The possibility of living 150 or even 200 years is within humanitys grasp and advances in diagnostics, treatments and organ regeneration and replacement are moving this prospect ever nearer. Early death from diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes will no longer be inevitable for millions of people.
These are among the tantalising and radical ideas Sergey Young presents in his book The Science and Technology of Growing Young (published by BenBella Books).
Slowing, reversing or even ending ageing will become a universally accepted ambition in the healthcare community, he says. Technology is converging to make this a certainty. Developments in the understanding and manipulation of our genes and cells, in the development of small-scale health diagnostics and in the leveraging of data for everything from drug discovery to precision treatment of disease are radically changing how we think about healthcare and ageing, he says.
With a background in fund management and investing, Youngs own epiphany came when doctors told him that he would need to take statins for the rest of his life to control his high cholesterol. This has led him into researching the science of ageing and the frontiers of medicine and technology. His $100 million Longevity Vision Fund invests in companies at the edge of breakthroughs in life-extension technology and he is a board member of the American Federation of Aging Research.
Young insists that he is not in the business of trying to cheat death personally. Even if I die at the age of 80, which would be typical for my cohort, I want to have done so sharing the best ideas about longevity. If that benefits my children and grandchildren and society in general thats a good legacy.
With a regular regime of intensive health checks, body sensors and a rigorous diet and exercise regime, Young practises what he has learned on his journey around the bleeding edge of medical research and clearly intends maximising his own lifespan.
Though he is not a doctor, Youngs extensive research among the medical and life science community synthesised much of the best thinking on arresting ageing. His book provides a fascinating look at whats possible within both near and longer-term horizons, ranging over subjects such as gene editing, stem cell therapy, organ replacement and bionic augmentation.
If we want to life a long life, the best thing we can do right now, he says, is to be proactive about our health so we can stick around for the medical and technological advances that are coming down the tracks in next decade or so that could prevent or cure what he calls the monster diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.
That seems like an audacious claim. But take cancer, for example. Eighty years ago, there was no drug to treat it but now there are at least seven pharmaceutical approaches to cancer treatment and more than 100 chemotherapy drugs in use. Five-year survival rates from cancer have been improving by close to 2 per cent a year for the past 50 years. That rate of progress is set to explode in the years ahead, he says.
Cancer medicine right now is largely reactive, and treatment often starts too late. Young envisages a future with low-cost ubiquitous connected devices that will constantly monitor your health. Some will be external while others will be embedded under your skin. Some could be swallowed with your breakfast or remain swimming through your bloodstream at all times, monitoring your heart rate, respiration, skin secretions and free-floating DNA in your body that may indicate cancer or other diseases.
Early detection of diseases will be complemented by vastly improved drugs and treatments aided by artificial intelligence. Consider how quickly and effectively vaccines have been developed and deployed in the Covid-19 pandemic, he notes.
Then consider the issue of organ and limb replacement and regeneration. Advances in areas such as 3D printing and life science mean that a whole host of damaged or diseased body parts can be replaced. We can have new organs, grown in many cases by our own cells, mitigating the prospect that our bodies will reject them.
Add all this science and technology progress together and the prospect of breaching the current limit of human life of about 120 years, is not only feasible, but inevitable, he believes. Not alone would we live longer but we would enjoy the benefits of living healthier lives for longer too.
For many, this utopian vision raises disturbing questions. There are a whole host of moral and ethical issues here. Would the benefits of defying ageing be spread evenly across social classes and geographies? Do people really want to live a lot longer? Could the planet contain the increase the population? Would a new divide emerge between the body enhanced older population and traditionalists resistant to this form of progress?
Young responds by saying that doing nothing would be truly immoral. Existing healthcare costs are enormous, he points out. Technology offers a pathway to cheaper ubiquitous healthcare solutions that are within the grasp of everyone. Fertility rates are declining in many parts of the globe and advances in technology will result in greater sustainability in energy and food production.
A longevity revolution is on the way but it is disruptive innovators rather than Big Pharma who will lead the way, he believes. The medical establishment will ultimately embrace it as doctors are swamped with patients and outmoded treatments. Access to the best information, drugs and technology will empower doctors to provide better, more affordable and empathetic care to their patients and expensive hospital admissions could plummet.
In as little as 10 years we will look back at the treatment of ageing and disease as quite naive, Young concludes.
No smoking and restrict alcohol: Smoking is the biggest no-no for longevity for obvious reasons. High and regular use of alcohol damages your liver and pancreas, causes high blood pressure, increases your risk of stroke, brings on immune system disorders, leads to early onset Alzheimers disease and contributes to at least 200 more health conditions.
Slash sugar consumption: Excess sugar is poison, he says. It wears out the pancreas among other problems. Eliminate it wherever possible. Cut out all processed foods and limit fructose. Restrict carbs as they ultimately break down into glucose.
Fasting: Calorie reduction reduces the chances of developing health problems such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and cognitive decline and preserves immune system function. Young recommends an intermittent fasting regime where you eat all of your meals within an eight-hour period early in the day and then refrain from eating until the next morning. Clinical data shows that intermittent fasting can improve weight loss, insulin stability, cholesterol levels.
Food as medicine: Stick to an organic, mainly plant-based diet, eliminating processed foods. Choose grass-fed free-range meat and wild caught fish. Include health fats such as extra virgin olive oil which has high anti-oxidant anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties that can help preserve cell condition and protect from a range of diseases. He also recommends the use of supplements to provide the nutrients we cant get from our foods.
Consume more water: Regular consumption of water improves resting calorie burn by up to 30 per cent and encourages you to consume less sugary and caffeine drinks. It also suppresses hunger so you will eat less.
Sleep more: Sleep deprivation significantly increases your chances of a heart attack. The link between poor sleep and cancer is so strong that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified night-shift work as a probable carcinogen. Young says we should use every trick in the book to aid sleep including transitions rituals such as hot baths, cool bedrooms, black-out curtains, meditation and ditching digital devices at night.
Exercise: Even moderate exercise can add up to seven years to our lives, can cut cancer rates by up to 23 per cent and maintain cardio health among other benefits. Walking is a great start. Try to do 10,000 steps a day.
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