We're always exploring better, loger living for loved ones, and us.
This article is a terrific overview of where we are and how we might approach longer healthy living by smart actions, rather than rash, impossible hopes and dreams and resulting possibly harmful experiments
Manipulating the biology of aging
'The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition)' – 2014-11-25
Researchers hope to slow the body clock to delay the onset of
diseases such as cancer, strokes, cardiovascular disease and
For thousands of years, people have sought to escape or outrun their
mortality with potions, pills and elixirs, often blended with heavy
doses of hope and will.
In the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian king searched for the
secret of immortality after the death of his best friend. At least
three Chinese emperors in the Tang dynasty died after consuming
treatments containing lead and mercury that they hoped would make them
immortal. In the late 19th century, a French-American physiologist
seemed to have found the elixir of life by injecting the elderly and
himself with extracts from animal testicles.
Despite this enduring quest, most scientists say we are no closer to
eternal life today than we were all those years ago. The word
“immortality” elicits a mixture of laughter and earnest explanations
about the difference between science and science fiction.
Conversations about longevity, however, are an entirely different
story. Researchers are optimistic about recent efforts to delay the
effects of aging and, perhaps, extend life spans.
But at the same time, the scientific community is wary of how quickly
these findings are packaged and resold by companies promising a
fountain of youth.
“It’s probably worse today than it’s ever been,” said Dr. S. Jay
Olshansky, a professor in the School of Public Health at the
University of Illinois at Chicago and a research associate at the
Center on Aging at the University of Chicago. “As soon as the
scientists publish any glimmer of hope, the hucksters jump in and
Understanding the process of aging and developing treatments that
might slow the rate at which people grow old could help doctors keep
patients healthy longer. We won’t be able to stop or reverse aging,
but researchers are interested in slowing its progress, such that one
year of clock time might not equal a year of biological time for the
body. That could delay the onset of cancer, strokes, cardiovascular
disease and dementia, which become more prevalent as people age.
“By targeting fundamental aging processes, we might be able to delay
the major age-related chronic diseases instead of picking them off one
at time,” said Dr. James Kirkland, a professor of aging research and
head of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo
Clinic. “For example, we don’t want to have a situation where we, say,
cure cancer and then people die six months later of Alzheimer’s
disease or a stroke. It would be better to delay all of these things
This is where the field known as the biology of aging is moving – to
develop drugs that will increase life span and what researchers refer
to as health span, the period of life when people are able to live
independently and free from disease.
Kirkland said that at least six drugs had been written up in
peer-reviewed journals and that he knew of about 20 others that appear
to affect lifespan or health span in mice. The goal is to see if those
benefits can be translated into humans to increase their longevity,
“to find interventions that we can use in people that might, say, make
a person who’s 90 feel like they’re 60 or a person who’s 70 feel like
they’re 40 or 50.”
Other researchers are studying centenarians, seeking to understand
whether certain genes have carried them past 100 years old and kept
them in good health.
“Everybody knows someone who’s 60 who looks like he’s 50, or someone
60 who looks 70,” said Dr. Nir Barzilai, the director of the Institute
for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New
York who is studying centenarians and their children. “Intuitively, we
understand that we age at different rates, so the question is, really:
‘What’s the biological or genetic difference between those who age
quickly and those who age slowly?’ ” Drugs that mimic the effect of
those genes might be beneficial to the rest of the population not born
Barzilai said that as a scientist his goal wasn’t to help people live
longer, but to live healthier, although he did occasionally get
e-mails from people interested in how his work might benefit their
quest to live forever. He doesn’t respond – he says he has nothing to
The global anti-aging industry was worth $195-billion (U.S.) in 2013
and was projected to grow to $275-billion by 2020, according to the
market research firm Global Industry Analysts. Products include beauty
creams, Botox, dietary supplements and prescription medications, not
all of which seek to reverse aging as much as minimize its visible
Olshansky points to resveratrol supplements and human growth hormones
as products that are marketed as having anti-aging benefits soon after
initial scientific studies suggest promising results. But resveratrol,
often made from the skin of red grapes, is still being studied and
commercially available products are premature, he said. Growth
hormones are a more severe risk, he said, because they can actually be
dangerous for those who take them.
Barzilai added that many of the centenarians he studied had naturally
lower levels or activity of growth hormones. “We think that’s
important for their survival,” he said.
Other dietary supplements promise to help consumers reverse the aging
clock. Such products aren’t required to prove their effectiveness or
safety with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before their sale,
although the FDA can take action against products that have misleading
labels or that claim to treat diseases.
Instead of spending money on aging “fixes,” Olshansky suggests that
people accept the bland prescription doctors have been offering for
decades: a healthy diet and exercise.
“You don’t need to spend money,” he said. “Maybe a good pair of
running or walking shoes would work. Exercise is roughly the only
equivalent of a fountain of youth that exists today, and it’s free to
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