Hitting futurist news wires today is the unprecedented report (journal Cell Reports) that claims modest de-activation of two gene pathways increases the lifespan of microscopic-sized roundworms by an unprecedented 400-500%. Taking into account roundworms have a genetic makeup similar to humans — 20,470 protein-making genes compared to ~25,000 in humans — genes that are arranged in a similar (homologous) fashion (position, structure, function) as humans, the application to human longevity is obvious. Now to wait four or five hundred years to find out if this is true.
Given that biologists don’t have four or five centuries to conduct a live study in humans, short-lived animals like roundworms are used in laboratory experiments. This report will likely create a stir in scientific circles as well as public disbelief. Under controlled laboratory conditions, the lifespan of roundworms was extended from ~20 to ~100 days! (400-500 years in human terms)
The molecular de-activation of a single gene pathway, either the IIS (insulin signaling) or mTOR (target of rapamycin) genes alone, prolonged life in these roundworms (by 100% insulin with signaling gene; by 30% for the mTOR gene). The extraordinary synergistic effect (+400-500%) of combined gene inhibition was excitingly unexpected.
For comparison, the gold standard model for longevity studies is calorie restriction (40% less calories), a practice that has been shown to double the health span and lifespan of fruit flies, roundworms, rodents and preliminarily in humans. Diminished activation of two gene pathways that are normally activated during childhood growth and development synergistically produced the 400-500% increase in survival of roundworms. Obviously, double that of a limited calorie diet.
A third gene pathway known as AMPK, a gene that controls whether calories are stored or burned, was also involved. The red wine molecule resveratrol (rez-vair-a-trol) activates AMPK 50-200 times better than metformin, the most commonly used drug to treat metabolic disease (diabetes). So, the idea humans can achieve super-longevity may not be so far-fetched now that mechanisms are known.
Natural molecules, not drugs
Even more striking is the realization humans can employ nutraceuticals to diminish the activity of the same two gene pathways that produced this astonishing result in roundworms.
In 2008 a combination of small molecules known as polyphenols provided in grapes and wine (resveratrol, quercetin, catechin), apple peel (quercetin), strawberries (fisetin), rice bran (IP6 phytate), was shown to work synergistically, as in the above cited study. Such a combination of commercially-available molecules (Longevinex®) favorably altered 9-fold more longevity genes than a single polyphenol (resveratrol) alone in an animal lab study published in 2008. So, biologists are just now, a dozen years later, getting an idea of how long humans might live if they can molecularly tap into these genetic pathways.
An earlier study in roundworms showed that the combination of three drugs doubled the lifespan and health span of roundworms. But longevity seekers don’t need to go to the doctor to obtain prescriptions for drugs to tap into this longevity pathway. With recognition these natural molecules have been in safe use for some time now and don’t cause serious side effects, the prospect of utilizing affordable non-prescription nutraceuticals in the pursuit of super-longevity becomes a reality.
Will the public venture on their own?
The question is whether the masses are ready for the unguided pursuit of pursuit of super-longevity, given that the medical profession, out of self-interest, has confined its efforts to treat the symptoms rather than the cause of aging. Only an estimated 200,000 American adults take resveratrol pills, the most widely promoted nutraceutical for that purpose.
Fear of super-longevity
This writer’s 15-year venture into anti-aging pills has been quite an eye opener. I was blind-sided by the public’s fear of living super-long. One would think that the discovery of a fountain of youth, which was only hoped for in ages past, would be avidly adopted. But the more that was said these pills could prolong life to produce super-longevity (live 120 years), the more I heard “Oh, I never want to live that long!” There is also the fear of out-living one’s pension plan.
The public’s indelible mental image of people who live into their tenth decade is not a positive one: loss of independence, surrender of a driver’s license, loss of physical mobility (reliance on a cane, walker, wheelchair), false teeth, drooling from the mouth, mental derangement/ memory loss, chronic constipation or loss of bowel control and need for diapers. This is largely what modern medicine delivers – a disincentive for living long.
Without prolongation of health span, the public is not likely to opt for anything that solely prolongs lifespan. Nor will the masses be likely to deprive themselves of food (40% calorie intake reduction) in order to achieve a doubling of their lifespan, even though there is consensus this is a proven approach to longevity.
Cosmetics over longevity
Instead, the public spends far more money on maintenance of a youthful appearance (plastic surgery, hair transplants, stem cell therapy) than attempting to live longer. At least efforts to maintain cosmetic youthfulness can be seen in the mirror rapidly versus decades before a person realizes they didn’t waste their money on anti-aging pills.
Foretelling the future
A 400-500-year youth-span has been inconceivable, till now. Yet, there is no way to conclusively know till decades, maybe even centuries, pass. Just imagine if a senior adult just adds ten years to the end of their life, what discoveries await over the next decade that might buy them even more healthy years. The speed of discovery in the anti-aging field is gaining traction because the longevity genes have now been identified.
For those few individuals who have dared to adopt anti-aging pills into their daily health regimens early on, evidence is mounting they may not have been so crazy to think they could live so long after all.
Some will consider early use of an anti-aging pill to be foresight, an exclusive human capacity. One can have only as much foresight as he has preparation. The far-seeing were once called foolish. Noah of flood/ark fame prepared a boat while his neighbors laughed and ridiculed. What if the future has already arrived and we just don’t know it yet?
French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s (1623-1662 A.D.) wager may have application in the logic used to adopt an anti-aging pill into one’s daily health regimen. Pascal’s wager deliberated the consequences of whether there is a God or not. His wager went something like this:
- If you believe there is a God (anti-aging pill), but there is no God (anti-aging pill), you have lost little
- If you believe there is a God (anti-aging pill), and there IS a god (anti-aging pill), then you have gained much.
- If you don’t believe there is a God (anti-aging pill), and there truly is, then you have lost much.
- If you don’t believe there is a God (anti-aging pill), and over time no proven God (anti-aging pill) materializes, you have lost nothing.
The adoption of an anti-aging pill is determined by the receptiveness of the person learning of it. Maybe it’s best to say humans can achieve an indefinitely long healthspan/lifespan and leave off the numbers that are only received with incredulity.
The hardest thing in life to learn is which bridge to cross and which to burn. – David Russell