Being Forever Young — Sci-Fi? or just Sci?

The science behind anti-aging

Previously in part one of this series on anti-aging, we saw that how awesome it would be to live in a world where age really is just a number. But how close are we to this sci-fi reality of living forever? Well, there still is no miracle pill to live forever (yet), but scientists have made some really great discoveries in the field of anti-aging. There is a lot of work in this area, especially as age is one of the prominent reasons for many of the chronic diseases affecting our world’s population today.

One of the first really cool discoveries in the search for the fountain of youth was in 1993, when scientists found that mutations in the DAF2 gene of C. elegans could DOUBLE their lifespan. WORMS can live twice as long! If worms can do it, why can’t we? (Although worms can regenerate, and I am pretty sure we haven’t achieved that yet…) It’s not just worms though; turns out scientists were able to replicate extended lifespans in fruit flies and mice via genetic mutations as well! The only difference in these species were that their lifespans were extended to 1.5 times as long rather than 2 times as long. Researchers have also found that genetic mutation combined with a restricted calorie diet could increase the lifespan extension from 1.5 to 1.7 times as long.

“But Rachel, most of us won’t have automatically have the needed genetic mutation, so are we just out of luck in the anti-aging field? Can’t we just take a pill to live longer?”

Well, the way CRISPR technology is improving, maybe genetic mutations will become the next spa treatment. Move aside Botox, pretty soon the Real Housewives are going to come in for their lifespan extension treatments. Okay so maybe not actually, but CRISPR technology does allow for successful gene editing, which has been used recently to treat a human patient! So there is potential in using CRISPR to edit our age genes.

However, if genetic mutations are not your thing, you’ll be glad to hear that scientists have looked into other therapies that can potentially counter the aging process. Metformin is one of those potential therapies, and it has been shown that mice can live 14% longer when taking metformin, due to its ability to improve metabolic fitness. It is also already clinically approved to treat Type 2 diabetes, suggesting that patient safety will not be an issue since plenty of people have already taken this drug without major side effects. Another potential anti-aging therapy is rapamycin, which has been shown to delay cancer formation and extend the lifespan of mice. However, because rapamycin can negatively affect both the immune and metabolic systems, its benefits may not translate into an effective human treatment. Studies also show that mice treated with aspirin, or similar anti-inflammatory treatments, have shown an 8–12% median lifespan extension. Inflammatory signaling is one of the prominent causes of aging, as many of the inflammatory cytokines activate cellular senescence, which means that cells are no longer able to divide. Of course, there is the issue of the high-risk of gastrointestinal irritation and bleeding if you continuously take aspirin…so…maybe not the best anti-aging drug.

While these potential drugs are promising, my personal favorite potential anti-aging therapy is resveratrol. Yes, the molecule found in both fruit and, more importantly, red wine. But that’s not all! Scientists have found that the beneficial effects of resveratrol are seen when combined with a high-fat diet, not just a regular diet*. Thanks science! It’s good to know that my favorite dinner of Mac and Cheese with red wine might actually let me live longer than your kale salad and quinoa dinner.

*What’s sad is that the other beneficial diet combination with resveratrol is to eat every other day. I’ll let you guys experiment with that combo because I’d rather stick to the high fat and resveratrol diet to extend my lifespan.

This is the second of a 3-article series. Part 1 of the series introduced the idea of anti-aging, while the third article will discuss the potential implications of living forever young — both the positive and negative implications.

References

  1. Can aging be ‘drugged’?
  2. A C. elegans mutant that lives twice as long as wild type
  3. A mutant drosophila insulin receptor homolog that extends life-span and impairs neuroendocrine function
  4. Longevity: Extending the lifespan of long-lived mice
  5. The man who wants to beat back aging
  6. World Report on Aging and Health
  7. The Cracked Podcast — Why you may live to be 150 and never feel older than 30
  8. Nature Medicine’s December issue focused on aging, with articles on the different genes that are associated with aging, clinical trials and potential products that target anti-aging efforts, as well as several opinion pieces on how true anti-aging products can affect healthcare policy, economics, and other issues that are not immediately apparent when considering the fountain of youth.
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