such as 'why does senility occur' and 'how do we judge senility.' It has also provided creative results in cell senility research," said Qi Guoming, Vice President of the Chinese Medical Association.

Researchers took important bodily organs such as the heart, brain and kidneys as focal points in senility, which has been regarded by foreign scholars as significant in the senility mechanisms of mammals. With a large grouping of old people, Chinese society has entered an ageing society. This also offered valuable conditions for Chinese scientists' studies of senility: abundant genetic resources evidenced by 56 different ethnic groups; huge differences in life styles and living habits because of the wide expanse of land; and valuable experience gleaned from traditional Chinese medicine for anti-senility purposes. "Researchers have successfully established a technical platform and an evaluation system for studying nerve cell degenerative diseases, which have offered a new model for developing new medicines," said Chen.

The declining of body function is directly related to the occurrence of geriatric diseases. Most old people have more than one disease and require far more medical treatment than youth. Chen said the research on senility and the development of anti-senility medicines would help reduce the occurrence of geriatric diseases, which could save a huge amount in medical costs.

Better kidneys, longer life

From the scientists' point of view, the kidney has a close relationship to people's growth and senility. A traditional Chinese proverb goes, "if you want longevity, you should protect your kidney."

"Kidney diseases cause slow and continuous damage to the function of kidneys. After a long period of time, people's life quality will be reduced. It will also seriously influence people's longevity," Chen said at the 2010 National Kidney Disease Academic Meeting at the beginning of November.

"We have already established a database on the kidney gene related to senility, the first one in China," said Chen.

The metabolism of energy has a very close relationship with longevity and senility of organs. Chinese researchers are the first in the world to elaborate on the relationships between these two aspects and the related molecular activity mechanisms.

"They have provided a theoretical basis for increasing life expectancy and reducing geriatric diseases by appropriately restraining the uptake of heat quantity," said Chen.

Chinese researchers have discovered a unique stress response mechanism of the senile kidney, and brought about new methods for avoiding functional decline of ageing kidneys. Related theses have been published in relevant international academic journals.

Better diet, greater immunity

While more advanced technology promises human beings a longer life than ever, the best way to live longer, from experts' points of view, is choosing a balanced way of life, including daily diet, or more exactly, keeping a perfect diet structure. But doing this has become more and more difficult in a busy life. Without any doubt, eating is one of the most enjoyable things in life.

Experts say they think humans have lost key elements in health and longevity although they are consuming greater numbers of calories than ever before.

Protein is a very important element in people's health. Its lack causes hypogenesis, and declining of muscle strength and immunity. Recently, experts have highly recommended protein produced from whey, which is said to have very good function in guarding against senility and also providing greater immunity.

Whey protein is a soluble protein existing naturally in milk, and occupies 20 percent of the milk's total protein. In breast milk, the proportion is as high as 80 percent. Whey protein, also called "king of protein," consists of 18 types of aminophenol, of which eight are necessary for the human body.

"The structure of aminophenol in whey protein is almost the same as that in the human body, which makes it very easily accepted," said Chang Cuiqing, a professor of sports nutrition and biochemistry at the Third Hospital of Peking University. He said besides offering pure high-quality protein with a very low fat and carbohydrate content, whey protein has a very high percentage of branched chain amino acid, which produces muscle energy and fortifies the human immune system.

"Each 100 grams of milk consists of about 0.6 gram of whey protein, and milk is a good way of taking it for ordinary people," said Chang. "Old people, children, and chronic or postoperative patients have a higher requirement of whey protein. They can have an appropriate amount of concentrated whey protein powder according to doctors' instructions. But generally speaking, the amount old people and children take in should not be more than 10 grams a day. Too much will affect daily diet and the absorption of other types of nutrition."

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