Seduced by the Dark Side

You may recall that futurist Ray Kurzweil has produced a new book on healthy life extension, co-authored with Terry Grossman, a long-time supporter of cryonics research. As I said at the time:

I'm hoping that the authors place far more emphasis on what we must do to attain real anti-aging medicine than on the old school health optimization techniques - based on supplements, lifestyle, and diet - that are available today. These techniques can help to optimize your natural longevity, but - with the exception of calorie restriction - nothing is proven to extend maximum life span in humans. Far too much effort is spent on tinkering with the motor oil rather than developing capabilities relating to major engine repairs...

Unfortunately, it sounds like Ray Kurzweil has been seduced by the dark side. Picking up on two items mentioned in a recent article on the book:

Kurzweil, a well-regarded scientist who invented the flatbed scanner and a reading machine for the blind, claimed his pills appear to be helping: Biological tests conducted at a clinic in Denver found his body resembles that of a man in his early forties, he claimed, rather than his true age of 56.

The claim startled many in the audience because there is no medically accepted way to measure aging. Most biological markers simply measure health.

I have to say that I'm disappointed - at least the author of the article does point out the responsible science that stands some distance from Kurzweil on these matters.

I've spoken about biomarkers and the difficulties inherent in determining the effects of potential anti-aging therapies previously here at Fight Aging! - I suggest you go and take a look. It's important to understand that many claims made in the anti-aging marketplace simply cannot be substantiated. As I've said elsewhere:

This is why a focus on medical research and funding is vital to healthy life extension. We are simply not there yet. If a tenth of the effort spent on redefining anti-aging, selling junk, or trying to optimize natural longevity was spent on the medicine of the future - like regenerative medicine or nanomedicine - just imagine where we could be by now! The medicine (and lifestyle choices like calorie restriction) that we have access to in the here and now are largely ineffective in the grand scheme of what is possible. Science can do far, far better in the long run, but getting there is going to take work, activism and support.

But back to the Kurzweil article:

He and Grossman recommend simple starches and foods low in sugar and high in anti-inflammatory agents such as fish and nuts. They advise taking all sorts of substances such as phosphatidylcholine, a cell-membrane component that people tend to lose as they age, making their skin sag.

In an interview, Kurzweil said he and Grossman also have developed their own line of products and will launch a Web site to sell them, including shake mixes and other meal-replacement products .

Such dietary supplements tend to be controversial in the medical community. David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said the only regimen that has shown real potential to slow aging to date is drastically reducing calorie intake.

I have to throw up my hands at this point. The world has more than enough people who are taking the Life Extension Foundation, A4M and similar paths. We don't need more sellers of vitamin shakes. I think that history demonstrates that when dedicated advocates for healthy life extension research start to focus on old school technologies, their fervor and original message becomes diluted and lost. They change into simple health advocates focused far more on selling largely ineffective present day technologies than supporting medical research goals for the future.

What we need are futurists like the Kurzweil who supports the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research, the future of personalized genetic medicine and redesigning the human body for longer, healthier lives. We can do far better than vitamin shakes - but if we never convince people to look beyond pills, then the research necessary to win the fight against aging may never happen.


I love Kurzweil; it's sad to see him publish this book.

One nit-pick: My understading is that scientists have not even shown that CR retards aging *in humans*. It works well in mice. ;)

Posted by: Kip Werking at October 7th, 2004 8:23 PM

I know firsthand that the founders of LEF, Saul Kent and Bill Falloon, have spend millions on both cryonics research and cutting edge anti-aging research. Although I too am skeptical that their vitamins help much, they are one of the largest, if not the largest, contributors to research that I think _will_ lead to significantly expanded lifespans.

Posted by: Chris Rasch at October 7th, 2004 8:54 PM

The "pills", as you call them, are a stop gap measure, nothing more. Those of us who take them (such as myself) are under no illusion that they are any kind of a "cure all". However, there is substantial evidence that some things (CoQ-10, melatonin, carnosine, and some anti-oxidants) do "square the curve" in mammals such as mice and. may in fact, work for humans. Real anti-aging therapies are probably 20-30 years away, but any thing that might help along the way is certainly useful.

Posted by: Kurt at October 10th, 2004 3:18 PM
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