Life

Life Extension: The Modern Anti-Aging Movement – Are We Standing at the Threshold of Immortality?

Why is skincare the focus of longevity research? I guess a cell is a cell, and if you can crack the code for one human cell, it is only a matter of time to solving the puzzle with different types of cell – and skin is without doubt the most visible cells each of us have. And it’s our faces in particular we often judge ourselves and others by, and we are in turn quickly scrutinized, and often opinions reached in a fraction of a second. Our faces often show the most visible signs of aging, and for many in modern society age is by nature “bad” and young or looking young is the ideal. That is why billions and billions of dollars each year are poured by consumers into all sorts of treatments to minimize wrinkles, to push back the effects of gravity, and to turn back the hands of time. And with that much money to be spent by consumers, there are many manufacturers eager to find the next step in arresting Father Time – and at least detaining him until the next stagecoach arrives, where hopefully he can be encouraged to move on before too much damage can be done.

The Entire Issue Explained – In A Pair of Shoelaces

Some time ago a friend gave me a simple analogy that puts this entire issue in perspective. The science may not win a Nobel Prize, but it gave me the necessary ah-ha moment.

The double helix of the DNA strand – our most basic foundation for life – is held together at each end by things that act in the same way as the hard plastic bits on the end of shoelaces do – preventing the DNA from unraveling, and the individual chromosomes scattering across the floor like dropping a string of pearls down a marble staircase. These things are called telomeres.

Somewhere programmed into these tiny telomeres is the entire basis to how long the DNA stays intact – and by inference these are the keys to the length of life of the organism. Somewhere written into the telomere is a great musical score but like all musical scores it has a double bar somewhere to signify the end; but is it to be a minuet or a Wagnerian epic? But sure enough, when the time comes, and the telomeres blow the full time whistle, the DNA strand will unravel and die – and the circle of life begins again. Telomeres govern how often our skin cells are replaced; why a puppy and a child born on the same date may age exactly the same chronologically, but the puppy has become a geriatric before the child reaches puberty.

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Telomeres, my friend explained, occasionally go on the fritz (that must have a very specific scientific meaning). One of the ways this occurs is they may forget their programming to release and unravel, and they just hang on, allowing the cells thus affected to multiply again and again without dying. In fact, when this occurs often they become very difficult to kill and to all intents and purposes once the telomeres act in this way, the cell – and those it propagates – are effectively immortal.

This condition has a name which we all know. Cancer.

But, what if we were able in some way to persuade the telomeres within a cancer to behave normally – would that not be the “magic bullet” cure for cancer? And the other side to that equation – if the telomeres in healthy cells could be persuaded to act as they do in a cancer – then is this the recipe for a healthy cell that does not die? Does the cure for cancer and immortality hang on just this one thread?

Whatever your views may be, the reality is that some of the world’s finest research scientists are working on that exact question and some would say it is only a matter of a decade or two before this is neither conjecture nor science fiction, but a reality to face up to. The changes that would take place in society even if life expectancy were to take a leap forward by say 10 or 20 years are enormous, but we should all be thinking that this is a distinct possibility.

From the dab of lanoline a generation ago to what I know hold in my hand as an anti aging skincare treatment is more than just a revolution – and I have no doubt in a few years I will be saying this cream will not just slow the aging process and reduce the visible signs of aging, making your face appear younger – but it will actually be younger.

But before that, let’s look back at how this whole engagement with life extension and anti-aging started. Mankind has always striven for longevity and mused about immortality – but the past 50 years has seen some dramatic steps in reality toward this goal.

Genesis

The thought of extending life has been on the mind of mankind for millennia. References to the search for ways to prolong life can be found as far back as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh was reputedly the fifth king of the kingdom of Uruk, the modern-day Iraq, around 2500 BC. According to the Sumerian list of kings, he reigned for 126 years. The Torah or Old Testament records Methuselah as living over 900 years, with life spans measured in centuries apparently commonplace before the time of Noah.

Throughout the development of scientific thought from the Reformation onwards, scholars have applied themselves to solving this riddle and these endeavors continue today at the very leading edge of scientific progress.

Unraveling Secrets

As the secrets of our existence are unraveled in ever more minute detail, we are beginning to understand what it is that makes us grow from tiny babies into adults. We now know, for example, that cell functions slow down as the body ages and that production of certain substances required by the body to regenerate decrease or cease completely.

Skin, for instance, needs two substances to retain strength and firmness.
The production of these substances namely collagen (strength, tightness) and elastin (flexibility) decreases with age. The decreases in production together with other factors that include the threat of free radicals make the skin age and become wrinkly. Free radicals are essentially incomplete oxygen molecules causing destructive chain reactions within cells.

The same kind of thing happens in every cell, every tissue and organ around the human body. For example, people develop frown lines, crow’s feet and wrinkles. Nutrients are no longer absorbed easily and vital cell functions, hormones and other substances are produced at decreased rates resulting in the body aging.

A Brief History of the Life Extension Movement

Science has been looking for ways to slow down this process for centuries. The forming of life extension movements, however, did not really begin until around 1970.

➢ In this year, Denham Harman, the originator of the so-called ‘free radical theory of aging’, decided that an organization dedicated to the research and information sharing between scientists working in biogerontology (the field of science concerned with the biological aspects involved in the aging process) was needed. As a result, the American Aging Association was formed.

➢ In 1976, two futurists, Philip Gordon and Joel Kurtzman wrote a book on the research into extending the human lifespan. This popular volume was titled ‘No More Dying. The Conquest Of Aging And The Extension Of Human Life’.

➢ Kurtzman was then invited to speak at Florida’s House Select Committee (HSC) of Aging, which was chaired by Claude Pepper, an American politician and spokesman for the elderly. The aim of this talk was to discuss the impact on Social Security by life extension.

➢ In 1980, Saul Kent, a prominent activist in the field of life extension, published the book ‘The Life Extension Revolution’ and founded the nutraceutical (from ‘nutrition’ and ‘pharmaceutical’, in other words, a nutrition supplement) firm known as ‘The Life Extension Foundation’.

This foundation is a non-profit making organization promoting dietary supplements and publishing the periodical ‘Life Extension Magazine’. Kent was later involved in work relating to cryogenics. He was jailed in the course of this work over a dispute at one point, although charges were dropped at a later stage.

➢ In 1982, American health writer and life extension advocate Sandy Shaw and her co-writer, Durk Pearson, popularized the term ‘life extension’ even further with the bestseller ‘Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach’.

➢ Roy Walford, a gerontologist and life-extensionist, published ‘Maximum Lifespan’, another popular book on the subject. He and Richard Weindruch, his student, followed this up in 1988 with their summary on the research they had conducted into the ability to prolong the life of rodents through calorie restriction. The title of this book is ‘The Retardation of Aging and Disease by Dietary Restriction’.

Although this ability to extend life with calorie restriction had been known since the 1930’s, when gerontologist, biochemist and nutritionist Clive McCay did some research into the subject, it was the work of Walford and Weinbruch that gave solid scientific grounding to the McCay’s findings.

Walford’s scientific work was driven by a personal interest in life extension. He practiced calorie restriction as part of his own life and eventually died at the age of 80. The cause of his death was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive motor neuron disease.

➢ A4M, the ‘American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine’ was founded in 1992 to create a medical specialty for anti aging that was distinctly separate from geriatrics. This allowed scientists and physicians interested in this particular field of science to hold conferences and discuss the latest developments.

➢ The sci.life-extension, a Usenet group, was created by California-born author, philosopher and translator Brian M. Delaney. This represented an important development within the movement of life extension. It made it possible, for example, for the CR (Calorie Restriction) Society to be created.

➢ A more recent development is the proposal of Dr A. de Grey, a biogerontologist at Cambridge University. This proposal suggested that damage to cells, macromolecules, organs and tissues can be repaired with the help of advanced biotechnology. This is evident in hair restoration products, for instance.

More than Books

Although it would appear that most of the work revolving around life extension has been done solely by writing books or founding societies or organizations of some kind or another, the reality is that these books were written in response to or based on very specific, detailed scientific research that have yielded positive results.

They are no longer the works of hopeful minds, but the works of dedicated scientists who have spent their lives working on discovering facts about aging and trying to find ways to slow down, or even reverse the process.

Many breakthroughs have been made, and in many ways, we are already able to extend lives to a certain extent. The average lifespan of a human being is already far greater than it used to be as a result of medical, pharmaceutical and nutritional advances brought about by research and development.

The work continues, and scientists around the world are continually conducting research, comparing results, discussing options and making advances on our behalf.

Driving Forces behind the Development of the Life Extension Movement

What factors are driving this movement into ever greater efforts to find solutions to the extension of Life? The answer to this question actually includes a whole range of factors.

Expectations Have Risen

As the ‘baby boomer’ generation (born between 1946-1964) enters retirement age, expectations of this group are dramatically different from those of the preceding generations. They have greater expectations and desires to enjoy their life as pensioners to the fullest and for as long as is possible. This expectation covers not only length of life, but quality of life as well and this is not a passive request but an active and strident demand in many cases.

Pharmacology

Progress in pharmacology has led to a wide selection of drugs that allow people to live longer and fuller lives being developed over the last two decades or so. The work is still very much in progress and many more drugs are being developed daily.

One of the classic examples of a drug raising the quality of life for older individuals are erectile dysfunction treatments – notably Viagra, Cialis and Levitra. These drugs have dramatically reduced the number of fatalities or serious injury resulting from elderly men rolling out of bed, as well as a number of more qualitative benefits.