General Health, Longevity, and Not A Pill (Part II)

Glenn Reynolds followed up today on some reader questions about his recent discussions of anti-aging research.

At any rate, some readers wanted to know what they could do to live longer now. Er, you mean like diet and exercise? Those really do help, you know. As I can attest from personal experience observing my friends (and, increasingly, my law students) by the time people get past the mid-thirties, those who exercise and eat sensibly -- and who don't smoke -- tend to look, and act, and feel, a lot younger than those whose habits are less healthful. Vanity alone would seem to be reason enough to adopt those healthy habits, but you're certainly likely to live longer, and to enjoy better health along the way, if you do.

This really is basically it. It's not rocket science. Today, despite amazing, continuing progress in laboratories around the world, there is no proven way to increase your maximum potential life span other than to practice calorie restriction - and it's possible that CR will only add a few years to that maximum life span. The anti-aging medicine of the future is simply not here yet.

There are, however, a great many things you can do to avoid reducing your actual life span below your maximum. There are many things you can do to improve your health thoughout your life. These are the obvious things: exercise, maintain a good relationship with your physician, take supplements, eat healthily, keep the weight off and have a responsible attitude towards planning for medical expenses. Don't smoke. Or shoot yourself. Or adopt any of the other myriad self-destructive, health-damaging behaviors we seem to like inflicting upon ourselves.

If we keep ourselves in shape, we can be healthy and active to benefit from the medical technology of decades to come - which will almost certainly provide real, meaningful anti-aging benefits and additional decades of healthy life. If we get off our collective behinds and support the funding and research process, that is. The future doesn't make itself, after all.

You can read more about this methodology for aiming to live a very long, healthy life at the Longevity Meme. It's something I've been saying for a while, but it's only common sense.

Which brings me to advances in anti-aging medicine, legitimate and otherwise. You may recall my attempts to divide the healthy life extension world into "old school" and "new school". It doesn't quite work as advertised, but it does provide a useful framework for examining new business ventures claiming to provide products that can extend your life - such as the very definitely old school Longevinex and resveratrol.

Glenn Reynolds comments:

If you want a pill instead, well, good luck. There's some research indicating that resveratrol, a substance found in red wine and a variety of foods, can retard aging significantly. And you can buy pills containing it, but they get a pretty negative review in terms of effectiveness. Apparently resveratrol does better in wine than it does in capsules. Of course, if you don't have an alcohol problem, or other health issues that get in the way, moderate red-wine consumption will probably help, but it's no panacea.

Some people think that alpha-lipoic acid looks promising, but the jury's still out on that one, too. And neither of these substances will deliver miracles even if they live up to their boosters' fondest hopes. At most, they offer a modest delay in aging; nothing to sneeze at, but nothing huge, either.

For that sort of thing, we need science, and time.

The reputable supplement outlets sell products that are backed by some form of study and scientific theory. The Life Extension Foundation, for example, spends a great deal on getting the information across and validating claims. But the meaningful anti-aging medicine of the next few decades won't be found in a pill:

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that when radical life extension technology - medicine that can add decades to our healthy life spans - is developed, it won't be in the form of a pill.

Sure, there are plenty of people working on drugs that might have quite significant effects on life span and health - but the majority of this work is simply not going to result in products that make as big a difference as we'd all like. Barring bad luck or bad genes, people can make it to a healthy 80 or 100 years through calorie restriction and a good lifestyle. It seems unlikely that any drug I'm aware of in the pipeline at the moment will do much better than that.

In any case, most of these near future products would have to be injected to have the desired effect. The human digestive system is very good at breaking down complex compounds - especially those relating to human biochemistry - before they get anywhere near the bloodstream.

The more complex therapies of the future are the sort of things you undergo in a hospital setting. Stem cell transplants, gene therapies, organ regrowth, cancer scans - these are some the technologies that will - we hope - soon extend the healthy human life span. One day, with the aid of advanced nanotechnology, we will no doubt be able to stuff these procedures into a pill if we so desired - but that day is a long way off. Those people chasing longevity pills and exotic life-extending drugs in the here and now are just barking up the wrong tree and putting their dollars into the wrong field of research in my opinion.

So, people - look to the future. Be ambitious! Of course you have to take care your health today - and supplements are an important part of that - but don't spend excessive time and money chasing the products that will only add a few years to your maximum life span. Instead, support the research that will bring you extra healthy decades ... and eventually centuries.

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