Age-related diseases (ARDs) are the leading cause of death worldwide, and contribute to 90% of mortality in developed countries. Interestingly, the mortality rates of individual ARDs increase exponentially with age. Processes described by the exponential growth function typically involve a branching chain reaction or, more generally, a positive feedback loop. Here I propose that each ARD is mediated by one or several positive feedback loops (vicious cycles). I then identify critical vicious cycles in five major ARDs: atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I also propose that the progression of ARDs can be halted by selectively interrupting the vicious cycles and suggest the most promising targets. An evolutionary perspective is also offered.
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