November 16, 2007 at 5:16 am #26021
COULD WE LIVE FOREVER? OR EVEN COME CLOSE?
November 11, 2007
In a quiet Boston suburb, Esther MacKay has made it to 102 years old — and
Born in 1905, MacKay traveled the world during a long career in the
military. Lately she¹s been honored as the Air Force¹s longest-living chief
For MacKay, there¹s no mystery about what¹s gotten her this far.
“I had three no-no¹s in my rules growing up,” she told CBS News technology
correspondent Daniel Sieberg. “One was no smoking. Two was no drinking.
Three, no sex. That¹s it, one, two, three.”
Her rules may not be everyone’s keys to the good life, but even if you don¹t
follow the Esther MacKay prescription, your prognosis for living a long life
Consider how life expectancy has increased over the last two centuries. An
average man born in 1800 had a life expectancy of 35 years. In 1900, he
would have made it all the way to 47. By 1950, average life expectancy was
up to 68 years, and now it¹s up to 78.
The trend is definitely favorable. But how far can we take it?
Although Ponce de Leon never found the legendary fountain of youth, today in
labs like the one at the University of California, San Francisco, scientists
are trying to stop the clock or at least slow it down.
In San Francisco, Professor Cynthia Kenyon is conducting experiments on
microscopic worms. Their usual life span is little more than 13 days, but
she has been able to get some to live as long as six times that by altering
one specific gene.
“And here is the long-lived mutant when it¹s also 13 days old,” she said,
showing Sieberg her handy-work. “But you can see, look at that! It¹s still
living a productive, active life. I would say it might be heading out to
Kenyon believes her work shows that the rate of aging is not fixed. Rather,
it can be slowed dramatically.
“The important thing for people to understand is that this is new,” she
said. “Fifteen years ago, and from 15 years ago on back, to when we were
cavemen, cavewomen, people thought aging just happened. There’s nothing you
can do about it. That was it. And then along came these animals where you
make a little change and they live twice as long … Something we never
thought can happen, can happen.”
At the University of Wisconsin, scientists are using rhesus monkeys for
similar purposes. They haven’t monkeyed with their genes, but simply cut
down on some of their food. For example, two monkeys are the same age, but
one has eaten normally and the other is on a restricted-calorie diet and
appears to have spent time at a monkey spa.
Calorie restriction research goes back more than 70 years to pioneering
experiments on mice at Cornell University. Restricting your food intake does
appear to extend life, although no one’s totally sure how.
“If we base ideas on calorie restriction, in animals, and even in monkeys,
which are relatively close to us, we see that calorie restriction slows down
virtually all diseases of aging,” researcher on aging at Harvard David
Eat less, live longer? Easier said than done.
Brian Delaney is the president of the Calorie Restriction Society
< http://www.calorierestriction.org/>. He says it’s easy to live on a calorie
restricted diet, simply figure out what your normal intake of calories would
be and then reduce it by 20 to 30 percent — or maybe even a bit more.
“But then you don’t want to take it too far because then it’s frankly
starvation,” he said.
Members of Delaney’s group generally consume fewer than 2,000 calories a day
and some go as low as 1,000 calories. Will they live longer? Is what’s good
for dessert-deprived monkeys also good for people?
“The CR diet could allow a human being to live to be maybe 135 or 140 years,
but we don’t know yet because we have not done that long a study in humans,”
But of the course the main obstacle is: hunger. For most people, cutting
calories is anything but easy.
Which is what’s brought Harvard’s David Sinclair to his latest project:
trying to put the apparent benefits of calorie restriction — in a pill.
He’s now a director at a company called Sirtris Pharmaceuticals along with
Dr. Christophe Westphal.
“We’re not telling you ‘eat whatever you want and then take our pill,'”
Westphal said. “What we’re saying is, ‘Do the best you can on behavior, but
we think we can turn on that same pathway with small molecule drugs.'”
The pill they’ve developed is based on a naturally-occurring substance
called Resveratrol, which is found in red wine. But don’t think you’re going
to guzzle your way to longevity: one pill has the potency of 1,000 glasses
So far the tablets are doing great things for mice. In a Sirtris video, two
mice are the same age. But one mouse been taking Resveratrol and he is
thriving. But it’s not fair to call Resveratrol an anti-aging drug, Sinclair
“I sometimes slip and call it that,” he said. “But actually, this is not
about slowing down the aging process. It’s about treating diseases that are
caused by aging. And if we are successful at that, of course people will
live longer, healthier lives.”
The first disease they’re targeting is diabetes. They hope to get
Resveratrol on the market in about five years.
“Imagine a future where you’re a diabetic, and your doctor prescribes you a
drug,” Sinclair said. “And the doctor says, ‘Well, as a side effect, I have
to warn you you’re also protected against heart disease, cancer and
Alzheimer’s.’ Well, you know, if we can get there, that’d be great. But
that’s the future that we’re aiming for.”
But to some people, like inventor Ray Kurzweil, a pill like that is just the
first of innovations that he and others think could extend our lives for
hundreds — yes hundreds — of years.
“We’ve gone 20,000 years without significantly changing the software that
runs in our body. We have the tools now to do that,” he said.
Kurzweil — you may have heard of his keyboards — foresees what he calls
“the singularity,” when technology and human biology merge. He’s banking on
the advance of technology continuing to accelerate, yielding devices like
nanobots — microscopic robots that would roam your blood stream, curing
what ails you.
The only problem for Kurzweil is living long enough to see it all happen. To
that end, he carefully watches what he eats and takes 200 supplements
throughout the day.
“You can never prove forever, because no matter how long you live, whether
it’s 100 or 1,000 years, that’s not forever,” he said. “But we can get to a
point where as time goes by, you’re really not aging.”
But of course, mention life-spans of hundreds of years, and people usually
seem to have one question: why would they want to live that long?
“Well, there’s two negative thoughts that come up: One is, ‘Okay, I’m gonna
be a 90-year-old’ as we think of them today, ‘and that I’m gonna live like
that for another 200 years,'” Kurzweil said. “And that’s really not what
we’re trying to achieve. We’re trying to stay in good health and really not
age, so we can stay 30 or 35. We’re not only going to have radical life
extension, we’re gonna have radical life expansion.”
Dr. Thomas Perls at Boston University runs the world’s largest study of
centenarians. He’s learned from subjects like Esther MacKay that long life
isn’t just a matter of genes. It has a lot to do with lifestyle.
“There is no such thing as a fountain of youth,” he said. “There may be a
fountain of aging well. And the fountain of aging well has to do with your
good health habits, and knowing that things like smoking are truly terrible
for you and can knock 20 years off your life expectancy.”
And to nudge you in the right direction, Perls has developed an on-line
calculator that’s a bit of a crystal ball. You punch in your family history,
your health and lifestyle choices, and it predicts how long you might live.
Perls, for one, is looking forward to many more healthy, happy years.
“It looks like I’ll live to 94,” he said. “And given what I know, that means
I’m gonna be spending a big chunk of that in good health. I would love to do
Visit Dr. Richard Perls¹ Life Expectancy Calculator at:November 16, 2007 at 9:00 pm #26022
The oldest *documented* person was Jeanne Calment.
Of course, they never got any record of the Taoist immortals 🙂
Here is an article about her shortly after her death in 1997:
France’s Jeanne Calment, world’s oldest woman, dead at 121
ARLES, France (AP) – She took up fencing at 85, and still rode a bicycle at 100. She liked her port wine, her olive oil, her chocolate and her cigarettes, and she released a rap CD at 121.
No wonder Jeanne Calment, at 122 the world’s oldest person until her death Monday, said she was ”never bored.”
She lived through France’s Third and Fourth Republics, and into its Fifth. She was 14 when the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889.
”She was a little bit the grandmother of all of us,” President Jacques Chirac said.
Mrs. Calment died of natural causes at the Arles retirement home where she had lived for 12 years. Though blind, nearly deaf and in a wheelchair, she remained spirited and mentally sharp until the end.
That was clear to those who attended her 121st birthday – in February 1996 – when she released her CD, ”Time’s Mistress.” It featured her reminiscing to a score of rap and other tunes.
By then, she was already a media star. A steady stream of foreign reporters had traveled to Arles to interview her.
Born Feb. 21, 1875, Mrs. Calment eventually became the greatest attraction in the southern city of Arles since Vincent Van Gogh, who spent a year there in 1888. She met him that year when he came to her uncle’s shop to buy paints, and later remembered him as ”dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable.”
”She was the living memory of our city,” said Michel Vauzelle, the deputy mayor of Arles. ”Her birthdays were a sort of family holiday, where all the people of Arles gathered around their big sister.”
For Mrs. Calment, the keys to long life were olive oil and port wine.
She gave up cigarettes in 1995, and her doctor said her abstinence was due to pride rather than health – she was too blind to light up herself, and hated asking others to do it for her.
At 121, Mrs. Calment hinted about what it takes to stay interested in even the longest of lives.
”I dream, I think, I go over my life,” she said. ”I never get bored.”
Mrs. Calment had no direct descendants, having survived her husband, her daughter and grandson.
In her later years, she lived mostly off the income from her apartment, which she sold cheaply more than 30 years ago to a lawyer, Andre-Francois Raffray.
He had agreed to make monthly payments on the apartment in exchange for taking possession when she died, but never got to do so. He died more than a year ago at 77; his family was required to keep making the payments.
Just the same, his widow, Huguette, said Monday she was saddened by Mrs. Calment’s death.
”She was a personality,” she told France Info radio. ”My husband had very good relations with Mrs. Calment.”
The Guinness Book of World Records had listed Mrs. Calment as the oldest living person whose birth date could be authenticated by reliable records.
A Brazilian woman, Maria do Carmo Geronimo, claims she is 126, born March 8, 1871. Her supporters say confusion over her birth document, a baptismal paper issued by Roman Catholic missionaries instead of a birth certificate, keeps her from being listed in the international edition of the Guinness Book.
Clive Carpenter, spokesman for Guinness Publications in London, said the firm had an unconfirmed candidate for the oldest-person honors – a woman living in California who says she is 118. But Guinness would not recognize the claim or identify her until its researchers have seen her birth certificate.
In Arles on Monday, the flag at city hall was at half staff. Groups of people lingered in the streets to chat about Mrs. Calment’s life and death.
”We ended up believing she was immortal,” said Felix Ramadier, a retired worker.
”It’s a bit of our heritage that went away today,” said Andre Pons, a baker.November 16, 2007 at 9:01 pm #26024
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