Searching for the Cure to Life
(October 31, 2017)
Curing aging -- or at least extending the human lifespan considerably beyond its approximate upper limit of 120 years -- is currently the pet project of your basic Silicon Valley quadrillionaire. As well it might be. If you were healthy, had a yearly income larger than the economy of many small nations, and knew that the entire modelling contingent of Cosmopolitan would show up for any party that you might care to throw, well, would YOU give that up without a fight?
Thanks to a few hundred million dollars of these boys’ spare cash, then, we are seeing some tantalizing, although very early, results in the area of life extension. For example, pretty much anyone with a modern laboratory and a decent-sized grant these days can extend the lives of mice by 25% or more. And there’s a lady who has managed to genetically alter worms to live six times longer than normal, which explains why term limits have gotten to be such an issue.
But as fascinating as the future of life extension research may be, my own purpose is far more humble than that. Meaning, I think that a properly useful topic would just be -- things that could help you right this minute. So regretfully I will turn away from mice, fruit flies and American politicians, and ask a more practical question than “can aging be cured?” Namely, “What are the most effective known interventions that lengthen life?”
The best answer (and by “best” I mean the thing that is most likely to actually give you more years in your life, and life in your years, as a guy that no one ever heard of once said*) is this. In a nutshell, the things that lengthen life are the ones that decrease your chance of disease. Things like stopping smoking. And drinking only in painfully severe moderation, if you are drinking at all.
And there are also those rules which, if you follow them, decrease your chances of dying prematurely by about 80%. If you forgot what those are, you can find them in this incisive, brilliantly-written article:
If you do all that stuff, you will live longer and be healthier. That is as close to a guarantee as exists in the real world. True, there are supplements that will probably help you along the way. But, and this is important, there are no supplements that substitute for living in a healthy manner. NONE.
At this stage of the game, the only known interventions that will extend your life are the ones that will prevent you from getting sick. Dull, dull, dull. But don’t shoot me – I’m just the messenger.
Now, there ARE a couple of things that we haven’t nailed down yet that look kind of interesting. Here’s one. The single genuine intervention that is the ONLY one that has worked so far in mammals (not evaluated in people yet), is calorie restriction. Now, there aren’t a whole heckuva lot of people out there trying this right now. But should you care to, you'll need to drop your daily calories by as much as half. Eeek!
Most of the life extension research is focusing on drug development. This is partly because Silicon Valley quadrillionaires didn’t get to be that way because they were short on business savvy. Think about what kind of money you could make on something that could predictably extend someone's healthy lifespan by even a few years. Then compare that to the idea of getting the same result by limiting your calories to 50-75% of what would normally be required, and the attraction of the pill is unmistakable.
It happens that there are about 20 drugs currently under investigation, most of which are experimental (so you can’t get at them). But one of them which you can, and because it is GENERIC is in some danger of being under-investigated, is metformin.
You’ve probably heard of metformin. It is used to “treat” the non-existent disease of “pre-diabetes”. (More about THAT next time.) Why? Well, like seeing nails everywhere when your only tool is a hammer, when the only tools you have are drugs and surgery you use them to treat every condition that comes along. In fact, you might even make up conditions to use them on! So a condition of chronic highish blood sugar that doesn’t qualify as diabetes is now called “pre-diabetes” and many doctors who can’t leave well enough alone will treat it with metformin.
But here is the thing about metformin. In rodents, metformin inhibits carcinogenesis and extends life. Ok so far. But in HUMANS (that is important because, with very few exceptions, rats are not human beings -- see the reference to worms above), it seems to do something very similar. Diabetics treated with metformin had up to 40% less incidence of cancer than those treated with insulin, for one thing, It definitely DOES extend life in the lesser creatures mentioned above, and it does so by affecting most of the agreed-upon cellular signs of aging.
So should you take metformin for its life extension possibilities? Nobody’s recommending that yet, least of all me. But stay tuned to that channel.
In summary, take proper care of yourself. Right at the moment, anything else is a distraction from that.
*Alfred Stieglitz, as plagiarized by Adlai Stevenson. Good for you, for reading footnotes!
--dr. diane holmes
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