The Achilles Heel Of Aging

Most people aren’t aware of the recent scientific breakthroughs in life extension technology, but here’s a good update:

In 2004 my lab teamed up with Dr. Rafael de Cabo at the National Institutes of Health to see if resveratrol could improve the health and extend the lifespan of mice. When middle-aged mice were fed a low-fat diet, resveratrol delayed diseases of aging but did not extend lifespan. When fed a high-fat diet, mice on resveratrol got chubby but stayed healthy — they were less susceptible to diseases we associate with obesity, like type II diabetes. And with a sufficient- win a Nobel Prize. ly high resveratrol dose, they burned enough fat to stay lean. What’s more, the resveratrol mice on the high-fat diet ran twice as far on a treadmill as their unmedicated counterparts, and their remaining lifespan after treatment began increasing by an average of 25 percent compared with the high-fat controls. Notably, in both the obese and the lean mice on resveratrol, there was the clear physiological signature of calorie restriction.

The trouble is, while resveratrol is found in many foods, it is present only in very low concentrations. Someone wanting to get a resveratrol dose equivalent to what we used in our mice studies would need to consume hundreds of bottles of red wine each day. Resveratrol has served its purpose, proving the possibility of inducing the physiology of dieting and exercise with a small molecule. Now pharmaceutical companies are working on synthetic molecules that are thousands of times as potent as resveratrol: The race to develop a drug that targets sirtuins is on, though the longterm effect of activating sirtuins in humans requires further research. If the mice studies are anything to go by, the side effects of these drugs could include protection from multiple illnesses, including heart disease, osteoporosis, cataracts, and Alzheimer’s.

Bring it on. I’m all in favor of this, which is one of the reasons that I’m not a conservative.

15 thoughts on “The Achilles Heel Of Aging”

  1. Add it to beer . . .

    Potentially cancer-fighting benefits may be the last thing consumers would associate with beer consumption, though ongoing research in the US is assessing the commercial possibilities for producing antioxidants in the product.

    Scientists at Rice University in Houston, Texas, say that they are currently working with a brewer to devise yeast that can produce the antioxidant resveratrol from amino acids formed in the product.

  2. That the physiological condition induced by resveratrol isn’t the natural state for mice and men strongly suggests a not so nice side effect, possibly under conditions not commonly found in modern life. But still an interesting development.

  3. Not clear on the connection between conservatism and life-extension research. Is there a significant branch of conservatism that is anti-health or anti-life extension?

    Apart from the arguments on the morality of any experimentation that kills innocent life (i.e. embryonic stell cell or cloning research), I’m not aware of any conservative objection to this research. Is there one?

  4. Yes, people like Leon Kass, and Eric Cohen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center are on record as opposing life extension, because they view it as unnatural (though I’m surely oversimplifying their argument).

    Cohen was by far the most skeptical about the benefits of lifespan extension. He worried that extending life would create a planetary nursing home filled with sick elderly people. Or, on the other hand, it could mean that people would be adolescents until age 40, exacerbating the social problems caused by youthful recklessness. Such manipulations may undermine the meaning of human life, Cohen worries. He insisted that “aging is inherent to being human,” and that “to be human is to be mortal.” Change these givens, and our very humanity is at risk. Just how, he did not make clear. Cohen argued that extending human lives would entail a loss of wisdom that come from the lessons we learn as we age, and may require trade-offs, e.g., a longer life might come at the expense of fertility.

    I don’t think they’re very good arguments, but there are arguments.

  5. Intermittent Fasting is a Calorie Restriction mimetic, except that you only get the benefits and not the downsides. You could start doing it today; but be forewarned – it’s much easier on a healthy high-fat diet than on one of those “one-way ticket to oxidative damage land” granola diets.

  6. The apparent hostility towards radical life extension itself, independent of use of embryos in research, is the single most irritating aspect that I find about conservatives. I can accept (even though I may disagree) and deal with conservatives on any other issue. However, opposition to radical life extension is just utterly unacceptable.

  7. I don’t think that opposition to life-extension is a particularly “conservative” viewpoint. After all, if people live longer then they’ll emit more carbon and do more damage to Holy Mother Gaia and turn the Earth into an over-populated, Soylent Green hellhole, which would make the anti-life-extension position a liberal one. Whereas if they live longer they’ll also have more opportunity to repent of their sins and/or grow their businesses and families, and help their communities, which would be a good conservative argument *for* life-extension.

    You get Luddites and idiots (some overlap there) all across the political spectrum.

  8. Even gods die. Life-extension wouldn’t grant immortality. Eventually the sun will eat the Earth, the Universe will wind down, and even if we escape to other Universes, Entropy always wins in the end.

    Being mortal doesn’t mean one has to have an expiration date. I’m afraid that the Good Doctor was misguided on this one.

  9. Yes, there is certainly a number of liberal-left people who are hostile to healthy life extension. In any case, opposition to using embryos in research is legitimate, even though I do not agree with it. However, opposition to healthy life extension in general, having nothing to do with the use of embryos, is not legitimate at all.

  10. I wonder if life extension would have the effect of slowing the pace of scientific and cultural change, and therefore be a profoundly conservative development. There’s a famous quote (which I unfortunately cannot track down at the moment) asserting that new scientific theories only truly take hold when the generation of scientists adhering to the previous consensus dies off. If they could live twice as long, and we did not discover a way for them to be twice as flexible in their thinking, outmoded theories would hold on for much longer.

    There’s a cultural/political example right now with gay marriage. It polls much better with younger voters than with their elders. The theory is that we don’t easily modify social/cultural views that we adopted in our youth, and when today’s seniors were young adults homosexuality was treated very differently. Without life extension we can imagine strong majorities in favor of gay marriage within a few decades; if those seniors could live another century the change would not come so quickly.

    Perhaps conservatives should be the ones pushing life extension the hardest.

  11. No one should ever want to feel feeble, be in constant or frequent pain (even if low level), have brittle bones, or experience senility. In short, no one should want to experience the plethora of unpleasantries that come with “growing old gracefully” (ain’t nothing graceful about needing to wear diapers again).

    No one who wakes up in the morning feeling healthy and happy and who has things they want to do, whether it be watching soap operas, playing an MMO, working on a new college degree, or even a tennis match and lunch with some friends should ever stop, reassess, and say to themselves, “Gosh, I’m really old, I think I’d better cancel everything and let myself die today.”

    These books and shows where people choose death over rejuvenation (and rhapsodize about “growing old gracefully”) are just the efforts of certain elements of our society to get the cattle to placidly accept a stockyard (and subsequent meat packing plant) that used to be thought unavoidable.

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