How Science Is Trying To Help You Live Longer
January 15, 2016
Charles Lindbergh apparently tried to cheat death by devising ways to replace human organs with machines.
He obviously didn’t succeed, but one of his inventions did eventually become the first heart-lung bypass machine. You can’t really blame him for trying, attempting to increase human longevity is probably almost always worth the effort.
His story teaches that even if we fail to ourselves, there is still the possibility of succeeding meaningfully to countless others. It remains his ironic legacy that despite not saving himself he prolonged the lives of so many other people.
Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I always thought that by the time we got to the year 2015, or maybe 2020 at the latest, we would have had this aging/dying issue all figured out.
I thought for sure by now, everyone would be living to 200 years or longer, like in the Bible.
So, like, what gives scientists?
Why are you all wasting your time studying global warming or why the sky is blue? Can’t you all just get together this year at Nerdfest 2016, hyperlink your hard drives, and hammer this one out? It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out our most pressing problem is aging and death itself. The rest is merely rearranging lawn chairs on the Titanic.
Besides, then you could have all the time in the world to watch solar flares and shameless fruit flies getting busy.
But I guess we should give nerds a bit of a break, most humans born before us enjoyed much briefer lives us, and science has helped a lot with that.
By now you may have figured out that this article will not be extolling the virtues of wind sprints or trying to warm you up to the idea of All You Can Eat Kale Saturdays. This isn’t going to be some philosophical rant on why aging or time for that matter, exist in the first place. It is also not going to focus on the inevitable consequence of every human living until 200 years old. You will have to visit a more hoity toity blog than mine.
Today’s article will outline some OLD and NEW Longevity Hacks that will not require leafy greens or a new gym membership.
If all goes well, thanks to the hard work of many people in white coats spending much of their lives in small, odd smelling rooms, you and I may one day live much longer than our current trajectory.
If you find yourself already craving the subtle sizzle of a tanning bed or feel like impulsively jumping off a cliff dressed like a flying squirrel, you may wish to impulsively jump ahead to the advice in the end, entitled ‘Avoid Being Stupid’.
Try to remember that if life is a race,
don’t find ways to finish yours first.
Next stop: brief history lesson about human life expectancy.
Homo sapiens have been around for about 6-11 million years. We have come a long way as a species since the days of our prehistoric ancestors. For most of that time the lifespan of the average human has been pretty short.
Fred Flintstone and a majority of humans that have ever existed typically lived to 20 years or less. Yabba dabba dead so early?
Up until about 3000 years ago, the average human lifespan was between 20-30 years.
Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1789:
‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’.
He died a year later at the ripe old age of 84, much higher than the life expectancy of his time, which was 30-40.
Interestingly, many important historical figures lived well beyond the life expectancy of their historical time. Such examples include both Plato and Socrates, who lived around 400BC, both enjoying lives lasting 70 and 80 years respectively.
And almost 900 years earlier, Ramesses, the Egyptian Pharaoh, apparently lived until 91. I can only assume his slaves did not make out nearly as well.
Historically, aging has been considered a fairly intractable process, but we are learning that there may be ways to modulate it.
Prior to the 1800’s, you might have lived until 45.
An American born a century ago would be expected to live about 50 years.
With the advent of sanitation, cleaner water, better working and living conditions, improved understanding of diet and nutrition, as well as antibiotics and vaccinations (apologies to Jenny for sudden doses of paradigm crushing reality), the average age for the healthiest humans on the planet has slowly improved to where it sits now.
The oldest a human has ever lived is 122.
The life expectancy in Japan is 84 years (80 for men, 87 for women), which is the highest in the world overall. Men live longer in Iceland by a bit, with life expectancy reaching 81.2 years.
Regardless of gender, Sierra Leone has the overall lowest life expectancy in the world at 46 (45 for men, 46 for women) years of age.
There are many ways to immediately increase your own chances of living longer. Avoiding obviously dangerous things, eating better, exercising more, as well as some other stuff I won’t dwell on. The point of this article is to discuss some stuff that may help you live longer, without you so much as having to lift a finger.
So please, get comfortable and cross your lazy fingers for the future.
Cryotherapy- Living Longer Han Solo Style
Fewer images from Star Wars are more iconic than Han Solo becoming cryofrozen, at the hands (appendages) of Jabba the Hut.
Let’s face it, Mr. Solo made cryofreezing not only look sexy, but also like a bona fide alternative to actually dying.
It is highly unlikely, despite Disney now owning Lucasfilm, that Walt Disney will ever have the same success being unfrozen from his deep freeze slumber.
The missing slipper in this tale is the fact that Walt was cremated 2 days after his death, and never actually cryoembalmed in the first place. The rumor likely started when Bob Nelson, president of the Cryonics Society told the LA times that ‘Walt wanted to be frozen’. He later admitted that he himself had seen Walt’s ashes, described in this link and this one.
CRYONICS is the process where usually the body, although sometimes just the head, is preserved indefinitely by suspension in liquid nitrogen. The principle fantasy or hope for those interested in this method; one day the body or head can be resuscitated and brought back to life.
There are some cool animals on our planet that could actually increase their life through freezing. Some of these include the painted turtle and most frogs. There is even an earthly creature that can survive drought by turning itself into glass. The tardigrades that are capable of this feat can exist in this glassy state for up to decades before coming back to life.
Unfortunately for us humans, cryonics is not a viable option.
There have been some cases of people being ‘almost frozen’, such as the poor woman who while skiing, fell through a frozen river and became trapped under the ice for 40 minutes. She remained underwater, her core body temperature dropping to 13.7C .
On arrival at hospital she was not breathing, her blood circulation had stopped, and her pupils did not respond to light. She remained clinically dead for 3 hours until her body temperature returned closer to normal. She was successfully resuscitated, surprisingly with no ill effects.
Freezing an entire human prior to death, to preserve for centuries, would not work as well as you might think, due to the crystallizing effect creating new patterns in every already carefully constructed cell in your body. The act of freezing would likely disrupt the cell walls of essentially every cell, thus If you could be brought back, you would likely immediately turn into soup.
Be prepared to shell out about between $30,000 to $200,000 for Cryopreservation. It may cost you additional money for storage and there is no current method to bring you back, so try to get frozen with your fingers crossed, just in case.
A similar but less drastic concept, called Cryotherapy has demonstrated healing and protective powers of drastically cooling body tissues. Cryotherapy is not attempting to prolong human lifepans, but rather is becoming increasingly recognized as an evidence based way to heal injuries or illness. Emergency rooms use near freezing temperatures to preserve brain and heart function, as well as to extend the life of donated organs, tissues, and blood.
As an aside, if someone asked me if I wanted to bring back my great-great-great-great Grandfather, who was frozen at age 90, I would jump at the chance to meet him.
After a nice lunch and some catching up, I truly hope he finds a nice place to live far away from me, like the rest of my relatives.
Bottom Line- Do not try CRYONICS at home.
In 1935, a researcher named McCay described an association between Caloric Restriction (CR) and increased lifespan. Since that time, many studies have confirmed this odd sounding proposition, as Caloric Restriction (CR) does indeed appear to increase actual longevity using animal models.
CR entails reducing your daily caloric intake by anywhere from 10-50%, depending upon how often your daily intake includes the option of supersizing. Humans who engage in this lifestyle often limit their daily caloric intake to between 1200-1800 kcal/d, and some fast weekly.
The mechanism behind CR’s ability to prolong life may be related to reducing our metabolic rates. With lower rates of metabolism, the mitochondria are not working as hard, and they produce less overall Reactive Oxygen Species (also called ROS and thought to be toxic) such as Free Oxygen Radicals.
It is thought that less ROS in the body translates to less wear and tear on the cells, and thus an increase in lifespan. This, in a nutshell, is the Free Radical Theory of Aging (FRTA).
Caloric restriction, as a method of increasing human longevity, gained popularity due to studies that demonstrated this effect in smaller animals, like mice and rats. It works by tricking the organism’s physiology into thinking it is near starvation, triggering a host of preservative like mechanisms.
The data for CR increasing longevity points to smaller animals receiving the most benefit. Rodents in the lab subjected to life-long CR reliably demonstrated a 40% increase in maximum life span.
There is unfortunately, no statistically significant evidence when switching from mice to primates. There are clearly significant health benefits for monkeys and humans, associated with CR, not the least of which are prevention of Type 2 Diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
A follow up study in 2012 confirmed monkeys may live healthier with CR, but not necessarily longer. These ‘healthier’ consequences do have an appreciable indirect effect on extending life, similar to regular exercise. The net longevity may be perhaps 5-10 more years, which still won’t get you to close to 200.
Practitioners of CR can visually appear similar to Anorexia Nervosa. The focus of Caloric Restriction is to live as long as possible, maintaining caloric intake in a narrow range, regardless of how much they weigh. For Anorexia, there can be obsessional thoughts about caloric intake, along with depressive elements, body image distortion, and an indifference about being alive.
Bottom Line- There may be modest benefits of Caloric Restriction lasting anywhere from 1-10 years, but it will take incredible mind-stomach willpower. Metformin may safely mimic CR with additional benefits, as you will soon see below.
A Daily Glass Of Red Wine
The ‘French Paradox‘ refers to the observation that despite regularly eating fatty foods high in cholesterol, people in France often have less cardiovascular disease and improved longevity, compared to other countries with similar dietary preferences.
As early as 1939, the substance RESVERATROL was identified in red wine, as a possible explanation for this longevity énigme. Resveratrol, an antioxidant, is found in red wine, grape skins, peanuts and raspberries, and has been found to activate a group of ‘longevity’ genes called the SIRTUINS.
One of the strongest proponents for more resveratrol testing is Dr. David Sinclair, now a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. He and his colleagues discovered in 2003 that resveratrol could increase cell survival and slow aging by activating a specific Sirtuin gene known as SIRT1.
It appears resveratrol directly activates SIRT 1, thereby protecting the body from diseases by supercharging mitochondria, the cellular engine that produces energy. Normally, as we age, our mitochondria gradually run out of gas as we slowly pull over to the side of the road on life’s highway. It appears activating SIRT1 may keeps our motors running a lot longer.
Sinclair has produced many studies demonstrating its effects, starting with published evidence in 2003 of extended yeast cell lives. His company, SIRTRIS repeated similar findings in mice in 2006, prompting Sirtris to be sold to GlaxoSmithKline for 720m, in 2008.
To date, improved longevity using resveratrol has been demonstrated in mice, fish, bees, flies, yeast and nematodes, but the same robust effects have not been shown in humans. An update to the research from 2013 can be found here.
Sinclair believes (as well as benefits from his company) that activating the SIRT1 gene could push the human lifespan past 150 years, but acknowledges more research is needed.
Bottom Line- For now, there remain positive health benefits to your cardiovascular health if you drink 1-2 glasses (there was a hyphen between the 1 and 2, in case you didn’t catch it) of red wine daily. Resveratrol may one day get us to around 150 years.
Metformin is a medication that was originally developed to treat Type 2 Diabetes. It is in the class of medications referred to as the Oral Hypoglycemic Agents (OHA) which have been used safely in humans for the past 50 years to suppress glucose production in the liver, and sensitize cells to insulin. This has the overall effect of keeping blood sugar levels in healthy ranges.
Metformin also produces side effects of weight loss as well as reduced cholesterol levels, heart attacks and strokes. It has even been found to suppress cnacer (correct spelling, long story) tumor growth and enhance the activity of some chemotherapies.
Over time, researchers noticed that Type 2 Diabetics prescribed Metformin started living longer than those prescribed other OHAs, as well as those without Diabetes whatsoever. It appeared that something else was going on.
As we mentioned earlier, the Free Radical Theory of Aging implies that as mitochondria produce energy over time, they also generate different forms of oxygen that can be harmful to other cells in the body. These types of oxygen species are grouped under the heading Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and sometimes called Free Oxygen Radicals.
Part of the magic of Metformin, when used in Diabetes, lies in its ability to find the Goldilocks level of blood sugar, ensuring levels in the blood aren’t too high, or too low. It makes them just right.
Highly reactive oxygen species, (ROS, also called Free Oxygen Radicals) are harmful because they can damage proteins and DNA and disrupt normal cell functioning. Apparently, a small dose in the ‘Goldilocks’ range can actually do the cell good. Small amounts of harmful oxygen molecules released by Metformin has a positive long term effect on the cell. It seems the cells use these reactive oxygen species to their advantage before they can be damaged by them.
Metformin’s antiaging properties have been demonstrated in the certain species of worm (C. Elegans), as well strains of laboratory mice, increasing their lifespan by 38%. Interestingly Metformin seems to work better for mice than rats, and better for females than males.
The effect is so pronounced, many aging experts believe Metformin taken by people with or without Diabetes will prolong life ‘well beyond 120 years’.
Interestingly if you are taking antioxidants, as part of your healthy lifestyle regimen, you will not gain the benefits of Metformin, as its main action of anti-aging properties relies on the production of a small amount of Reactive oxygen species.
Researchers plan to conduct the first clinical trials of the project, dubbed Targeting Aging with Metformin (TAME), next year to see whether results obtained in animals can also be replicated in humans. Researchers are hopeful of a major breakthrough in the decades-long search for an anti-aging drug.
Bottom Line- Metformin has been used safely for the past 50 years and so far demonstrates good evidence in extending human life possibly up to decades.
Researchers in California have recently reported successfully tweaking the genes of the worm Caenorhabditis elegans to greatly amplify its lifespan. Using a drug called Rapamycin, they have suppressed the action of insulin and a nutrient signalling pathway with startling results.
Rapamycin is normally used to organ transplants and treat rare cancers. When researchers used it in the worm to create a single mutation in the TOR (Targets of Rapamycin) pathway, it increased the worm’s lifespan by 30%. When there was more than one mutation created, longevity increased synergistically by up to 5 fold, an equivalent of 400-500 human years.
It has been shown to extend the life of mice by 25%, the greatest achieved so far with a drug, and protect them against diseases of aging including cancer and neurodegeneration.
There is some controversy about rapamycin, as it may work best by preventing tumors, a common cause of death specifically in laboratory mice.
Bottom Line- Great drug if you like worms and mice!
Uncoupling Proteins (UCPs)
There is a reason that your Mother always tells you to eat leafy greens and blueberries. She loves you, and is trying to protect you by filling you up with substances called Antioxidants. Our cells are deathly afraid of a certain types of oxygen mentioned earlier, called the Reactive Oxygen Species (or free radicals), because these substances can cause ‘oxidative damage’ to most of the membranes lining the cells in our bodies.
The antioxidants in blueberries, other foods and skin products can ‘soak up’ some of these angry ROS molecules, but scientists may have found a better way.
Our genes can play a large role in how we naturally get rid of these ROS molecules, and some of us do it better than others.
Aging Research has often returned to the mitochondria for answers to the mysteries of human energy production, and aging information itself. Recently a group of 5 specific proteins within the mitochondria’s inner membrane, called Uncoupling Proteins or UCP’s, have gained significant attention for their possible role in aging.
Humans have a set of 5 genes which encode for Uncoupling Proteins, called the UCP’s. UCP genes modulate bioenergetics and the regulation of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) productivity. They are found in the inner mitochondrial membrane and are receiving increased attention as longevity enhancing genes.
The main mechanism of increasing longevity using UCP’s is likely due to the reduction of ROS species in the cell, thus delaying or preventing aging. Giving adult flies or mice more UCPs, such as in transgenic mice studies, does indeed increase their lifespan.
Gene knockout mice studies manipulating levels of UCP proteins have demonstrated changes in lifespans. Uncoupling Proteins likely slow down the process of aging by helping your body maintain appropriate levels of cellular energy expenditure and storage, as well as the ability to mount a healthy stress response.
While more is understood about UCP 1, it is believed that all the UCP’s provide protection from oxidative damage by preventing excess production of mitochondrial Reactive Oxygen species (ROS). It is widely accepted that damage by free radicals to the molecules with which they come into contact are the underlying cause of aging,
Scientists have isolated specific uncoupling genes that have been found to play an important role in the increased lifespan of the fruit fly. When examining these same genes occurring in the human population, one study followed 598 individuals between the ages of 65-100. Similar to animal models, those humans with UCP Genes 2, 3, and 4 were strongly correlated to live longer.
It is possible, using similar techniques to gene knockout studies, that one day a procedure is developed to inject your cells with more of the good UCP’s, similar to a Botox appointment.
The next hurdles to overcome using UCPs, will be replicating the findings in larger animals, and then determining the best way to recreate the ‘transgenic effect’ in a human being. It is possible that a vaccination approach, or perhaps co-opting a virus may do the trick.
Bottom line- There is more work to do, but it sounds pretty cool and intriguing.
Science fiction writers and technophiles have long imagined the possibility of consciousness somehow being downloaded into cyberspace. Movies, such as Tron or Transcendence have played on this theme of immortality in the virtual world.
One company, called Humai, is taking this idea very seriously. If you visit their website you will not only hear inspirational music making you feel like anything is possible, you will also get a chance to peruse their mission statement.
‘It is our eventual goal to transplant your brain into an elegantly designed biotic body called Humai. Your Humai will use a brain-computer interface to communicate with the sensory organs and limbs of your new biotic body’. HUMAI
Besides Humai, a fellow named Dmitry Itskov, a young Russian Millionare has founded New Media Stars, an online media company with similar end goals. His ‘2045 Initiative’ hopes to enable the transfer of one’s personality to an advanced non biological carrier, extending life to the point of ‘immortality’.
There are some interesting individuals exploring other boundaries, like Chris Dancy.
Bottom Line- It’s all just fun and games until your son finds out you have been sucked into the mainframe.
Worms and Telomeres
Sometimes nature is stranger than fiction, and the discovery of the Planarain worm in 2012 is a great example of this. This modest flatworm can divide itself potentially forever, and has healing abilities unlike any other organism we have encountered. Remember Beetlejuice?
While it is not yet fully understood, it appears the Planarian worm is able to not only change stem cells into specific types of cells to make up its body, but those stem cells seem to retain their ability to behave as stem cells, when by definition, their differentiation should lock them into a non dividing, and slowly aging physiologic pathway. Instead the flatworm’s stem cells become whatever they need to, but always retain the ability to divide and become a different type of cell, in the face of infection or trauma.
Studying these fascinating worms is continuing to shed new light on another aspect of aging that seems to definitely play a role in human aging, the TELOMERE. If you are looking for the biologic Cole’s notes on this one, the more telomeres you have at the ends of your chromosomes, the longer your chances of living.
If you are interested in this topic more, please see the work of the 3 Scientists who won the Nobel Prize in 2009 in this area.
Bottom Line- Very preliminary observations, no human trials anytime soon.
While the concept of cloning has been around since before Dolly the sheep was created, in 1996, we surprisingly don’t talk much about it these days. Kind of makes you wonder if perhaps you are a clone yourself and everybody around you is just waiting for the best time to bring it up.
It is currently possible to clone/grow just about any organ, such as your liver or kidney and replace the old parts (besides YOUR brain). Discrete cloning of individual body parts may be a fairly imminent innovation in the medical field, as the science, guided by 3-D printers, is really humming along.
Many experts feel that cloning body parts is much closer to our longevity horizon compared to using other techniques, like Nanotechnology.
Pretty soon, we will be cloning our favorite pets, and then we are only one pining mad scientist from Graceland away from someone cloning The King.
From there, rival companies will pounce, producing cloning powder for the average household, similar to those trendy Chia Pets and Sea Monkeys, from the 70’s.
And just maybe, the relatives that love you the most will decide one day to bring you back, in clone form. Sure it’s not technically you, but you can rest assured another version almost exactly like you one day can be doing the same stuff you enjoy, like wasting your time reading articles like this one.
So far cloning complete animals has not become commonplace due to high failure rates of gestation. While many clones are healthy and live normal lives, others can have mutations or other diseases. Learn more about cloning from this easy to read website.
One easy way to tell if you are currently a clone without even knowing it, would be to examine your feet to see if your big toe shorter than the one next to it. Only a clone would have freakish feet like that.
Please see Battlestar Galactica and Blade Runner for more details.
Bottom Line- Cloning may increase your longevity until the health of your brain fails.
Use The Space Time Continuum To Your Advantage
If this article had been written a year ago, this category probably would not have made it.
Sure, we all know that time slows down for the subject as velocity approaches the speed of light. Many of us also are aware that there is math supporting the immortality of light, in some sense, for when it travels time itself can stop, a feat no other phenomenon seems capable of.
But you and I are not light, so why should we care about the immortality of a sunbeam? The answer to that becomes readily apparent if you are following the adventures of Earth’s version of Flash Gordon, otherwise known as Elon Musk.
Obviously, with the recent accomplishment of SpaceX successfully LANDING a rocket back on Earth, it is only a matter of time when more humans will be entering space for many reasons.
Travelling close to light speed in general is helpful, as the faster you travel the slower time goes, until at the speed of light it stops completely. But at present that is still a pretty tall order for most of our most advanced propulsion systems.
If you feel like getting off the planet, and have longevity on your mind, I am sure there will soon be Black Hole tours taking you into fields of space time distortion that will easily age your Earth compadres faster than you.
This may sound far-fetched, but the math is pretty solid, actually.
A typical scenario may one day entail you leaving for a 10 year trip to the edge of a black hole and back, only to discover that while you were away for 10 years, 30 years had passed on Earth.
Bottom Line- Great way to avoid the Ex.
Things That Have Absolutely No Evidence (Yet)
Human Growth Hormone, Spirit Animals, Denial, Really Good Looks, Apple A Day, Perfect Kitchens, Lucid Dreaming, Swiss Bank Accounts, Acaiaiia Berries, Scientology, Loch Ness Monster Mating Froth, Believing In Reincarnation, Happiness, Voting For Trump, Atheism, Paleo Diet, Walking Under A Ladder Plus Or Minus Black Cat, Aggressive Testicles, Binge Watching Netflix, Unfinished Business, or Charisma.
Last Pro Tip: Avoid Being Stupid
You and I are both made out of human, we break easily, and things don’t really grow back very well. We know the current stuff we are doing, like sitting, deep frying mars bars, texting while drag racing, or getting into bar fights while intoxicated, are situations best avoided. If you need any added incentive, I invite you to peruse the Darwin Awards.
Bottom Line- Nuff said.
The Future of Longevity Research
There are many very smart, very rich, and very motivated people who are actively trying to figure out ways to prolong the human lifespan. Some I have already mentioned in this article.
the University of Glasgow’s GARNER program.
Human Longevity Inc, the brainchild of Craig Venter launched in 2014
and several other organizations worldwide, working on eking out a few more years for all of us.
At the present time there are about 20 drugs capable of increasing the longevity of mice in the lab, 6 of which appear in scientific journals.
At first glance the latter seems one of the most straightforward of the lot, especially if you could just drink it. But once you really think about it, given our current style of dividing up worldly wealth, this may be the most dangerous idea in this article.
Vampire movies would make a comeback as well, which for me is another drawback.
While there has not been one single panacea or skeleton key discovered thata elucidate side doors to escape time and aging, there is room to start feeling a bit more optimistic, as the problem is being broken down and studied in the unique and creative ways humans study problems.
I have always wondered if our species is perhaps alone in the entire universe in our ability for such unique diversity amongst members of the same species. And with those differences, our entirety may be a swiss army knife of ideology and execution, as we slowly carve our way through the cosmos around us, passing on knowledge from the handfuls we received ourselves, and adding what worth we may.
Let me finish my article with 2 quotes from Charles Lindbergh, to finish where we started.
‘I owned the world that hour as I rode over it. free of the earth, free of the mountains, free of the clouds, but how inseparably I was bound to them.’
And on living:
‘Decades spent in contact with science and its vehicles have directed my mind and senses to areas beyond their reach. I now see scientific accomplishments as a path, not an end; a path leading to and disappearing in mystery.’
Simon Trepel, MD
Simon Trepel, MD FRCPC, is a practicing Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, in Winnipeg, Canada. He is an Assistant Professor, at the University Of Manitoba, in the Faculty of Medicine, and the Co-founder of the GDAAY Clinic. He is, more importantly, the proud Father of 2 beautiful Daughters. He writes in his spare time about things he knows something about, and occasionally about things he doesn’t; like Yoga, and Italian flavored coffees. He would love to live until 200.
Check out his Blog, called Simon Says Psych Stuff, at