All Cells Must Serve, and All Cells Must Die, to twist words immortalized in a popular cable series. With the cells in your body, though, it isn’t a matter of fiction.
For most of our cells, life consists of being ‘born’ through cell division and then growing, learning how to function efficiently, dividing when the time is right, and working hard to serve your life’s needs. Towards the end of a cell’s usefulness, it cleans itself internally, organizing all its good working parts into one pile and its junk into another. Then it performs one last — and very precise — cell division.
The new cell inherits all the good stuff plus that cell’s genetic memories and skillsets. The old cell’s junk is separated away and then prepared for digestion and disposal by your immune system.
How Long Do Cells Live?
Have you ever heard someone say that you get a new body, through cell replacement, every seven years? Real cells don’t actually have a set schedule for life and death. They live according to the needs and functions of their specific location within you, whether it’s movement, nerve transmission, energy production, protection, or whatever.
The cells lining your digestive tract digest food, absorb nutrients, study everything you eat, and neutralize immune threats, and they usually last a few days. Nerves, bones, and brain cells have very different tasks, like giving your body structure or enabling you to learn new things and respond in new ways, and they need to live longer in order to carry out these missions. And a skin cell should live just long enough to protect you from ultraviolet light, injury, heat, cold, wet, dry, and chemical exposures before it gives up the ghost — though in most cases it stays with you afterwards, guarding you in smooth layers of dead cells until you slough them off naturally.
How Does a Cell Know When to Go?
A cell’s lifetime normally depends on its genetic programming, how efficiently it uses energy, how much damage it receives, how well it is protected, and how regularly it gets rid of its damaged cell parts through rejuvenation. For more about cell renewal, check out this previous posting on the topic. It’s important to realize that it takes energy and organization for a cell to be able to renew itself.
If you keep a healthy diet and an active lifestyle, your aged or damaged cells are more likely to have the resources they need for planning a strong dynasty, writing their wills, and expiring with grace, leaving the next generation in good shape. This happens with that deliberate, final act of cell rejuvenation, when a cell separates its precious, totally up-to-date DNA from its garbage.
Unfortunately, though, rejuvenation isn’t always an available option for keeping cells at their best.
How Does a Cell Turn Into a “Zombie Cell”?
Certain circumstances in a cell’s life keep it from rejuvenating normally. Sedentary lifestyles, poor-quality diets, overeating, toxic exposures, chronic stress, and chronic poor health can upset a cell’s plans for renewal. Rejuvenation takes preparation and energy, and not every cell gets the chance to go through the process.
In stressful lifestyles that provide plenty of calories yet not enough physical activity or deep rest, cells may rarely—or even never—take the time off they need for renewal. In affected cells, accumulated junk collects in their DNA and their working parts, and cuts down on their ability to function. These cells do their best, but lose efficiency—and the function of their organs may be affected, as well. These cells can send out chemical distress signals to your immune system and contribute to discomfort and inflammation. Eventually, cells that can’t rejuvenate just plod along like zombies, unable to perform their normal function anymore.
For a deeper dive
According to the new science, these unrejuvenated “zombie cells” may contribute to chronic health conditions like cardiovascular disease, cancer, liver problems, and Alzheimer’s.
The main approaches to encouraging rejuvenation include:
- cultivating eating habits that promote rejuvenation
- staying physically (and sometimes vigorously) active
- eating foods that contain generous levels of rejuvenation-promoting nutrients, like dark berries and Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat
For more detail, here are links to other postings that list specific lifestyle suggestions.