The health of your eyes may have a direct correlation to your lifespan, according to a new study.
A team from the US-based Buck Institute for Research on Aging has found a link between diet, circadian rhythms, eye health and lifespan.
Previous studies have shown in humans that there is an association between eye disorders and poor health.
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“Our study supports that this is more than a correlation: dysfunction in the eye may actually lead to problems in other tissues,” said lead author and professor at the Buck Institute, Pankaj Kapahi, PhD, whose lab has shown for years that fasting and calorie restriction can improve many bodily functions.
“We now show that not only does fasting improve eyesight, but the eye actually plays a role in influencing lifespan.”
During this new report, the study authors examined the link between eye health and lifespan in Drosophila – the common fruit fly.
Lead author Brian Hodge, PhD, said, “The discovery that the eye itself, at least in the fruit fly, can directly regulate lifespan came as a surprise to us.”
The explanation for this connection, Hodge said, lies in circadian “clocks,” the molecular machinery within every cell of every organism that has evolved to adapt to everyday stresses, such as changes in light and temperature. temperature caused by sunrise and sunset. Sun.
These 24-hour tremors – circadian rhythms – affect complex animal behaviors, such as predator-prey interactions and sleep/wake cycles, to fine-tune the temporal regulation of molecular functions of gene transcription and protein translation.
In 2016, Kapahi’s lab published a study in Cell Metabolism showing that fruit flies on a restricted diet exhibited significant changes in their circadian rhythms in addition to extending their lifespans.
“The fruit fly has such a short lifespan, which makes it a really nice model that allows us to filter out a lot of things at once,” says Hodge.
The researchers began their new study by examining which genes oscillate in a circadian pattern when flies are fed an unrestricted diet. They also compared these insects to another group consuming only 10% of the protein in the unrestricted diet.
The results show that several genes responded to changes in diet and also displayed “highs and lows” at different times of the day, much like the body’s internal clock. The team then discovered that the rhythmic genes most activated by the diets come from the eyes. Specifically, the dietary restrictions activated photoreceptors, specialized neurons in the retina that respond to changes in light.
This discovery led to a series of experiments designed to understand how eye function fits into the story of how dietary restriction can extend lifespan. For example, they set up experiments showing that keeping flies in constant darkness extended their lifespan. “It felt very strange to us,” Hodge said. “We thought flies needed light cues to be rhythmic or circadian.”
They then used bioinformatics to ask: do eye genes that are also rhythmic and sensitive to dietary restrictions influence lifespan? The answer was yes.
“We always think of the eye as something that serves us, to provide vision. We don’t think of it as something that needs to be protected to protect the whole organism,” said Kapahi, who is also associate assistant professor of urology at UCSF.
Since the eyes are exposed to the outside world, he explained, the immune defenses are extremely active there, which can lead to inflammation which, when present for long periods of time, can cause or aggravate various diseases. current chronicles. Additionally, light by itself can cause photoreceptor degeneration which can cause inflammation.
“Looking at computer and phone screens and being exposed to light pollution late into the night are very disruptive conditions for circadian clocks,” Kapahi said. “It messes up eye protection and could have consequences beyond vision, damaging the rest of the body and the brain.”
There is a lot to understand about the role the eye plays in the overall health and lifespan of an organism, including: how does the eye regulate lifespan and the same effect applies to other organizations?
The biggest question raised by this work, as it could apply to humans, is simply whether photoreceptors in mammals affect longevity? Probably not as much as in fruit flies, Hodge said, noting that the majority of a fruit fly’s energy is spent on the eye.
But since photoreceptors are just specialized neurons, he said, “the strongest link I would say is the role that circadian function plays in neurons in general, especially with dietary restrictions, and the how these can be harnessed to maintain neuronal function throughout aging”.
Once researchers understand how these processes work, they can start targeting the molecular clock to slow aging, Hodge said, adding that humans may be able to help maintain vision by activating clocks in our eyes. “It could be due to diet, medication, lifestyle changes… A lot of really interesting research is ahead of us,” he said.
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