I am already doing a number of things to (hopefully) slow my aging. I am in my 60’s and over the last decade I have had a few age-related health problems. I have successfully fought off these problems, such as my rheumatoid arthritis; a herniated disk in my neck, cured without surgery; my occasional brain fog is gone; a tremor in my hand is mostly gone; vision problems where I mostly reversed growing farsightedness from my eye lenses getting stiffer and failing to focus on things I read. As I get older, I expect that conquering these issues will become increasingly difficult and the biohacking techniques I have been using will start to fail me. So far my health remains excellent, and with the many treatments coming for slowing the onset of aging diseases I am hoping to extend my health into late old age–and perhaps until aging can be reversed.
I own apartment buildings, some of which are heated with alternative fuels that frequently fail. In the fall of 2015, I was called out at 3 am on a cold Alaskan morning. It is urgent to get the furnace restarted when -40 outside, so I did not heat up the car. About halfway over to the building my thumb got what felt like needles in the joints. That was my first clue that I was getting rheumatoid arthritis and aging was creeping up on me.
Defeating aging is an exponentially expanding science. Animal studies indicate that extending our life span by more than 10% is now feasible. With the number of new technologies being researched, extending life span by 20% will be available soon. Though improving health to slow aging is fast approaching mainstream medicine, reversing aging is still impossible, even in animals. It is unlikely age reversal will be available very soon, we just have too far to go. But if we can slow aging to as low as 25%–so your chronological age grows 4 times faster than your biological age–you will be much more likely to be around when aging is defeated. Some people have termed this slowing of aging ‘escape velocity’ where you live long enough to be around when aging is defeated.
I tried a lot of different things to cure my rheumatoid arthritis, from soaking my hands (and feet, when it spread there) in really hot water to increasing the amount of exercise. While many of these things helped temporarily, the number of joints involved continued to grow. By the fall of 2016 most of my fingers and half my toes were involved. I needed another solution.
The oldest age extension technique (by default this really means health improvement) was discovered more than 90 years ago. It is also my biggest failing in life: calorie restriction. If you reduce the calories fed to a young mouse, rat or monkey (not to mention flies, worms, birds, etc.) you will significantly extend their lifespan, generally by 10-20%. This can also be done in older animals, but requires care not to damage their metabolism, shortening lifespan. It is my greatest failing because I have not managed to follow it properly in the 40 years since I learned of it.
There are a lot of other techniques to extend lifespan, so I tried some of them to slow my arthritis. Some are easy for people to do, require no drugs yet have a significant impact on health in old age. You probably know about most of these: no smoking, no more than 1 glass of alcohol a day, exercise, eat healthy and have a good social life (meaning good friends and strong family support, not going out partying!) Drugs are also being found that may extend lifespan: metformin, the diabetes drug, has been shown to extend lifespan [$*$*in mice, how long]. Other possible interventions include rapamycin, which is normally used as a transplant drug that prevents rejection; senolytics, which kill senescent cells, improving the cellular environment; stem cells; NAD; resveratrol…the list goes on & on. A scientist I know has compiled a list of over 30,000 different things that will extend lifespan in research animals.
[$*$*insert a graph of how long each extends LS in mice].
There are many ways to slow aging, but most of these techniques extend lifespan in mice. Many have also been investigated in other animals and a few in monkeys and human studies are lacking, though there are growing numbers of people who are self-experimenting with many different techniques (and a few are probably shortening their lifespan–some of these techniques are dangerous!) There are also a growing number of these in clinical trials for things such as NAD treatment. But I am still at the stage in my life where ‘do no harm’ is more important that ‘fix it regardless the cost’. So, I did not try any of these.
But I had, about 20 years earlier, tried calorie restriction. Since my arthritis was getting progressively worse, I decided to try some form of calorie restriction. I researched the subject and came across some research that indicated that fasting could help reset the immune system. Since rheumatoid arthritis is primarily an immune failure problem (in this disease of aging the immune system fails to recognize that your joints are self and starts attacking them as foreign material), I thought it would be worth a try.
No techniques have been shown to reverse aging. That target remains a fuzzy future dream. Calorie restriction remains one of the most powerful ways to slow aging, and as the science of improving health span grows, there will be glimmers of a way to reverse aging. Then a growing flood of ideas, and then one (or more) techniques are developed that will fully reverse aging. When will this happen? It is very hard to say at this point, but most likely sooner than most people believe.
As Ray Kurzweil says in “The Singularity is Near”, our minds do not grasp exponential expansion very well. We see the rate at which things are changing and extrapolate that line out into the future. Exponential expansion does not work that way; the science of aging is doubling every few years. So back in 2004 when I first started going to aging conferences there were just a few to choose from, with attendance in the low 100s. The most recent conference I attended sold out at 500 and there were literally dozens of other aging conferences I could have gone to. Because of the increasing interest I think we are near, or at, the knee of the curve.
If you extrapolate the rate of aging research in a linear fashion it will probably take a century. This is what our perception says when we look at the current state of the science. But this research is not following a linear trajectory but an exponential one. The science of slowing aging is making incredible progress, and we are now in the part of the curve that is starting to get steep. This can be shown by the number of things developed in the last 20 years to improve health and extend life span. During the entire last century, only a few things were known to extend life span. In just the first two decades of this century hundreds (perhaps thousands) of techniques have been shown to extend life span.
|Ways I think will work to extend lifespan in people|
But so far, no treatment has been proven to extend lifespan in humans. But I felt that doing calorie restriction in some modified fashion was my best bet to halt my arthritis so in the fall of 2016 I started intermittent fasting. I began this slow, so I would not damage my immune system by skipping one meal a week. Then two. Then I got up to not eating for 24 hours, then 36 hours. My arthritis improved markedly. Certainly not cured, but it was to the point where cold no longer made my fingers and toes get ‘needles’ in the joints. But it did make them inflamed and occasionally tender.
We do not understand why some animals age, and others don’t. Yes, there are plants and animals that are nearly ageless: they show little or no signs of aging. Some whales live to be 200, some clams live to be 400 and some trees live to be 2,000. Then there are some animals that do not show any signs of aging like lobster (except they continue to grow), many echinoderms (like hydra$*$*). But the animal that really caught my eye is nicknamed the immortal jellyfish because it can grow old…and then reverse its age to become a polyp (baby) again! These animals show that aging can be stopped, and I have no doubt that we will figure out how.
Defeating aging will probably parallel the effort to defeat cancer. In the 1960s scientists thought that few cancers could be defeated. By the early 1970s more people recognized that cancer was a disease that could be cured. Since the US declared ‘war’ on cancer in the early 1970s [$*$*get exact year] we have made immense progress toward defeating cancer. While there are a few that we have not defeated, most cancers have either been conquered or are well enough understood so we are very close to overcoming them, with many treatments currently either approved or in clinical trials. There are just a few left that continue to evade our advancing science.
Aging is likely to follow the same type of path. In the last 50 years science has come so far so fast that our understanding of biology and medicine is not 10 or 100 or even a thousand of times greater, but literally tens of thousands of times greater$*$*verify. Today medical and biological science is expanding exponentially, as the number of published science articles shows [$*$*include table]. For example, in 1970 [$*$*verify year] the mitochondria, an organelle in the cell that provides most of the cell’s energy, was understood so poorly we did not even sure what function it served. Today we know the genes, the genetic mutations, how proteins and other molecules move in and out of it, the chemistry, the biochemical pathways of its conversion of energy into NAD [$*$*define] which is what the cell uses for its primary energy source, the problems that arise during aging with the mitochondria, and every nearly every detail about it. This is but one small example in how far our understanding has come in biology.
We do not yet understand the causes of aging and are just developing a few ideas that can slow it. So far no one has any idea on how to reverse it. Science is just beginning to figure out aging. Because there are so many more scientists today than there were in the 1970s [graph$*$*] aging science will move much quicker than cancer science did. Our tools are better too; we can sequence the genome, we can see microscopic details unimaginable in the 1970s, we can change genes in a living organism, and many other scientific advances that give science an improving chance at stopping aging.
In the summer of 2016, I was still seeking some technique to cure my arthritis. There are drugs for it, but one of the problems of drugs is that they can affect many systems in unknown (and often undetected ways). I am also very concerned that drugs, while relieving my arthritis, would shorten my lifespan. I also had a few friends who were on the drugs, but their effect was not a cure—just a slowing of disease progression. Then I read that a long fast for 4 days or more could completely ‘reboot’ the immune system, rejuvenating it to a much younger age.
The article I read about ‘rebooting’ the immune system by a long fast worked for me. I increased the number of days I fasted by fasting 2 days once a month, and then in the fall of 2017 I drove from Alaska to Washington state (about 2,400 miles), and during the 5 days I spent in Canada I did not eat. Almost all my arthritis problems went away, except for 2 fingers where the damage was probably so great that the damage was permanent. Treatments like this will allow an even longer life, giving science the time to develop additional treatments. It is entirely conceivable that science will soon stay ahead of someone’s aging so that they reach ‘escape velocity’ and never die of old age.
Today my arthritis is cured, except for 2 fingers. I continue my weekly fast of 36 hours, and once a month I fast for 3 days. I keep thinking I should do longer fasts once a year, but I found it pretty tough to skip food for 5 days. I may someday, if science show it will help some other aspect of my aging body. But for now, I am happy to have found a solution to my arthritis.
Science will soon get to the point where it can reverse many more parts of aging. Extending lifespan today mostly means extending health span. While it is impossible to predict the future, it is possible for someone who is 60 or 70 today to extend their life span by 10 years. Then in 10 years science will advance far enough so the person (who would then be 70 or 80) will be able to extend their health enough to add an addition 10 years onto their life. As long as you can add more years onto your life faster than you age you can delay death from old age indefinitely.