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There Can Be No Healthy Aging

The study, conducted by a team of scientists and clinicians from JCVI and WCHN, will focus on two groups of elderly individuals aged 65 to 85 years by correlating genetics with a variety of human genomic, gut microbiome and other “omics” profiles and integrating these data with the individuals’ health record. One group will consist of healthy individuals, and the other will have individuals with a variety of diagnosed health conditions.

This is Craig Venter. His institute has received 1.25 million dollars from the Ruggles Family Foundation to study the biomarkers of healthy aging.

This study makes no sense to me, because they want to look at the differences in health between sick people and even sicker people and call the results of the study markers of healthy aging. They propose to measure the right things, but what the study planners are missing here is the fact that aging itself is a disease. Aging can’t be healthy, because the underlying biological mechanisms that are causing age-related pathologies are active also in those aged individuals, who don’t have those diseases. To give you an example – manifestation of type 2 diabetes means that the cells lost their sensitivity to insulin, however really a lot of older people, who don’t have type 2 diabetes, have impaired insulin sensitivity.

These people are considered to be just old, but not sick. That’s exactly what’s wrong with perception of aging. Everyone who reached a certain age is considered to be simply old, but not ill. However this person is 100% not healthy in a biological sense, because a lot of detrimental processes have already started their poisonous actions and altered the youthful state of the organism.

In order to find the biomarkers of aging the study design should be different. The control for an individual should be the very same individual. Let me explain. We are very different in the biological sense from each other. So, to draw conclusions about a person’s aging processes, based on a given set of parameters, we have to measure those parameters several times in the beginning of the experiment to identify the baseline for the person.

Then by measuring those parameters in the long run we will be able to see the changes in levels and make conclusions regarding the underlying mechanisms of aging. Also that would be the way to judge the efficacy of interventions like caloric restriction and melatonin, or rapamycin, or other drugs. Of course, the exact study design description would be more complicated, I am just pointing out the main things here. But again, the idea is not to distinguish sick people from sick people with diagnosed diseases, the idea is to identify how the sickness, i.e. aging, can be characterized.

Here’s what important – we need to change the perception of aging, so there would be no confusing terms like “healthy aging”, which is an oxymoron. It’s like “dignified poverty”, or “merciful tyrant”. Aging is not and can not be healthy. Aging is itself a disease. It is also the cause of many other maladies like Alzheimer’s and stroke, and many others. We have to stop using the term healthy aging, because it is already making us conduct poorly designed research experiments.

Maria Konovalenko is a molecular biophysicist and the program coordinator for the Science for Life Extension Foundation. She earned her M.Sc. degree in Molecular Biological Physics at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.


There is indeed such a thing as “healthy aging” in this sense:

Persons with extended longevity have been shown to have a compressed period of debilitating disease than those with longevity in the normal range. Centenarians are killed by the same things as the rest of us, but they don’t suffer from Alzheimer’s for over a decade. Finding out how the long lived are able to avoid disease for so long is an important research and humanitarian question. It seems to me we are more likely to obtain knowledge regarding how to slow aging by looking at these long lived persons and such research leads us in the direction of the fundamental mechanisms you are looking for. The project is based on the scientific realities on the ground- this is Craig Venter after all no slouch- rather than some deathist prejudice.

Healthy ageing is absolutely a possibility, if one makes some minor modifications to diet and lifestyle.  A new book on Amazon titled “Resveratrol, is there a limit to human lifespan”, by Dr Betz clearly explains how someone can add ten or more healty years of life span by adopting some relatively easy lifestyle habits. The new developments in the science of ageing will almost certainly mean that indefinite life span will be feasible for a healthy person in his or her 60s or younger within 10 years. This is much more than a simple self help book. The scientific references section at the end of the book runs over 100 pages. It could easily be a university text on the subject of age prevention and health preservation.

The author’s message is more about semantics than real life issues relating to healthy aging.  Taking her premise to the next level, there is no such thing as healthy living.  I personally like the term “healthy aging” as it denotes remaining in a good state of health as we age chronologically.  To me, healthy aging is not a concept, but a reality I’m experiencing right now.  I believe that vigorous exercise, good nutrition choices, and a handful of nutritional supplements, can make a dramatic impact on how long you live an active, major disease-free, life.
I’m 78 and still do everything I did when I was 40, albiet not quite as well.  I don’t come from a particularly healthy or long-lived gene-pool.  Frailty in elderly people is related to the breakdown of the neuro-muscular junction, due to oxidative stress.  This breakdown can be reversed, stopped or slowed by exercise, and supplements that combat oxidative stress like alpha lipoic acid.
I’d be happy to challenge Ms. Konovalenko to a game of racquetball to demonstrate my point.

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