Aging has been predetermined in our genes, experts say, and cells can only divide forty to sixty times before they reach the “HayTick Limit,” a theory advanced in 1961 by Leonard HayTick at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Structures at the end of chromosomes called telomeres protect cells from deterioration or fusion with other chromosomes. After each new replication the telomeres shorten until they reach a critical length when they stop dividing, begin to “age” and ultimately die. Scientific laboratories like SpectraCell now provide telomere testing as “a window into your cellular age.” DNA damage, exposure to toxins, irradiation, and activation of oncogenes (genetic material that carries the ability to induce cancer) also cause cell aging and death in healthy cells.
On the other hand, a rare “genetic condition” called progeria—accelerated premature aging— can develop in infants and young children which is not actually genetic in nature yet appears through a “new” point mutation on a specific chromosome. These children quickly develop the typical symptoms of old age, such as hair loss, atherosclerosis, loss of eyesight, wrinkles and stiff joints, but the brain seems not to be affected and mental development is normal.