Ageing: definitions, mechanisms and the magnitude of the problem

Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2001 Dec;15(6):835-49. doi: 10.1053/bega.2001.0244.


All multi-cellular organisms undergo change with time. Conception heralds the onset of growth and development, leading to reproductive competence and propagation of the species. With time, organisms age, leading to death as a final end-point. Whilst our knowledge and definitions of growth and reproduction are firmly established, the concept of ageing remains less well understood. One of the reasons for the lack of a singular definition of ageing is that it can be considered in many different ways, according to social, behavioural, physiological, morphological, cellular and molecular changes. Research has led to a number of theories being proposed that may explain the ageing process. In this chapter, we will review some of these theories and address some of the following fundamental questions: What is ageing? How can ageing be measured? When does ageing begin? When is an organism defined as old?

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / genetics
  • Aging / immunology
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cellular Senescence / physiology*
  • Free Radicals / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation
  • Population Dynamics
  • Telomere / genetics


  • Free Radicals