IEET > Contributors > HealthLongevity
The Myth of the Longevity Elixir
Marios Kyriazis   Oct 30, 2012   Ethical Technology  

The search for a single elixir or combination of elixirs, which can allow substantial longevity, is false.

Here, I use the term ‘elixir’ with reference to any substance, compound, pharmaceutical preparation, or therapy that is used by a person with the intention of significantly prolonging lifespan. When I started my career as an anti-aging physician and bio-gerontologist over 20 years ago, I firmly believed that it would, one day, be possible to discover, devise or create a compound - or a combination of compounds - that will cause an extension of human lifespan in a substantial way.

Drugs and supplements such as human growth hormone, carnosine, DHEA, antioxidants, calorie restriction mimetics, and telomerase activators were, at one point or another, my favourite choices. Even more advanced genetic therapies such as DNA interventions, stem-cells, and epigenetic interventions appeared to be promising candidate therapies.  Many dozens of products have been marketed and re-marketed, and a lot of research has been done in basic biological aging. Products and therapies have been suggested, based on mitochondrial aging, genetic repair, telomeres, lysosomes, calorie restriction etc.

However, during the past couple of years I started realising that this approach to defeat aging will never work. The aging process is an extremely complex process which is deeply entrenched within elementary evolutionary and natural forces. Taking a pill or using a treatment will never have enough impact to alter the basic mechanisms of aging.

This may be a disappointing point of view but it is easy to make it clear. Just get up (or stay up) at 2 am and look at the clear starry sky. If you spend a few minutes contemplating the enormity of the natural forces behind what you see, you will realize that we will never, ever, conquer aging unless we increase the complexity and sophistication of our approach. We need to start moving away from simplistic (yet popular) approaches and seek something deeper, scientifically and philosophically, even religious.

As a first step, we must look at society. A society that cannot support indefinite lifespans will be a bar to any attempts at individual longevity. On the contrary, a society that is built with the aim of promoting longevity will be a great and essential asset in our quest.

Individuals must harmonise with society, because if citizens live in a society that is selected for longevity they will themselves live longer. They will, in turn, contribute to society’s longevity which itself will reflect once again on the individual. This is in accordance with evolutionary processes and it is termed ‘reciprocal causation’ or ‘reciprocal determinism’.

The main direction of evolution is towards survival, and this means that if a society survives (i.e. lasts longer) then its individual members will also last longer. Thus, we need to look at efforts which improve the survival of society. There are many examples, not just based upon political or economic models, but also including novel ideas such as the input of meaningful information into a societal system. This may be achieved via holographic learning tools or bio-computing. Another is to devise societies that are architecturally sustainable, using for example, bio-architecture.

However, even this method may not be enough to promote extreme human or societal lifespans. One further step which can increase the sophistication of our approach is to look at higher order systems, at the planetary level, with notions that encompass the longevity of our planet as a whole. Here, concepts such as the Global Brain, the Global Superorganism and total planetary survival come to mind. Even so, my guess is that even this will not be a sufficiently sophisticated approach. An even higher step will be to look at a universal level such as cosmological longevity where we look at the use of black hole energy, matrioshka computing, minimisation of entropy increase, and the study of free energy rate density.

The integration of all of these (and maybe many more) methods, in association with a clear applied knowledge and understanding of complex evolutionary theory, is bound to have a significant impact on extreme human longevity.

Looking back now, I realize what a trivial impact single therapies have had on longevity, let alone on maximum lifespan. Therapies and strategies directed only at the individual are simplistic, naive and inevitably doomed to fail. These have not, and will not influence the rate of aging in any significant degree, and are not the answer to our quest to end aging.

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I don’t think this article is very forward thinking. You’ve become a victim of the pessimism in your field. You’ve run into the problem of trying to understand and control metabolism before you create a remedy for a disease. In the past researchers would not fully understand the complexity of something, like smallpox as a disease, before they could create a vaccine. We don’t need to understand metabolism to reverse aging simply removing or reversing the damage is enough, just like any disease. Society does emphasise anti-aging therapies just in an indirect manner, for example, finding a cure for parkinson’s or alzheimer’s disease is in fact studies in antiaging because we are reversing the damage done by aging. If the objective of anti aging therapy was to understand metabolism then yes I would agree with your sentiment but I do not think this approach is needed to have an effective intervention in aging.

One should remember that aging is not a disease. Curing diseases associated with aging such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is not at all the same as curing aging itself. Many people have not got Parkinson’s or dementia, or any other disease, and yet still die from aging.

Kyriazis, I find your claim highly unlikely to be true. Autopsies are rarely performed on people after age 70, and the ones that are performed on the oldest people seem to indicate that they die of specific disorders and diseases. A study of the causes of death in 40 centenarians concluded that 100% died of various diseases. Another study has determined that all quasi-supercentenarians autopsied for the study either died of amyloidosis-related causes (the accumulation of protein that compromises organ function) such as heart failure or aspiration pneumonia which can caused by diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease. I’m not aware of any study that concluded that the cause of death of many older people was “aging” without referring to a specific disorder which was the result of the accumulation of aging damage.

Do you have any evidence for your claim that many people die of “aging” and not of the diseases associated with aging?

The biological aging process and age-related diseases are two distinct conditions. People who live for many years are subjected to random damage which causes failure of biological repair –this is called aging. Conditions such as stroke, arthritis, heart disease etc. can happen to anyone at any age.

During my career I wrote many death certificates where I had to state the cause of death. If someone is so weak, decrepit, and unable to repair damage easily due to the fact that he has lived for many years, and then gets pneumonia and dies, then the cause of death is ‘pneumonia’. But curing the pneumonia is not going to improve this person’s aging weakness.

It is illegal to give the cause of death as ‘aging’. This is because aging is not a disease. Instead, the cause of death must be an illness that has clearly caused someone to die. That is why ‘aging’ alone does not feature in any death certificate.

It will take much more than a few pills in order to defeat aging. This is because aging is an evolutionary process and not a distinct medical illness.

I think there may be a bit of a semantic issue here. Whether ageing should be regarded as a “disease” or not depends very much how you want to define disease.

I don’t know enough about this field to be able to judge whether Kyriazis is being excessively pessimistic or not, but I do like his emphasis on societal issues. I also like the fact that he combines what might appear to be pessimism with regard to existing (piecemeal?) approaches with a clear perspective that this might one day be possible. Positive perspectives are good, but so are reality checks.

I’m not sure why you’re trying to make a big distinction between aging and the diseases of aging. If you mean that the process by which metabolism lays down aging damage can’t be stopped, I would agree; we’ll never be able to create silver bullets that could prevent metabolism from laying down damage. However, aging can also refer to the damage produced by the aging process. All of this damage can be classified as specific diseases, and I see no reason why these diseases (and thus aging) can’t be prevented or cured by periodically repairing aging damage by a set of strategies such as SENS.

The age-associated diseases that you referred to increase exponentially the older people become; the vast majority of young people don’t die of these diseases. Since damage can accumulate at different rates, it’s no surprise that younger people can sometimes suffer and die of age-associated diseases.

Curing a single condition such as pneumonia may not cure an old person’s frailty, but eliminating other diseases such as Parkinson’s and dementia would. My contention is that eliminating ALL age-associated diseases would be equivalent to curing aging. No, it wouldn’t “stop” the aging process (i.e., the process by which metabolism produces damage), but it would eliminate the undesirable effects of that process. If you disagree, I’d like to know what you think would cause disability and death in the absence of any age-associated disease.

The studies I cited weren’t inhibited by the legal constraints you cited.

Yes ageing is a very complex complex [obvious when one models it as a result of (non) natural selection] that considerably increases risks of severe diseases. **But** reassuringly,

1. Longevity Elixirs are here, hidden, everywhere around
In mice at least the key seems to track them correctly. When doing numerous mouse lifespan tests with drugs S. Spindler recently found that “9 of the 58 groups experienced statistically significant lifespan extension (15.5% of the groups).”
In humans, statistical analysis of health databases might be a good way to find the elixirs.

2. Regeneration of the body holds strong promises
For example, following a heart failure it is now a clinical practice to inject heart stem cells to regenerate damaged heart parts. Could such a strategy be applied to the whole body, then it seems probable that ageing would to a large extent be tackled without decifering the complexity of ageing.

I think that *many more resources* should be dedicated to such research orientations, with genuine individual and societal benefits.

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