Although CulinaryLore is primarily concerned with food-related topics, once in a while I deviate a bit beyond food science, food history, or cooking and write articles on other things besides food-related topics. However, even most of these are tangentially related and could be said to fall under the umbrella of food science or to be connected to food history. For example, I write about patent medicine, which is very much related to the history of mass-market packaged food. And, I write about food-related disease and medicine claims. To name a few, for example:
Anti-aging is also related to food and eating since any discussion of the control of aging always mentions caloric restriction, which could be said to fall under a food science umbrella, as well as other domains. Whether or not or not caloric restriction is really a practical or even sensible way for humans to control the aging process is an open question, although there may be shortcuts such as taking pterostilbene, which is a relative of resveratrol, the famous “red wine chemical.” Both of these compounds activate the sirtuin pathway, but pterostilbene has stronger action in this regard. This is used together with NAD+ as an anti-aging therapy. I have been experimenting with a combination of TRU NIAGEN – Advanced NAD+ (Nicotinamide Riboside) and Jarrow Formulas Pterostilbene for a couple of months now.
If you have read many of these pages or even the articles I listed above, you know that I am a true skeptic and I can tell you that a placebo effect has yet to be invented that can penetrate my thick skull. While I cannot claim to look 10 years younger (yet haha), I have noticed some not unsubtle benefits to my energy level and especially my mental energy and focus. This effect, frankly, was quite astounding to me and it has not worn off. This does not mean that I am on top of the world every day or that I can now forego sleep, etc. but the supplements have become as habitual as my morning coffee. Amazing, since I can’t even remember to take my vitamin D, which was prescribed by a doctor (I am deficient, long story).
But enough about my pill popping. The question of the day is, can you look forward to a day, within your lifetime, when we will have ended aging altogether? Will humans someday be immortal, or quasi-immortal? Well, let’s start with this very interesting documentary called, appropriately, The End of Aging. Read on for commentary and expanded information. Caloric-restriction is discussed in the last section of the article.
We Are Already Living Longer Than Ever Before
No matter how much you hear about everyday dangers to our health, toxins in our food, evil drug companies, heavy metals in our water, you cannot ignore one simple fact: We aren’t dying younger, we’re living longer and longer. As Professor Rose Anne Kenny states in this video documentary, the number of older people tripled between 1950 and 2000 and it is expected to triple again over the next 40 years. A few decades from now, a full one-third of the world’s population will be over 60!
Keep in mind that when we talk about average lifespan, this doesn’t mean that some people do not live much longer or much shorter lives. If the average age of death is 50, then some people still do live to be 70 or 80. But, as lifespans increase, the number of 70 or 80-year olds who exist at any one-time increases.
Living to 100 Will Soon be Normal
Dr. Kenny goes on to state that half the baby girls born in Ireland [this year] will live to be over 100. What is true of Ireland is true of all developed nations, including her in the United States, and remember, it was not that long ago that a person could expect to live to around 38 or 40, on average, unless they were wealthy. People often wonder why we no longer venerate and respect older people. Simply put, they are no longer rare. It is no longer an unusual achievement to live to be 80 or older.
New developments in anti-aging are occurring rapidly, and some scientists no longer think the fabled fountain of youth is a fantasy, but that in the near-future, perhaps in our very lifetimes, we will be able to not only slow down but perhaps halt the aging process completely. We may, indeed, discover the Elixir of Eternal Youth.
Aging is Not Inevitable
It seems radical to think that human aging isn’t inevitable. Growing older seems to be an unavoidable fact of human existence. But, more and more, we are discovering that aging is a biological process that this process can indeed be controlled. It is already possible, for example, to create mice that live twice as long, but still look half their age. For humans, if possible, this kind of life-extension would be many, many years. Even without such advances, our advancing lifespans and growing population will have huge effects on the Earth and our society. We may consider a longer life a gift, but it is also a great burden on our planet. Are we prepared to deal with it? At this point, I think not.
People are not living longer only because of medical intervention. During the 1850’s in the United States and Europe, simply surviving childhood was an accomplishment. The infant mortality rate was very high and even when an infant survived, there was a good chance of death before the age of ten, something like 5 percent. People had large families primarily because so many children died. But a major first step toward extending lifespans was an improvement in living conditions. Our water became cleaner, our housing improved, and, yes, our food got better. All these things, today, have improved beyond measure. We are living longer largely because we live better. What’s more, our education has improved. We know more about how to live a healthy life and eat right. It is unlikely that many people reading this every gave a thought, during their childhood, to dying from a fever.
Even if the same rate of lifespan increase continues, which it is expected to do, then within three to four decades from now it will be normal to live to over 100. However, given advancements in aging research, it is likely that lifespans will increase at an even more rapid pace.
Can We Stop Aging?
All these things, however, are about longevity. Living longer. But, we still age. Living longer lives doesn’t necessarily mean our bodies do not age and change. Would you want to live to be one-hundred if you were unable to get around and felt horrible? Many of the things we can do right now extend our lifespan also helps us remain more functional, such as regular exercise. But, this is not the elixir of youth. For this, we turn to genetic research, which is providing new answers all the time.
The question is no longer the purview of science fiction: Is it possible to halt, or even reverse the aging process in humans? Will we someday achieve a kind of immortality? Well, we haven’t discovered the fountain of youth, yet. But, we also have not discovered a reason why it does not exist. There does not seem to be a theoretical reason why aging cannot be halted, or at least greatly slowed.
Programmed Cell Death and Senescence
We already know that cells do not have to die and that they can go on dividing for staggering periods of time. It seems, in fact, that they may be able to live forever. This is because of a so-called fault that allows their telomeres to stay at the same length. In normal cells, telomeres are like timers. They get shorter every time the cell divides. And once there is nothing left of the telomere, the cell dies. They are, basically, like a built-in self-destruct mechanism. Cancer cells, somehow, block this process. It was once thought they used an enzyme called telomerase to keep building their telomeres back up, but cancer cells seem to be able to divide indefinitely without this enzyme. The problem, of course, is that they divide out of control. Still, this tells us one thing: Cell death is not inevitable. Perhaps it is possible to stop programmed cell-death. As well, it may be possible to use these findings to prevent cancer cells from stopping their own aging process.
Cells can be seen as machines that, over time, break down and function less and less well. Our bodies, in fact, can be seen in this same way. This process of biological aging and the deterioration of function over time is known as senescence. We have already discovered organisms whose cells do not seem to display senescence, such as the hydra, mentioned below.
Immortal Organisms on Earth
But did you know that there are already organisms alive on Earth that seem to be more or less immortal? Every animal dies at different times. While a mouse lives to be about three, and a dog around fourteen or fifteen, we manage close to 70 or 80. Other animals are on par with us even without advanced medical care and some routinely outlive us by many years. Then there is the Galapagos Giant Tortoise which can live to be over one-hundred and even 150 years. Red Sea Urchins and Bowhead whales can reach 200 years of age, matching the Greenland shark, which has been known to reach 400 years of age. Then there is the deepwater hydra, mentioned in the video, which seems to be practically immortal. In truth, this may be overstated in the video. We really do not know if a hydra is immortal or how long they live. And, of course, biological immortality does not stop you from being eaten. If we can discover why this organism doesn’t show signs of aging, then we may be able to apply it to ourselves.
However, we may never see that elixir. As Dr. Aubrey DE Grey of the SENS Foundation explains, it will almost certainly not be one approach that prevents or halts aging but many medical interventions, such as stem cells implantation, genetic manipulation, organ replacement, and even vaccines and traditional pharmaceuticals. There are, of course, causes of death that don’t have to do with aging, so accomplishments in regards to these causes of death will have as much impact on lifespan as the control of the aging process.
Caloric Restriction – Eating Less to Live Longer?
The video makes a lot of dietary restriction. It has been shown that reducing the caloric intake in many species results in an increased lifespan. This has included worms, mice, yeast, etc. However, extrapolating these results to humans is difficult, and often exaggerated. If a mouse’s diet is severely decreased from time of birth, its lifespan may increase by 30%.
If this decrease is introduced half-way through life, an increase of 20% can still occur. But for a human to achieve even a five-year increase would require a caloric restriction for much of that person’s life. While periodically restricting caloric intake, or even fasting, may have certain health benefits, such temporary restrictions will not likely have a large effect on age of death. Making yourself miserable and restricting your food intake throughout your life on the off-chance that you get another couple of years of life is not something I would advocate, especially as you’ll never really know if you succeeded. This is something that many people need to understand. When someone lives longer, we don’t really know why. Genetics, remember, plays a role in individual lifespan. Some people live longer because it’s in their genes. Given, eating less is altogether healthier than eating more.
However, when an organism takes in fewer calories, genes are activated which shift the cells from a strategy of growth to one of preservation. In effect, cell’s aging is slowed down. Now, pharmaceutical companies are working on ways to trick cells into thinking calories are restricted, thus shifting them to this preservation mode and slowing their aging. This is just one more way that may be used, in the future, to control the aging process.