Amino acid propensities at a site change in the course of protein evolution. This may happen for two reasons. Changes may be triggered by substitutions at epistatically interacting sites elsewhere in the genome. Alternatively, they may arise due to environmental changes that are external to the genome. Here, we design a framework for distinguishing between these alternatives. Using analytical modelling and simulations, we show that they cause opposite dynamics of the fitness of the allele currently occupying the site: it tends to increase with the time since its origin due to epistasis (“entrenchment”), but to decrease due to random environmental fluctuations (“senescence”). By analysing the genomes of vertebrates and insects, we show that the amino acids originating at negatively selected sites experience strong entrenchment. By contrast, the amino acids originating at positively selected sites experience senescence. We propose that senescence of the current allele is a cause of adaptive evolution.