The mainstream position in the research community is that aging is caused by an accumulation of various forms of unrepaired cellular and tissue damage. This damage then spirals out to produce evolved responses that try to compensate for damage, malfunctions in biological systems that in turn cause further harm, and so on. A few initial fundamental forms of damage spread out into many varied changes and secondary types of damage. There is considerable debate over which of these forms of damage are more important than others, and how exactly they relate to specific age-related medical conditions, but the types of damage that cause aging are fairly settled. These various fundamental forms of damage were discovered over the past century, with the most recent verified in the late 1980s, and are as follows:
1) Some tissues steadily lose cells that are not replenished and thus progressively fail in their functions with advancing age, such as the heart and areas of the brain.
2) Mutations and other haphazard alterations to our nuclear DNA occur throughout life, raising the risk of suffering just the right combination of mutations somewhere in the body that creates a cancerous cell, one that replicates uncontrollably to form tumors.
3) Our mitochondrial DNA lies outside the cell nucleus and thus accumulates damage more readily than nuclear DNA. This impairs its critical functions and leads to the creation of a small but significant population of dysfunctional cells scattered throughout the body, which cause harmful disruption to tissues and processes.
4) Some of the proteins outside our cells, such as those vital to artery walls and skin elasticity, are created early in our life and never recycled or recycled very slowly. These long-lived proteins are susceptible to chemical reactions called cross-links that glue them together or otherwise degrade their effectiveness.
5) Senescent cells are those that have suffered damage or reached the evolved limits on cell division and shut down. They should be destroyed by the immune system or by their own self-destruction programs, but over the years they nonetheless accumulate where they are not wanted, such as in the joints. Senescent cells degrade the surrounding tissue integrity and also release harmful signals that raise the odds of nearby cells becoming senescent.
6) As we age, a small handful of different proteins misfold and accumulate outside cells in clumps and fibrils known as amyloid. These are associated with many age-related conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, but it is not yet fully understood how they cause harm.
7) A few forms of hardy waste product build up within long-lived cells, such as those of the nervous system, impairing cellular housekeeping functions and ultimately preventing a cell from doing its job or causing it to malfunction.