This blog entry is personal, about my history relevant to longevity science. It tells a bit about my earlier history with health and longevity science. And it describes how my views regarding longevity science have evolved during my years of most-intensive engagement in the field. I also discuss the continuing evolution of this blog. This blog post updates my July 2010 post Three years exploring longevity science and my January 21 2010 blog entry The evolution of this blog.
A little personal back history
Trained basically as a physicist and mathematician, I paid little or no attention to the biological sciences until the summer of 1970 when a single event propelled me into the world of dietary supplements. The event was a knockout case of Hepatitis A from consumption of contaminated shellfish in an offbeat country restaurant. At the time I was working as a consultant in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee on a temporary summer project. The sickness hit me suddenly on a Sunday when I was visiting Cumberland Caverns with my family and girlfriend. I became dizzy and weak and literally had to crawl on my hands and knees up and out of the caverns and across a field to the car to catch up with my family which had gone ahead. My urine was dark purple. The doctor told me I had hepatitis. The off-the-scale bilirubin score, the swollen liver and my symptoms were definitive indicators. Further, the doctor said I would have to rest in bed for a couple of months. There was no cure or medicine that would work. This was completely unacceptable to me since I was depending on the daily consulting income. Somehow, I had to get back to work fast to make ends meet.
Shortly after I got home from the doctor’s office, my girlfriend visited a health food store and brought home a copy of a book by Adelle Davis. She purchased the book because in browsing she had found a short section on hepatitis in it. Later that day I started on 4 grams of vitamin C a day. A week later I was fine and back to work, completely flummoxing the doctor. So fast a cure was impossible according to him. During the week I read the rest of the book, and that was my powerful kick-start learning about nutrition and nutritional supplements. Adelle was “a pioneer in the fledgling field of nutrition during the mid-20th century. She advocated whole unprocessed foods, criticized food additives, and claimed that dietary supplements and other nutrients play a dominant role in maintaining health, preventing disease, and restoring health after the onset of disease(ref).” At the time her views were viewed by the medical establishment as fringe and even dangerous. The scientific bases for many of her views were only established much later, and only now do we understand the rock-hard science behind many of them. See for example my last blog entry on Cancer, epigenetics and dietary substances.
Over the years I learned more about nutritional supplements and by the 90s had used them to vanish some bad attacks of rheumatoid arthritis and was taking 8 or so daily supplements. In 1994 at the age of 65 I decided that, far from retiring, I wanted to keep contributing. I formulated an intention to live a very long productive life.
In 1997 I came across Michael Fossel’s book Reversing Human Aging, an eloquent early presentation of the Telomere Shortening and Damage theory of aging The book strongly suggested the possibility of life extension. This started me occasionally reading in the longevity research literature, particularly research related to telomeres and telomerase and the supplements I was taking. By 2003 I was reading the research literature more frequently and had added a number of additional supplements to my dietary regimen. I thought they might keep me healthy and living longer. My Internet consulting practice was winding down then so I was finding more time for studying the research. I became amazed at how many different theories of aging there were and how researchers in one area seemed to ignore relevant progress in another area. I started writing articles related to health and aging topics at that time though I did not publish them.
A new career and the treatise
In 2007 I formulated an intention to pursue a full-time new career as a longevity scientist, not one who does lab research but one who integrates research findings across multiple disciplines and areas of research. In part, I was driven to see what there is out there that could possibly lead to the holy grail of life extension. By then it was clear that research in telomeres and telomerase was revealing an area of great significance and complexity, but that there was much more out there related to molecular and cell biology and stem cells that had to be considered. There were many theories of aging and, curiously enough, each seemed to be correct within its own framework of reference. I started researching and writing my treatise ANTI-AGING FIREWALLS – THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF LONGEVITY and the first version went online early in 2008. I have since continued to update the treatise frequently, the last update being two days ago.
By the end of 2008 I was getting more and more in touch with the vast amount of knowledge relevant to longevity and how incredibly complex some of the areas are. It became clear that there is far too much going on in the longevity science field for me to shoehorn it all into my treatise. I decided to initiate this blog in early 2009. Although the blog’s original purpose was to report currently on longevity-related research news, a second more-important purpose soon emerged. That is, to position the new research developments into larger contexts relevant to aging and longevity. The daily press and sources like Science Daily do good jobs at reporting important new research developments and publications. Unfortunately, however, the press too-often reports new research findings as “breakthroughs” when they are actually just pieces in a complex puzzle. (Note the blog entry When reading press releases and newspaper articles about research discoveries, beware!). What was needed to understand those news items was context. So, more and more of my blog entries have become in-depth discussions of whole areas of science relevant to longevity, citing and quoting from multiple research publications. The blog now contains 345 posts and 799 comments, with many of the posts being mini-treatises dealing with important health and longevity issues.
I have picked the “lowest hanging fruit” of topics to write about, the easiest ones for me to grasp and present, and have gradually been shifted to creating ever-longer and more comprehensive blog posts on ever-more complex topics. I am now spending a lot more time on a typical blog entry and the frequency of posts has therefore been going down. When I started the blog I was putting out shorter posts almost every day. Now I typically produce 1-2 posts a week.
Based on information collected by my ISP and user registrations:
· Number of substantive postings: 336
· Number of daily user accesses (unique users who view 2 or more articles): average 2,000
· Estimated total number of regular blog readers: 15,000
· Number of comments: 799
· New user registrations: average about 20 a day, more than half from outside the US
· Reader demographics: heavier in US, Europe and Eastern Europe, sparser in other parts of world.
I believe a main usage of the blog is as a reference resource. This is because most comments relate to past, not current blog entries, some current comments relate to blog posts well-more than a year old. This is not surprising to me since many of the blog posts pull materials from up to a dozen or more research publications together in a fairly understandable way, saving readers having to locate and read multiple publications to cover the same ground. I am very happy with the ever-growing popularity of this blog.
Besides researching and generating the blog, in 2010 I attended six longevity-science conferences, offered a presentation Towards a Systems View of Aging at the American Aging Society and appeared in the longevity science film To Age or Not to Age which has been shown multiple times on national TV.
Changes in my perspective over the last 4 years
Monitoring the torrent of literature potentially relevant to aging, going to research conferences, interacting with key longevity scientists, and researching and writing specific blog entries continues to be an intense learning process for me. The more I go on, the more I am humbled by what I don’t know. Here, I review some of my original views that remain the same and other views that have evolved.
1. Several of my original views were correct:
· There are multiple theories of aging, viewpoints that are correct in their own domains.
· Newer theories like Programmed Epigenomic Changes provide deeper explanations of the phenomena of and interrelationships among multiple older theories like Oxidative damage and Chronic inflammation.
· Proper attention to lifestyle and diet and consuming certain dietary supplements can significantly contribute to the probability of health and longevity. With the exception of a few additions, I have made relatively few modifications to my suggested lifestyle and dietary supplement anti-aging regimens over the last 3 years. As I mentioned, the scientific research basis for those appear clear and I have devoted a number of specific blog entries to such dietary subjects as extra-virgin olive oil, avocados and curcumin.
2. I was naÃ¯ve about seeing the Telomere Shortening and Damage theory of aging as primary and probably providing the best approach for extending longevity. Despite of the importance of telomeres and telomerase in cell biology, I no longer see exogenous extension of telomeres as a promising approach to life extensions. Telomeres are made longer or shorter by other factors and are responders to aging rather than drivers of aging(ref)(ref)(ref).
3. It became progressively clear that there are a lot of theories about what drives aging. In my treatise I cover 14 main ones and an additional 6 additional candidate ones. And this blog describes additional ones, such as Stochastic epigenetic evolution. Most of these theories are somewhat compatible, others less so. Further, some are pessimistic with respect to the options for life extension, others optimistic. For example The Nuclear DNA Damage/Mutation Theory of Aging described in a guest posting says you can do little about aging created by trillions of gene mutation events except live with it. However, the Programmed Epigenomic Changes suggests that the really important aging changes are epigenomic and reversible.
4. Three newer areas of science cut across these theories and provide integrative frameworks of underlying knowledge mostly unifying them. These are molecular biology, epigenetics/epigenomics and stem cell science. These are the hot areas of contemporary research, each with multiple specialized branches, areas where much progress is being reported. I see induced pluripotent stem cells as having incredible potential for regenerative medicine and, in the longer term, expanding lifespans.
5. I now see the topic of life extension as a more nuanced topic than before.
First of all, when talking about lifespan extension, only averages are meaningful. Even if I take a pill absolutely guaranteed to extend my life 10 years, I can still get run over by a bus or struck by lightning tomorrow. It is essential to specify the population the average applies to. “Life extension of an average of 15 years” means one thing when I am talking about “from birth” and something quite different when I am talking about people 80 to start with. And it is important to specify the demographic being talked about: men, women, Caucasians, “average” Americans, Swedes in Sweden, Swedes in the US, Latin Americans, Ashkenazi Jewish centenarians living in the US, people who have recovered from cancer, etc.
Second, I see life extension as roughly divisible into four categories:
a. General expected lifespan extension of more than 2 months for every year that passes in the US and advanced countries for lifespan from birth(ref). The number is a little less in the US than in other advanced countries. See the blog entriy US falling behind in longevity increases – why? This pattern of increasing lifespans has been going on for hundreds of years now and is accelerating. It is probably explainable by epigenomic changes associated with social evolution(ref)(ref)(ref).
b. Expected lifespan extension due to observing good dietary and lifestyle patterns and taking certain supplements. Here, I am thinking of following suggestions such as those contained in my lifestyle and dietary supplement supplement anti-aging regimens. I do not know how to estimate this effect but a wild guess is that an average US 40 year-old non-smoker in good health can gain 10-12 more years life expectancy this way.
c. Average lifespan extension due to pharmacological interventions, perhaps of up to 15 years, again for an average US 40 year-old non-smoker in good health. I am thinking here of drugs likely to come onto the market soon designed to affect well-studied longevity pathways such as SIRT1, mTOR and IGF1. I conjecture such pharmacological interventions may be available within 5 years from now. Whether such life extension will overlaps that of b) above or add to it is unknown. My guess is overlaps, meaning that taking such a drug may only add a few average years of lifespan beyond those achievable via the lifestyle and dietary interventions of b) above. However, such a drug may add significant number of years to those not willing to follow all of the lifestyle and dietary interventions.
d. Drastic future life-extension interventions associated with techniques of regenerative medicine. I am thinking of interventions that deeply reverse eipigenomic markers of aging or that utilize stem cell technology. A good example is described in my blog entries having to do with Closing the loop in the stem cell supply chain. I conjecture that such techniques could be available within 10 to 20 years and, as perfected, could possibly lead to lifespans of up to several hundred years.
If these conjectures sound wild, consider the following: In 1952 I was working with a then “giant brain” computer the size of a large truck trailer. Some futurists then spoke of possible future computers with 100 or even 1,000 times the power. These people were dismissed as crazy ungrounded visionaries, even by me. Few paid any attention to such nonsense. However, the $859 notebook computer being used to write this blog post is easily 100,000 times more powerful than that 1952 computer. And even the wildest visionaries back then could not imagine their grandsons and granddaughters running around with tiny computers 20,000 times as powerful in their little smartphones.
I am afraid that history will judge these conjectures on life extension as far too conservative rather than too radical.
6. Historically, public health measures have been more important than medical breakthroughs in assuring longevity. So I will be generating more blog entries like Public health longevity developments – focus on foods and US falling behind in longevity increases – why?
7. As time progresses I am seeing a much larger unfolding social picture in which see longevity research is only one component. Now, as we are in the beginning of the 21st century, profound changes are already happening connected with lengthening lifespans. Marriage and the start of careers has been postponed by a dozen or more years since when I was young . Instead of having babies when they are 17-23, middle class women are having babies in their 30s and 40s. And other changes are needed. For example, we are on the average living 15 years longer from birth now than we were in 1935 when Social Security and a standard retirement age of 65 was established. Back then, 65 was more than average expected lifespan from birth. That is, the average person was not expected to live long enough to retire. Now it is 14 years less. We have a big job to do to prepare our society for the life extension going on now and the more-radical life extension likely to happen in the near future. I anticipate the ramifications will be even more profound than those wrought by electronics, computers and Internet in the 20th century. So occasionally I will be writing blog entries on the social facets of longevity, blog entries like Social evolution and biological evolution – another dialog with Marios Kyriazis.
8. I am not sure how much longer I can keep up with the central research developments relevant to longevity. The pace of research is increasing and many of the key discoveries are increasingly technical. I find myself having to be more selective in picking topics for blog entries. And I am struggling harder and harder to understand what is going on in the areas of some of my blog entries. Popular writers like Ray Kurtzweil are predicting a future “singularity” likely to occur when there is more highly relevant knowledge than humans can grasp. I may well at some point run into a personal “singularity” with regard to the longevity research literature. I think this point is likely to be several years in the future, however, and I am determined for now to keep going with my intent to stay on top of it. I love it that “Kurtzweil is now 60 but intends to be no more than 40 when the singularity arrives(ref).” I am now 81 but intend more or less the same.
I invite comments and suggestions, particularly for this blog. I do have one specific question for readers. As a policy for the blog, in addition to linking to large numbers of research publications I have been providing backwards hyperlinks to previous relevant postings and to my treatise. I believe this has contributed significantly to the usefulness of both the blog and treatise. Also in selected cases I have linked from the treatise to blog entries. As of now, however, I have not gone back to past blog entries to provide forward linking. For example, I have not gone back to put links in my earlier articles on telomeres and telomerase to multiple subsequent articles on the same topic. It would take a substantial effort for me to do this kind of linking across the board. Do you think that would be worthwhile if I were to do it?