“Ageing is mathematically inevitable. There’s no way out.”

Ageing is a fact of life, but that hasn’t stopped people looking for the magical elixir to live forever. Unfortunately, University of Arizona researchers have now proven that it’s mathematically impossible to halt the effects time has on our multicellular bodies.

In a new study, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UA, Joanna Masel, and postdoctoral researcher Paul Nelson discovered that there’s a dual effect of cell decline and renewal that’s in balance for most of our lives.

As we age, two big changes happen on a cellular level:

  1. Your cells slow down and begin to lose function, like the pigment cells in your hair.
  2. Some cells crank up their growth rate.

The current thinking on preventing ageing comes down to eliminating the slow or poorly functioning cells to make more room for the active cells, but there’s a serious pitfall to this solution: the highly active cells can cause mutations and cancer.

“As you age, most of your cells are ratcheting down and losing function, and they stop growing, as well,” said Nelson. “But some of your cells are growing like crazy. What we show is that this forms a double bind — a catch-22. If you get rid of those poorly functioning, sluggish cells, then that allows cancer cells to proliferate, and if you get rid of, or slow down, those cancer cells, then that allows sluggish cells to accumulate.

“So you’re stuck between allowing these sluggish cells to accumulate or allowing cancer cells to proliferate, and if you do one you can’t do the other. You can’t do them both at the same time.”

The proof lies in the mathematics. Masel and Nelson developed an equation that all but proves ageing as an inconvertible truth, and a property of being multicellular.

“Aging is mathematically inevitable — like, seriously inevitable. There’s logically, theoretically, mathematically no way out,” Masel said.

But that doesn’t mean you should give up and give in to ageing. There are some factors, such as a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and stressing less, that have been shown to lengthen and improve your quality of life. It looks like ageing is just one of those things we have to deal with as a multicellular organism.