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You’re Only As Old As Your Prospective Age

Whenever I’m asked if I want a senior discount, which has happened curiously often in recent years, I can’t help but wince. I mean, why don’t they just shout out so everyone nearby can hear, “Hey there, fantastically withered husk, have we got a deal for you!” Don’t they have any respect?

OK, maybe I do qualify now and then, technically speaking, for one of those old discounts, some of which are offered to people as young as 50. Even so, the people offering them to me are making a mistake. It’s a common mistake, and it has long warped public views on aging as well as inspired many wrongheaded aging-related policies—such as giving withered-husk discounts to people who are nowhere near Florida-ready. (Sorry, Sunshine State, couldn’t resist.) Here’s the root of the error: A person’s chronological age doesn’t really tell how old he is.

If that seems counterintuitive, consider how readily we accept statements like “60 is the new 50.” This isn’t just feel-good hype. After all, this is the age of 90-plus-year-old marathon runners.
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Renewing Mitochondria With NAD Boosters

One of the things I love most about young kids is their tendency to skip instead of walking, to run instead of skipping, and to generally emanate uncontainable energy. It’s the life force at its strongest, and, like the aging process it has to do with mitochondria, our cells’ energy-generating units. The role of mitochondria in aging is complicated, but animal research suggests that mitochondrial malfunction is at the heart of many age-related ills. That’s one of the reasons that the red-wine ingredient resveratrol has gotten so much attention—by stimulating enzymes called sirtuins, it has promised to induce formation of fresh, new mitochondria.

Now a related way to fix up old mitochondria has taken the spotlight in geroscience: boosting cellular levels of an enzyme helper called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD, which assists sirtuins in doing their beneficial things. The basic science on NAD is exciting, and, as is often the case, the excitement has carried over into the dietary-supplement realm before convincing human data are available. Interestingly, a number of Nobel laureates are advising the companies hoping to cash in on the NAD fad—more big names are lending their luster to this story than any I’ve seen in the history of attempts to apply aging science.  I wrote up a brief look at what’s coming down for Scientific American.

Posted in aging, Mitochondria and aging, NAD, Pterostilbene | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Is Metformin An Anti-Aging Drug?

Diabetes brings on a whole slew of life-shortening diseases. But diabetics on metformin, the most widely prescribed drug for the disease, may actually live longer than people without diabetes, according to an intriguing U.K. study published in November.

The study wasn’t a clinical trial—it tracked mortality in metformin takers versus people without diabetes—and thus its findings are merely suggestive. Still, the results were remarkable: The “normal” controls in the study—people not taking metformin who were matched by gender, age and other factors with patients on the drug—had a median survival time 15% less than the diabetics did. Read More »

Posted in aging, Cancer and aging, Drugs and aging, Metformin, Rapamycin | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

The Skinny On Protein

How much protein should you eat?

The answer depends on how old you are: Many Americans over 65 don’t eat as much protein as they should to slow age-related muscle loss, while those under 65, especially men, frequently consume more than they should in the form of meat.

Evidence is growing that low protein consumption (especially of animal protein) in mid-life acts somewhat like calorie-restriction lite, lessening risk of cancer and other diseases of aging. In contrast, an important study reported last spring found that a high protein intake (getting 20% or more of daily calories from protein) in people aged 50-65 was associated with a 75% increase in overall mortality, and a 4-fold increase in cancer death risk compared with low-protein diets (10% or less of calories from protein). If the proteins were plant-derived, however, the added risks from eating lots of protein were nil or much reduced. Read More »

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The R Word Gets Legit

It seems borderline bizarre: The ‘R’ word, rejuvenation, has begun popping up in mainstream geroscience. Anti-aging interventions such as calorie restriction have long been thought to slow aging. That’s a big deal. But it’s a far cry from turning the clock back. Indeed, to me the R word has always brought to mind hucksters reeling in suckers—not serious science.

Yet a number of mouse studies have now shown that certain factors in the blood of young animals can restore youthful qualities to old animals’ heart muscle, skeletal muscle, liver tissue and neurons involved in forming memories. Please note: This isn’t the wholesale turning of old mice into young ones. Rather, the studies suggest that it may be possible to restore youthful powers of healing and growth in certain tissues of old animals.
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Posted in aging, Frailty, GDF11, Oxytocin, Rejuvenation | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

How Fast Are You Aging?

Scientists haven’t figured out a really good way to measure the rate of aging yet. But there’s progress, as I wrote in the New York Times this week. The growing evidence that “epigenetic” changes are correlated with chronological aging, and possibly can be used to get a handle on the rate of biological aging, is one of the most promising recent developments on this front. It’s especially important stuff, in my view, because we need good biomarkers of aging in order to assess the human anti-aging effects, if any, of drugs like rapamycin, which appear to slow aging in mice.

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Resveratrol Controversy Clarified

Longstanding questions about how the red-wine ingredient resveratrol works at the molecular level have been answered by Harvard’s David Sinclair and colleagues in a paper that just appeared in Science. The new research supports the idea that the compound directly activates an enzyme called SIRT1 to induce effects in cells that are similar to those caused by calorie restriction, which is known to slow aging in various species. You can read about my take on the new findings in this Scientific American blog.

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The Science of Wisdom

If you set out to learn a foreign language along with your kid, get ready for a provocative lesson about brain aging: At some point, you’re likely to find yourself falling ever farther behind, laboriously struggling to implant new words in your plainly decayed memory while your youngster absorbs them like animal crackers.

But the standard picture of one-way cognitive decline after about age 25 is way too simple, according to psychologists who study brain aging. In fact, their work suggests that cognitive development actually continues through middle age, and even beyond. The gist of this later development was nicely captured by the great Polish-American pianist Arthur Rubenstein, who continued to perform until he was pushing 90 (he died at 95): When asked at 80 how he managed to continue giving such good concerts, he explained that he relied on three strategems–he played fewer pieces, he practiced the pieces more often, and he used dramatically contrasting tempi to make it appear that he could play the piano faster than he actually could.
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Posted in aging, Cognitive aging, Happiness and Aging, Life Span, Psychology of aging, Wisdom of aging | Tagged , , | Comments closed

On Calorie Restriction, Monkeys, Magic and Medicine

Since 1935, scientists have known that putting rodents on very low calorie diets extends their lifespans. Scores of studies since then have shown that such calorie restriction (CR) can extend lifespan across species in a way suggesting it delays the onset of diseases of aging, extending healthspans (the proportion of life spent in good health) as well as lifespans. But, as detailed in my book, CR hasn’t extended lifespan in all species, nor has it worked in certain strains of rodents. In the latest study on the topic, it failed to extend lifespan in a long-term study in rhesus monkeys at the National Institute on Aging (NIA). The finding conflicts with results of another long-term CR study in rhesus monkeys at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center in Madison, which showed that CR significantly improved late-life health in the primates; the Wisconsin study also offered evidence, though it wasn’t conclusive, that CR can extend lifespan in monkeys.

What all this means is that CR is probably more like medicine than magic. That is, almost all medicines work well for some individuals while doing little or nothing for others. Fewer than half of people put on antidepressants respond to them. And I can testify from personal experience that my genotype is virtually immune to Tylenol’s pain-killing effect.
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Posted in aging, Calorie restriction, Diet and aging, Genetics of aging, Life Span, Monkeys and aging | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Rapamycin’s Anti-Aging Promise: Mirage or Not?

The first strong evidence that a drug could slow aging in mammals came out in 2009 when scientists reported that chronically feeding doses of rapamycin to mice significantly extended their average and maximum lifespans. Yet rapamycin, a drug used to help prevent rejection of transplanted organs, causes multiple side effects in people, including elevated triglycerides and cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease; moderate immune suppression, perhaps increasing infection risks; and low blood platelet levels, which raises the specter of dangerous bleeding. In recent years another especially surprising and troubling side effect has come to the fore: Chronically taking large doses of rapamycin induces “insulin insensitivity” in both rodents and humans, leading to rising blood sugar and potentially to type 2 diabetes.

How do we reconcile such adverse effects with the drug’s unprecedented ability to boost healthy aging and longevity, at least in mice?

Some telling insights on this burning issue were recently published in two reports on rapamycin’s effect on insulin and blood sugar: a mouse study that revealed a probable mechanism behind the effect and a theory paper suggesting that the purported diabetes risk has been overblown. Read More »

Posted in aging, Diet and aging, Life Span, Obesity and aging, Rapamycin, TOR and aging | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments closed
  • No subject has inspired more hype and wishful thinking through the ages than life extension. Not surprisingly, our inner skeptics tend to counsel extreme caution when the talk turns to anti-aging elixirs. For many of us after a certain age, the skepticism is reinforced each morning with that first grimacing glance in the bathroom mirror, showing once again that no matter how many vitamins we've popped, cups of ginkgo tea we've downed, or miles we've jogged, we are melting, melting—oh, what a world!

    But our mirrors are no longer sound counselors. Scientists have firmly established that the rate of aging is malleable, and now a well-founded quest for drugs that brake aging is rapidly unfolding. Peace, inner cynics: The compounds under study won't confer immortality. But they promise to usher in a new era of preventive medicine, one in which novel medicines arrive that can delay or avert just about everything that goes wrong with us as we age— dementia, cancer, osteoporosis, and, yes, jowls too—in the same way that medicines that lower blood pressure and cholesterol fend off heart disease today. That would change the practice of medicine, and our lives, more than any other biomedical advance on the horizon.


    "Improvements in technology, particularly the ability to sequence DNA quickly, have made the serious study of ageing possible. All this is carefully chronicled in "The Youth Pill" by David Stipp, a former medical writer for the Wall Street Journal and an able guide to this young science. His book draws readers down the blind alleys and experimental dead ends that are an inevitable part of scientific research, as well as explaining the advances that have been made and the hunches that led to them."
    --The Economist

    "An engaging account of the burgeoning field dubbed gerontology-the study of aging and of medicinal tools to block its unwanted effects"
    --Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA deputy commissioner, Wall Street Journal

    "The recent headway made in anti-ageing is exhilarating (and a little unsettling) in its implications. What Stipp shows is that the pursuit of endless youth is anything but a futile pipe dream; it is no longer a Wildean fantasy, but an imminent reality."
    --The Financial Times

    "From the title of the book, I expected hype about resveratrol or some other miracle pill; but instead it is a nuanced, levelheaded, entertaining, informative account of the history and current state of longevity research. It makes that research come alive by telling stories about the people involved, the failures and setbacks, and the agonizingly slow process of teasing out the truth with a series of experiments that often seem to contradict each other."
    --Dr. Harriet Hall, Science-Based Medicine

    "From the history of attitudes and philosophies on old age and various nostrums that have been pitched to the hard science of the cellular mechanisms of aging, genetic studies, and dietary variables and finally to what is becoming the big biotech business of life extension, Stipp covers the field admirably...This tour de force is recounted with insight, authority, and a somewhat breezy style reminiscent of the best of Natalie Angier's works."
    --Gregg Sapp, Evergreen State College, Library Journal

    "With wit, newsiness, and gingerly optimism Stipp leads the reader through laboratory assaults on the prime suspects of age-related decline: free radicals (and their nemeses, antioxidants); genes implicated in the aging process;  telomeres (snippets of DNA that keep chromosomes from unraveling prematurely during cell division); and many more...a lively survey."
    --Curt Suplee, AARP Magazine

    "Stipp does a great job of explaining the scientific research and why it’s important with humorous qualifiers like “mom-wowing gerontogene discovery.”
    --The Daily Beast

    "Stipp's experiences as a popular Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine writer have blessed him with a singular style, crafting complex explanations of scientific discoveries (and failures) into eminently enjoyable reading. Whether or not the notion of living energetically to the age of 150 appeals, Stipp makes the research compelling."
    --Donna Chavez, Booklist

    "...a well written and documented journey through all the theories, animal studies and human observations since the 1900's about the attempts to find the fountain of youth...Mr. Stipp delivers a detailed exploration of the complex quest for youth with humor and thoroughness. He entertains with details of intrigue and one-up-manship in the research world as well as everything you ever wanted to know about the naked mole-rat."
    --Suzan M. Streichenwein, M.D., FAPM, Medical Front-Page