The healthy life extension community is discussed and referenced in many Fight Aging! posts. Understanding a new community can be a fairly slow process for newcomers, however - it certainly took me a few years to find my way around and come to some understanding as to how it all fits together. The following chart is intended to be a rough guide to the territory, showing alignments, overlaps, and groups surrounding the healthy life extension community.
Overlapping balloons in the visualization indicate areas of common interest and communities that share a sizeable number of members. It is interesting to note that, up until comparatively recently, parts of the community were very isolated from one another. The cryonics, calorie restriction, supplement advocates, and anti-aging research and advocacy communities have grown closer only since the advent of the Internet. This modern ease of communication opens up enormous opportunities for growth in the healthy life extension community, since everyone has wider access to the "feeder groups" (libertarians, transhumanists, extropians, dieters, health enthusiasts, and so forth) that are closely associated with parts of the wider community.
Where do new supporters and advocates of healthy life extension come from? Well, from the surrounding groups - such as health enthusiasts and dieters who discover calorie restriction; libertarians and transhumanists who are interested in cryonics and nanomedicine; advocates for established aging research or specific medical research; scientists involved in searching for cures.
Most importantly, the new avenues of communication and community allow many more people to easily learn about healthy life extension, as you are now. A list of the groups shown in the the diagram on this page, along with examples and references, follows:
Aging researchers and research groups examine the mechanisms and theories of aging. Understanding exactly how and why aging takes place will be essential to developing a cure.
Aging Research Advocates:
Aging research advocacy is a large and well funded non-profit sector, including dedicated organizations like the Alliance for Aging Research.
"Anti-Aging" Frauds, Fakes, and Adventurous Marketing:
As always, I draw a firm distinction between real, scientific anti-aging research and the sort of fraudulent nonsense that drives the billion dollar "anti-aging" industry. This populous group works a nefarious influence on newcomers to the community through misinformation, bad science, outrageous claims, and aggressive, adventurous marketing. A good rule of thumb is to refer to Quackwatch when in doubt about any medical information you find online.
Dieters, Diet Interest Groups, etc:
The world sees calorie restriction diets through the filter of weight loss plans, even though that really isn't what calorie restriction is about. The community of dieters is enormous and complex, but many members are finding their way to healthy life extension through the calorie restriction community.
The calorie restriction community is large, active, and has been getting a fair amount of mainstream press attention in 2003 and 2004. You can read our introduction or visit the CR Society website to find out more about these friendly folks.
Cryonics has great application to the medical industry, but there is little commerce between the cryobiology and cryonics communities. Many cryobiologists are very leery of being in any way associated with something that might damage their funding prospects (meaning anything that is in the least bit unusual or out of the mainstream). With the increasing public exposure - and now legislation - of cryonics in 2003 and 2004, we can hope that this rift will soon be healed.
The cryonics community (and industry) is one of the oldest and most established modern scientific life extension movements. Many people of note in the wider community have some ties to it, and cryonicists can take some credit for driving the modern interest in developing nanomedicine based on molecular nanotechnology. You can read more about cryonics here at Fight Aging!
Health Enthusiasts and Advocates:
It can be a short jump from health advocate to healthy life extension advocate. Professionals like Dr. Mercola discuss ways to extend (or rather, not reduce) natural longevity through lifestyle and diet choices.
Hormone therapies do not have the scientific credibility of other older healthy life extension technologies, and studies are very divided on their use and usefulness. There is a sizeable group of for-profit entities who stand behind the use of hormone therapies, however.
Why is libertarianism the only political philosophy noted here? The historical association between libertarianism, transhumanism, futurism and cryonics is a strong one and worth noting. You'll find an even distribution of political orientations throughout the healthy life extension community, but there are a lot of libertarian cryonics supporters, futurists and transhumanists. This is in part a function of the history and personalities of these movements, but it also comes with the territory.
Little serious research into enhancing healthy longevity takes place in comparison to aging research - which seeks only to understand the aging process, not change it. Aging research is itself underfunded in comparison to research into curing conditions like cancer. A good example of a modern longevity research effort is Aubrey de Grey's SENS project.
Longevity Science Advocacy:
Fight Aging! is, I like to think, a good example of this part of the community. I support a rapid advance in all fields of science likely to extend the healthy human life span. The SENS Foundation, Methuselah Foundation and Immortality Institute are other noteworthy longevity research advocacy groups.
Longevity Science Business Ventures:
The newer companies working on the science of calorie restriction, regenerative medicine, the biochemistry of aging, and similar high tech goals. These are startups, some very well funded, founded over the past decade.
Mainstream Doctors and General Practitioners:
Most doctors in general practice tend to be a few years behind the curve, so it's a good idea to make sure that your doctor understands healthy life extension. The Life Extension Foundation can help you with that.
Nanomedicine is still in the conceptual stages, although many new diagnostic tools are expected from the nanotechnology field within the next five years. Proponents of nanomedicine based on molecular nanotechnology explicitly aim at methods of greatly extending the healthy human life span. Robert Freitas' book "Nanomedicine" is a good starting point if you want to learn more, as is the full version of "Death is an Outrage."
Old Anti-Aging Business Ventures:
The Life Extension Foundation and A4M fall into this category. These businesses tend to be rooted in the supplement, hormone and older medical technology base, although some do fund modern research. The Life Extension Foundation founders are also deeply involved in the growth of the cryonics industry.
Patient Advocate Groups:
These groups support efforts to cure particular medical conditions, and many have thrown their weight behind fundamental regenerative medicine research as well. Good examples of the type are the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research and the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. Christopher Reeve was an outspoken advocate for stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, and his work continues to benefit the healthy life extension community.
Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering:
Efforts in this rapidly growing field are likely to lead to the first wave of real healthy life extension therapies: medical technologies that can repair some of the damage caused by aging and degenerative age-related conditions.
Related Advanced Medical Research:
No research happens in a vacuum, and amazing advances in any one field rest on breakthroughs in others. Progress in bioinformatics in particular is driving the speed of modern research into biochemical mechanisms of aging, disease, cancer and the natural workings of the body.
The intersection of sports medicine and healthy life extension is an interesting one, but it makes sense if you stop to think about it. Both aim at extending and improving natural capabilities. A4M is a good example of intersections in this part of the diagram.
Supporters, Buyers, Sellers and Advocates of Supplements, Vitamins, etc:
Modest supplementation is definitely a good thing. That said, there is no end to how far you can go in the quest to optimize your health, and no end to the businesses that will help you or the discussion groups devoted to the topic. It's very much like tinkering with your automobile: people put significant time and energy into improving their supplement intakes by a tiny amount. But will you ever really know if you're getting that last 10% of possible health and longevity? I think it is better to focus your efforts on helping regenerative medicine arrive more quickly.
Transhumanists and Other Futurists:
Transhumanism and futurists have long had a close association with healthy life extension. Aging and death are limits to be challenged and overcome, just as we humans have overcome many past limits with advancing technology. Ray Kurzweil and many of his contemporaries are strong supporters of efforts to extend the healthy human life span.