We are in the midst of a demographic revolution. Western societies, in particular, are characterised by the way their populations are ageing, and the increasingly important role played by old people.
In Spain, the various scenarios for HIGHLIGHTSProfile: José Luis Fernández Nuevo
demographic change between now and 2050 estimate a significant increase in the population group over the 65-year threshold. Life expectancy is projected to be close to a mean of 83 years, with Spanish women having the longest life-spans in Europe. At present, 11% of the world’s population is aged over 65, and one in every four over-65s is aged over 80. In Spain, elderly people account for just over 17% of the population (8 million people). The various demographic projections point towards an increase in this ageing of the population. The number of over-65s is set to more than double and one in four old people will be aged over eighty.
The data suggest that Spain will be one of the first countries in which ageing will influence a number of different aspects of society. The phenomenon has become a permanent focus of attention. This is not limited to its being looked at from a strictly demographic viewpoint, but also in terms of its direct impacts on the global economy and consequently on the redefinition of the role of the State and the emergence of new challenges for governance, politicians, scientists, and health-care, etc. This context has led to the phenomenon of ageing sometimes being portrayed in a somewhat apocalyptic light, where it is perceived as a threat to social welfare. However, rather than a problem it should be seen as one of society’s achievements and a result of scientific progress, although at the same time it undoubtedly raises some of the biggest scientific and socio-economic challenges our society faces. However, far from seeing it as a problem, we should be optimistic and regard it as a possible opportunity that we should exploit by getting ahead, one step at a time, of the problems that other countries will also face in the future.
The blog «Envejecer en positivo
» (positive ageing) arose as an FGCSCIC initiative to accompany one of its strategic lines (ageing, disability and illness), giving a positive image of the phenomenon of ageing and a meeting point for users of this kind of information, trying to give an overview, offering opportunities for the development of new societies, in which the potential of older people is utilised.
So, after a year and a half’s activity, this article looks at which topics and social or scientific issues out of the many the blog has dealt with in this time had the biggest impact or proved to be of greatest interest to readers. At the same time, some of the features of the geographical location of the interest in the various topics covered in the blog have been analysed.
In 2011 the «Envejecer en positivo
» blog’s total traffic was 21,128 visits, with approximately 235 of users making repeat visits to the blog. On average, each user read 2.38 posts on each visit (the blog’s posts were read 47,787 times in all).
As might be expected, given that the blog is written in Spanish, its readers were primarily from Spanish-speaking countries. The main countries from which readers were drawn were Spain, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. 1.5% of users were from the United States.
The average daily number of visitors to the blog was 58, with a number of audience peaks on certain days. On 1 July there were 439 visits and on 11 May 388. September 2011 was also a busy month in terms of peak numbers of visitors.
Blog users’ range of interests
Table 1 lists the most frequently visited news items in 2011. As the table shows, the strongest interest was in news items on substances promoting healthier ageing. This is followed by the interest shown in news on neurodegenerative diseases and aspects of metabolism and nutrition. Interest in social aspects comes lower down the scale.
A summary of the news items which the analysis referred to above showed there to be strongest interest is given below.
Experts on resveratrol
This issue was undoubtedly the blog’s most closely followed and commented on item, which is a sign of the growing interest in this kind of substance, which is theoretically capable of extending life span and promoting healthy ageing.
On this subject, the strongest interest was in the function and influence of resveratrol in cardiovascular diseases, longevity, cancer, obesity, etc.
This was the most frequently read news item on the blog, read by 38% of users, and generating 18,457 visits in 2011.
The information published in September 2010 reported that resveratrol is a phytoalexine synthesised in nature by certain fruits and plants under conditions of stress. Since it was first isolated in the mid-20th century, numerous scientific studies and papers have looked at the molecule and highlighted its antioxidant and anticancer properties, and its relationship to slowing the process of ageing, although trials with resveratrol also produced some contradictory findings.
Genetic influence on Parkinson’s disease
Information on Parkinson’s disease was the second most followed topic in the blog with almost 6.87% of users reading the news item, which accounted for 3,281 visits in 2011.
One of the most popular items published in February 2010 reported the influence of genetics on Parkinson’s disease. This mentioned a research project funded by the NEURON European Network to fund neuroscience research, which had led to a research paper being published in the journal The Lancet
, where the discovery of six genetic variants or loci had been discovered that increased the risk of developing the disease. This finding suggested that the key to the disease was in genetic rather than environmental factors, as had been previously thought. The study offers signs that common genetic variation plays a major part in the cause of Parkinson’s disease.
The researchers found that the 20% of patients with the largest number of risk variants at the 11 loci identified are 2.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than the 20% with the lowest number of genetic risk factors. Nevertheless, the news item highlighted that these data revealed new genes on which to focus future research, and considered their findings to represent a starting point for future research into the physiopathology of the disease.
In May of the same year, another piece of news on research into improving the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease was reported. An international team of researchers has developed biomarkers that enable certain antibodies to the alpha-synuclein protein to be detected using a blood test. This protein generates amyloids, which will facilitate early detection of the disease and allow treatments to be applied in the early stages when it responds better to intervention, i.e. in the period during which most neurons are damaged or die.
The importance of the thyroid gland
Information on thyroids was the third most popular topic on the blog, followed by almost 4.79% of users and generating 2,291 visits in 2011.
The most widely read news item on thyroids was published on 28 December 2010. This reported a possible relationship between calorie intake, metabolism, the thyroid gland and ageing. The hypothesis put forward was that calorie reduction reduces levels of the thyroid hormone T3.
Without overlooking the fact that an appropriate diet reduces the likelihood of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, another mechanism could be that calorie restriction also reduces levels of the tumour necrosis factor (TNF-α) of the inflammatory protein. The combination of low levels of T3 and TNF-α could slow ageing.
The researchers consider that the differences in concentration of thyroid hormones are correlated with species’ maximum life cycle and suggest that thyroid hormones may have an important role for in regulating longevity.
The next step will be to demonstrate that the reduction in T3 in humans by means of calorie restriction actually delays the ageing process. However, the experts point out that to do so longer-term studies will be needed.
Diet and longevity
Information on healthy foods and diet to promote healthy ageing was the fifth most popular topic on the blog, followed by almost 3.85% of users, accounting for 1,840 visits in 2011.
The blog reported on a study published in 2011 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association
, which is produced by the University of Maryland. The paper suggested that diets comprising healthy foods are associated with a correspondingly lower mortality rate when compared to diets rich in sugar and fats. They also analysed the relationship between patterns of diet and mortality rates, through a study of nutrition habits and biochemical markers from over 2,500 adults in the US aged between 70 and 79, over a period of 10 years.
The results of the study showed that elderly people who have followed diets relatively rich in vegetables, fruit, wholegrain cereals, low fat dairy products, poultry and including plenty of fish, have a better nutritional status, better quality of life and longer survival than those who do not.
Mitochondria as a strategy in the fight against cellular ageing
Information on mitochondria was the sixth most popular topic on the blog, followed by almost 3.57% of users, and accounting for 1,707 visits in 2011.
The most widely read news item on this topic mentioned a study by researchers at the University of Gothenburg, published in the journal Molecular Cell
, which identified a group of proteins in mitochondria that are involved in regulating cell ageing processes. This set of proteins is called MTC and they are necessary for the synthesis of various mitochondrial proteins, as well as having shown their influence on genome stability and the ability of cells to eliminate damaged proteins.
The study, conducted using laboratory animals, detected that when a particular MTC cell is missing from the cell due to a mutation in the corresponding gene, other proteins appear to take on a new function. This influences genome stabilisation and the fight against protein damage, which leads to increased longevity of these cells. These studies also showed that MTC protein deficiency uses the same signalling pathways as those activated by calorie restriction processes, which raises the question of whether they play a similar role in regulating ageing processes in humans.