The New Credible Science of Longevity versus the Old Anti-Aging Snake Oil

The "anti-aging" marketplace has long been a pit of fraud, lies, hopes, and dreams, and blatantly so. Whatever the supplement sellers and cosmetics companies that dominate that industry have to say about the capabilities of their products is essentially nonsense, and this play-acting is accepted by the public as just another part of the backdrop of everyday life. Scientific studies are cherry-picked, and outright lies are told. Whatever works and can pass muster to move products from shelves.

It used to be the case that we could draw a bright line between what worked what didn't work when it came to interventions targeting the mechanisms of aging. If someone was selling something, then it didn't work. That was a simpler era. Now that the first rejuvenation therapies exist, in the form of senolytic drugs, and numerous other approaches are under development, it becomes somewhat harder to pick apart the snake oil from the legitimate science. One actually has to look at the details, and become a knowledgeable consumer.

Ultimately, the therapies that work will largely drive out the therapies that do not work. At this point, however, it remains the case that all too many new entries into the longevity industry are following the old supplement sellers' playbook, in which marketing is much more important than effect size, and science only exists to provide a thin cloak of legitimacy.

Two Industries in One Field

Our field is divided into two groups of people. The first group consists of the snake oil salesmen peddling unproven supplements and therapies to whoever is foolish enough to buy and take things on faith without using the scientific method. The hucksters have long been a plague on our field, preying on the gullible and tainting legitimate science with their charlatanry and nonsense. One example is a "biotech company" evading the FDA by setting up shop in countries with few or no regulations. They make bold claims yet never deliver on those claims in practice, using poorly designed experiments and tiny cohorts that are statistically irrelevant.

Another example is the supplement peddler selling expensive supplement blends with flashy names, which, on inspection, turn out to be commonly available herbs and minerals that are mixed and sold at a high markup with questionable or no supporting data. These sorts of people have plagued our community and given the field a reputation of snake oil.

The second group are the credible scientists, researchers, and companies who have been working on therapies for years and sometimes more than a decade or two. Some of these therapies are following the damage repair approach advocated by Dr. Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation over a decade ago. The basic idea is to take an engineering approach to the damage that aging does to the body and to periodically repair that damage in order to keep its level below that which causes pathology. Others including Dr. David Sinclair are focusing on partial cellular reprogramming and believe it may be possible to reset the cells in our bodies to a younger state using reprogramming factors.

While it will be some years yet before all therapies to end age-related diseases are here and available, and the hucksters are still peddling their wares, you can arm yourself with knowledge and protect yourself and our community from these people. Learn to evaluate science rather than taking things at face value, and avoid expensive scams and bad science. Here is a useful checklist to consider when reading an article, looking at claims made by supplement makers, or evaluating any science in general.


Even for plastic surgery there are fraud stories where a women got injected with cement (like in building construction)

Posted by: Cuberat at May 13th, 2021 6:11 PM

@Cuberat, Yes, usually in the butt, cause price so low for the desperate low income woman, some have died (of course), and others often in severe pain for rest of their lives.

Posted by: Robert at May 13th, 2021 7:35 PM

What I wanted to say during my steam of consciousness dump is that even when the science and treatments are settled and mature there's a lot of quackery and fraud. This is the one reason FDA is so big

Posted by: Cuberat at May 13th, 2021 7:47 PM

Just started following this field, and I'm surprised how slow the progress has been.The Rejuvenation Therapies state-of-the-union article linked to is 5 years old. Where are things now?

I guess judging effectiveness of aging therapies would take a long time, almost by definition, but boy is it frustrating to watch.

Posted by: Bob at May 14th, 2021 6:50 AM

Knee jerk criticism as part of the Big Pharma/FDA narrative.

Are there frauds and sketchy treatments? Sure. But the elephant in the room is the blazing lack of definitive progress on a true life or death issue. It will be "many years"..... You can absolutely count on that being true ! As Goldman Sachs said, curing disease is not a viable economic model and all the more so if antiaging treatments injure profits from things related from aging: arthritis, muscle weakness, wrinkles......

Posted by: Eighthman at May 14th, 2021 7:04 AM

Please....It's ALL snake oil until something actually works

This author holds out David Sinclair and Aubrey De Grey as "credible scientists, researchers, and companies..."

Please - what rubbish

David Sinclair had $700+ million sucked out of GSK's research coffers on is resveratrol nonsense, programs which ended up in the trash

And Aubrey has been at this for 20 + years with..NOTHING to show for it yet except 5,000 YouTube videos about how amazing he thinks he is...

These people are still snake oil salesmen; just with slightly deeper pockets supporting their endless hunger for cash flow, and shall remain so and only shed that skin when there is legitimate proof of something working...

Posted by: Jim Crothers at May 14th, 2021 9:20 AM

@Jim Crothers
no human applicable progress yet, alas. However, there are some very promising developments. They all might fizzle with only marginal applicable improvement. Aubrey concentrated on propaganda and thanks to him the concept is not scoffed upon. This is a huge thing since the open to anti-aging minds are getting at their career points to influence politics and major research. This alone is probably the most important achievement. Eventually anti-aging therapies will come. The question is when. Somewhere between next decade and 100 years in the future we will have them. If it is in 100 years then it doesn't really matter. We have a good chance to witness them in the next 30 years. I might barely make it. My children have pretty good chances, though.

Posted by: Cuberat at May 14th, 2021 11:10 AM

"It's ALL snake oil until something actually works" oh please, give me a break! More worthless heckling from the peanut gallery.

Posted by: Steve at May 14th, 2021 1:28 PM

Where is the "... is a useful checklist to consider when reading an article, looking at claims made by supplement makers, or evaluating any science in general."? I did not see a link or a list in the posted article?

Posted by: ed at May 16th, 2021 2:26 AM

@ed, the suggestions are directly below it in the article and give some advice on how to better evaluate claims being made.

Posted by: Steve at May 16th, 2021 6:55 PM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.