How Far To Go With Health Optimization Using Old School Technologies?

I was intending to title this post "How Far Down the Rabbit Hole?" but decided that was unfair to many of those in the business of optimizing health and healthy life span through presently available technologies. I currently have my hands on a review copy of Fantasic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, the book by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman. You may recall that I am unhappy with the strong focus on old school ("Bridge One" in their terminology) technologies, medical knowledge, and health optimization via supplementation.

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.

That shouldn't stop you from stepping out to pick up a copy, however. If you are someone who found a book like Roy Walford's Beyond the 120-Year Diet useful, then you will probably get just as much out of Fantastic Voyage. In it's own way, it's a big step forward for the realm of lifestyle and health advocacy, explicitly taking on and discussing transhumanist ideas associated with extending the healthy human life span. The focus is, however, very much on Bridge One / the old school, with the expectation that staying healthy for another twenty years will bring you amazing further benefits due to new medical science.

My suspicion has always been that this approach takes future advances in medical technology - and the rate of advancement - too much for granted. I don't think it is a given that we will achieve the goals required for radical life extension soon enough to help those of us alive now. Advances in specific fields of medicine require widespread public support to drive the necessary large-scale funding, whether that funding is private or public. (From the other side of the coin, it's possible that folks like Ray Kurzweil think that I take the implementation of Bridge One/old school technologies for granted - but I look out at the world and see any number of people working hard on that problem, while all too few are looking to the future).

So how much time should you spend working on optimizing your own health - using what are, frankly, pretty crude tools in the grand scheme of what is possible - versus working to accelerate medical research and bring about healthy life extension more rapidly? This is very personal decision based on a number of factors, and I don't attempt to discuss it at great length at the Longevity Meme. To pick a few:

  • Money

    Do you have enough money to buy supplements and access to medical technology now with an unknown chance that they will work as advertised? Would you be better off saving most of that money for future healthy life extension procedures that may turn out to be pretty expensive?

  • Evaluation

    There is no reliable way (right now, in any case) to evaluate the effects of lifestyle and medical choices aimed at prolonging your healthy life span - short of waiting, that is. What do you consider reasonable evidence for a good chance of effectiveness? How effective per dollar expended does a treatment or lifestyle choice have to appear to be before you would adopt it?

  • Many people obtain great satisfaction from tinkering with supplement regiments and other old school technologies for health. It's much like working on a car - only you don't find out whether you're actually getting that last 10% of extra performance until it's too late to make a difference. I suspect that the lack of cut and dried answers makes it all the more appealing to a certain set of people.

    For my money, as I've said before, I suspect that we can't presently do much better than well thought-out calorie restriction, moderate exercise, a good relationship with your physician, and sensible, moderate supplementation - at a cost of at most a few hundred dollars a month, and probably much less, depending on your definition of "sensible, moderate supplementation." You can work a great deal harder and spend a lot more money, but what will you have to show for it? It's a big point to argue, and many people spend a lot of time and effort doing just that.

    I think we can do better. I say put all that extra effort into supporting medical research for longer, healthier lives. Future technologies to greatly extend your healthy life span won't come about any faster if you are spending your time and money tinkering ever-finer gains out of 20th century supplements and lifestyle options.

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