Is Immortality Achievable?
Death is inescapable at present – but to grow old and feeble is not’ – not Dr Nir Barzilai’s (director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx) exact words because Google’s SEO (Search Engine Optimization) abhors anything that smacks of plagiarism. Nor is it my answer to the question of immortality. That I shall give you at the end of Part A. In the mean-time absorb the quote, it is excellent advice.
First, a thought from Leonard Cohen
This snippet from the extraordinary Leonard Cohen comes from a concert in London. My original intention was to use a small part of his performance of ‘Anthem’, from Lissadel House in County Sligo, Ireland. I failed miserably to get the code to accept my instructions so I used his London performance. Many of you will know that Co. Sligo is where WB Yeats is buried. During his lifetime Yeats was a guest at Lissadel House and it was my intention to have these extraordinarily gifted poets together, as it were, on the pages of my website.
Immortality is a solemn subject, I would think. Who better than Leonard Cohen to prepare the way. He, by any measure, radiated an immortality of a kind (alas, quite not the kind of immortality we shall discuss today), but nevertheless, immortal in the memories of his fans – remember those words, “…ring the bells that still can ring…”
I, Maximus your mentor, will, in the succeeding pages, be reviewing a number of choices that have developed a reputation for life-extension. Perhaps not ‘a life forever’ just yet, but perhaps into three-figures. I shall attempt to give specific figures for you to work with so that you can calculate, with some degree of accuracy, how to live for a 100 years. Remember please, I am not a doctor but an ancient philosopher (metaphorically speaking) and I have no wish to get into trouble with the FDA so do not quote me on this.
A star system will be employed showing which ‘Supports’, as I shall call them, are the most beneficial. Rated one to five stars. You will perhaps notice that I use the phrase ‘ceteris paribus’. It means ‘other things being equal’. If your health is very frail then even if you say drank copious amounts of coffee and had a marvelous diet, you may still not live for very long. Obviously because ‘other things’ were not equal.
Remember that to live long, you must apply yourself early – however, I suspect that this does not necessarily apply to Metformin, please read more below. Suppose you followed a lifestyle where you limited your calorie intake. To earn the full 15 years bonus, you would have to maintain it for 40 years. If you had maintained the regime for say 20 years, quite clearly this would give you 50%, or 7.5 years bonus. But once this lifestyle becomes the norm for you, then surely it would never be an encumbrance.
You will notice too that I shall avoid the question of smoking. The essay is more about ‘proper doing’ and less of ‘not doing’. You will probably die young if you smoke just as you will probably die young if you used opioids. Quod est est. But then, what if you had smoked but have now ceased – what then? Well it has been reported that very quickly you will see benefits. Ie twelve hours after giving up, most of the nicotine would have left your body. But your habit will have done damage – it is estimated that only after 15 years, will your level of risk be about the same as that of a non-smoker.
A recent study, “Can good sleep patterns offset genetic susceptibility to heart disease and stroke?” published in the European Heart Journal on December 18, 2019, studied a central question in the field (Mengyu Fan, Dianjianyi Sun, Tao Zhou, Yoriko Heianza, Jun Lv, Liming Li, Lu Qi. Sleep patterns, genetic susceptibility, and incident cardiovascular disease: a prospective study of 385 292 UK biobank participants. European Heart Journal, 2019; DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehz849). This is a good article for those who enjoy good sleeping patterns.
Sleep is terribly important to good health and a long life, and a superior sleep pattern could lessen your chances of heart disease, stroke and dementia. But therein lies the core of my problem. Reporting on it is very subjective and sleep and thus I must sadly dismiss it from my list of Supports – it becomes just too difficult to try and quantify just how much good sleep you will need to add to your lifespan. Remember too – never over-sleep!
I have also avoided looking at meditation. Not because it doesn’t work – never, it is like balm to your soul, but because it is such a personal discipline. As with sleep above, it would be virtually impossible to quantify the quantum as some statisticians would say.
I must here raise the subject of the medical profession’s use of statistics. Quite sensibly, the question of mortality in their statistics is generally not their main concern. They are more interested in the reduction of disease and extending the lives of the living. You will recognise this when I give you an example: by using food x, the disease could be reduced by y%. I am of course interested in the calculation of mortality statistics so this becomes much more difficult to pinpoint. The research community consequently follows suit – in the following post I can only recall one Support where an estimate by the researcher, of years added to your life was made and that was Professor Friedman on being conscientious.
The Supports I have introduced on these pages are at a very unsophisticated level, I do admit. The biotech arm of gerintology will in time become a massive industry. Why not, if you are so inclined, have a look at an epigenic clock and have your doctor run a test. I know that Horvath developed an improved model – it is a biochemical test for the measurement of age based on DNA methylation levels. The median error quoted by Horvath is 3.6 years – which is good. You could then compare your Horvath age with your own age and hopefully this will please and motivate you.
I should like to pay homage to Captain Tom Moore, Honorary Colonel the Yorkshire Regiment who turned 100 today – 30th April 2020. He also raised >£30 million for the NHS. What a marvelous old chap! Stop-Press: once the Covid-19 has abated a little, he will be knighted by the Queen.
My thought was, how could we live for > 100 years as an average age – much as many once regarded three score years and ten? I might add that this thought is also spurring scientists, especially here in the US, because they see as their prize the Holy Grail of Big Pharm – the pill that could virtually ensure eternal life and, most importantly, earn billions of dollars.
Lastly, may I urge you to look hard at Support No. 13 below – Metformin and a long life. We have finally arrived at a serious pre-contender to our quest to live forever – even if I do say this with a wry smile. If you do not already know of the drug, please read about it (see below) because it is without doubt a forerunner of the future when many life-extension drugs will come available. Once it receives acceptance by the FDA and then Big Pharma, progress will erupt like Vesuvius, or so I hope.
To answer my question: is immortality achievable? Could we Homo sapiens even last that long? Absolutely not, so no immortality, dear fellow.
The Thirteen Supports to a Longer Life.
Eat less and Live Longer٭٭٭٭
Researchers have known for years that limiting calories will increase the lifespan of a whole range of animals such flies, mice and monkeys. So, what about humans – surely it follows?
Yes, it does. In a recent study over 2 years (LM Redman et al, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, April 2019) 53 men and women, were divided into two groups – the one group’s calorie intake was limited and the other was normal. Cutting calories by just 15% slowed down aging and the body’s metabolism and might even safeguard against age-related neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, plus others like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. This was because of the reduction of the markers in oxidative stress in those on reduced calories.
As the researchers pointed out though. This is not a diet for everyone. Besides the reduction in food, those on the diet noted (a) a diminishment of libido and (b) a continual feeling of being cold. This then might suit those non-libidinous ascetics with access to central heating. Start young and, ceteris paribus, you should live a long life. But it does work and therefore supposing you could last 40 years living the life of a monk in the Tundra, I would give you an extra 15 years = 4 stars.
Nuts are Good for Your Health ٭٭٭
This was quite a famous study and was the largest ever carried out in this field (Marta Guasch-Ferré et al,Nut Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, November 2017). It was of special interest to your mentor, Maximus, because of his voracious appetite for nuts of all kinds.
In the last decade there has been a discernible shift to plant-based foods away from animal products. And with it the need to find vegetarian foods that can contribute equivalent amounts of protein.
The nut study was very large including more than 210,000 participants with up to 32 years follow-up. The findings were that there is a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease when a variety of nuts were consumed. Happily, this included many kinds of nuts – even peanuts, which are legumes and not a true nut. So how many years could this give a serious nut-eater if you were to snarf nuts for 40 years? I estimate 5 years, therefore 3 stars.
Turmeric and Curcumin Health Benefits*
Coming from a background of regular curry consumption, I of course have always known of the spice turmeric, or Indian saffron as some cooks call it. Being a spice, you cannot really overdo its addition to a dish of food, even if it is good for you. The spice contains a bio-active compound called curcumin. It too is bright yellow in color and is sold as an herbal supplement, cosmetics ingredient, food flavoring, and food coloring. It also has astonishing potential as a health supplement.
I came across the following study (DiSilvestro RA et al, Diverse effects of a low dose supplement of lipidated curcumin in healthy middle-aged people. Nutr. J. 2012). Of interest to me here was how effective cucumin might be when taken by healthy people.
The dosage was 400mg of powder containing 80mg of curcumin or a placebo taken for four weeks. Blood and saliva tests were carried out before and after the test period. The results were pretty rewarding overall: a major increase in nitrous oxide and a lowering of stress markers. This from a smallish dose of curcumin given to people who were generally in good health.
More work needs to be done by the research community. Life expectancy at birth in India on April 11, 2019 was 69 years. As a comparison, life expectancy in the.US in 2019 is 78.87 years. Although this would hardly be a fair comparison. But remember the spice used in India is turmeric. One teaspoon of turmeric contains roughly 200 mgs of curcumin and you would probably need between 500 to 1,000 mgs per day per head for it to be of benefit. Clearly, turmeric does not really count as a serious source of antioxidants even for most Indians. But I shall give it 1 star for trying hard.
Eat a Plant Food Diet٭
Enlightened people are showing a preference to eating plant-based diets these days. Overall, they appear to have a lower (BMI) and better health with less obesity and diabetes than the meat-eating fraternity. But does this help with my goal of living forever? I’m afraid not. But you get 1 star for effort.
Why it is Important to Stay Active٭٭٭
You’ll look good and be healthy and live your whole life through, but alas, no really special longer life. Well not what I call longer life which is now three figures.
But let’s look at the pluses: Exercise (aim for 150 minutes per week) helps with obesity and your bulbous belly, it keeps your blood pressure down and from this flows all manner of good things – there is a lower risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Exercise always helps you sleep better and this is excellent for the brain and less chance of dementia as you age. And if you tend to get anxious, the exercise helps that too. Finally my last piece of advice, especially to the elderly, please try and not sit all the time. It is bad for you. Business folk are not helping their health by sitting for hours on their bums.
Exercise will always be good and for many reasons, therefore I give you 5 years or 3 stars.
Drink Wine and Live Longer٭
This is a custom that is deeply ingrained in our society. What can be more pleasurable than to be with friends and family and enjoy a glass of wine or beer with them? But of course, it is also a drug that causes enormous problems in the community. Even those who are not alcoholics, but heavy drinkers, are abusing their health and this could lead to heart and liver diseases and to pancreatic disease.
The main question is however, does wine have any effect on our mortality? Fortuitously a researcher has looked into this (Ruf JC1. Drugs Exp Clin Res. 2003;29(5-6):173-9.) His overview, that included the intake of beer and spirits concluded that that light to moderate daily consumption of beer and spirits had no affect on mortality. Contrastingly, drinking wine in moderation does have a most positive effect on one’s life broadly because of the antioxidants found in wine. A number of studies have shown that when compared to abstainers, risk of dying is 20% to 30% lower – note this is a relative statistic, not really what we want. I give wine a single star – really just as a gesture of friendship.
Is Happiness Good for Health?٭٭
No question, this is complicated. Does not happiness just arrive – like a beautiful sunrise? It surely is not possible to say to yourself, “This morning, I shall be happy – haha!” Whatever its aetiology, look for laughter and happiness and you will live a longer life. You get 2 stars because I have come across elderly folk who are content but are really out of shape, their knees knackered, not using their brains much, not really eating plant food or turmeric, not drinking wine or coffee – but they often have no stress and usually a wide social circle so I shall give happiness 2 stars.
Avoid Stress and Anxiety٭٭
Especially if it chronic. Remember, that ‘chronic’ is a medical term meaning ‘a long time.’ Normally, it is used for a condition lasting at least 3 months (as opposed to acute – short and sharp). So if your anxiety has lasted for more than 3 months, you are definitely suffering from chronic anxiety and I urge you to read my essay on this very site ‘Your CBD Mentor: What is the best CBD Oil for Anxiety?’ asap. In fact, take a moment to consider your ‘happiness’ level too. For one, being happy is far more important than your job or even your marriage. It’s a thought that may even occur to you on your death-bed. With regret, I suggest. Keep avoiding stress for 40 years and you’ll also get 2 stars or an extra 3 years.
Social Networks are Good٭
This one, particularly for the elderly, is most important. Without a doubt you can add a few more years to your life if you can surround yourself with friendly people. Your happiness levels should certainly be boosted. Join a club: bowling, bridge, gardening, running, cycling, book, classic movies, there are more than enough to choose from. You get 1 star.
Be more Conscientious٭٭
Professor HS Friedman of the University of California and graduate student ML Kern (PhysOrg.com – Health Psychology (vol.27, 2008)) collated information from 20 studies and >8,900 participators from all over the world. They discovered that conscientiousness was a strong predictor of a long life. This most likely was because they were sensible about diet and sleep, had a better job and took less risks. Professor Friedman even quantified the extra length of time they might live, and that was 2 to 4 years. So, you’ll get 2 stars.
Benefits of Drinking Coffee Daily٭٭٭٭
We finally arrive at information that is enormously satisfying for many people. Coffee, and how important it is for everyone and especially anyone interested in their health.
Termed ‘A Multinational Cohort Study’ of greater than 500,000 people in 10 European countries, studied over a period of 10 years and published in 2017 by Gunter et al in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that there existed an inverse relationship with mortality – up to at least 8 cups per day. The report suggested that some of the participants drank more than that. Most importantly, to drink it with enthusiasm. I really enjoyed Gunter’s generous ‘inverse relationship’. Say you drank your coffee with commitment for at least 40 years then I am willing to give you 4 stars ie 10 years extra life. But remember you must have drunk coffee for 40 years with passion. Anyone who knows me will immediately accuse me of bias! I am unrepentant.
There have of course been many more very large studies involving coffee drinking and all of them positive.
Scientists working at Queen Mary University in London researched coffee consumption and artery health. This was also a large study involving greater than 8,412 people – some drinking up to 25 cups per day! All the participators were given an MRI scan of their hearts and an infrared pulse wave test. Findings were extremely positive. Professor Elio Riboli of the Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention at the School of Public Health, Imperial College London commented favourably on the results and said, “It brings good news for coffee drinkers, and a further scientific element in support of our previous findings that coffee, far from being ‘bad for health’ is on the contrary beneficial.”
CBD and a Good Life٭
I had to add CBD – obviously because I market the product and because it gives so much benefit to the user. In the last few years there has been an explosion of research into CBD and the Cannabinoids but I have yet to find any real research into CBD and longevity. But it will come, because it stands to reason that CBD and the unmitigated goodness it already does for us, must prolong our life span. In the mean time I shall have to just give it a single star. For further information on CBD, please read my numerous posts on this site.
Metformin and a long life***
First, some thoughts on aging because we have come to a very serious part of my essay. Living forever is an ancient concept – recall the legends of vampires for instance. But it remains very much mythical and unachievable. What is aging and how is it defined?
Usually the answer will be by age ie physiological age. But that is inadequate because we probably have all met a dithering, dribbling, bedbound and clearly sick person of say 70 and his converse – over 90 and driving his car, hiking, happy, reading, playing bridge and doing good things like eating nuts, quaffing coffee and wine and so forth. So, as we age, would it not follow that ‘old age’ in years is obviously not the key? Rather think of old age as a cluster of diseases that can be treated, or, ideally controlled or even prevented?
This is exactly what Professor Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, thinks. We do know that fundamental biological mechanisms are responsible for the aging process and he is presently leading a team that has as its ambition to show conclusively that the drug metformin can delay the aging process and consequently our mortality.
More importantly, he aims to convince the FDA that this study – called ‘Targeting Aging with Metformin (TAME)’ is a valid study. Here I use the word ‘valid’ because technically, in the eyes of the FDA, aging is not a disease. And this is critical because according to its authorization, the FDA exists “…to regulate medications and devices used in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases”. So, if old age is not a disease Big Pharm will not lend any support and no drugs will be manufactured for that express purpose.
That brings us to metformin. Discovered first in 1922, many people may instantly recognise the name of the drug. It is a generic that has been used by millions of diabetics for decades – >81 million prescriptions for its use were written in 2016 in the US alone. Consequently, there will be no problem with any fears of danger brought on by its usage – it is relatively benign. Lewis Cantley, director of the Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine once said of it, “… may have already saved more people from cancer deaths than any drug in history”.
Note too that I have assigned three stars to metformin but they are red. As a comparison ‘Why it is important to stay Active’ has also three stars. It’s like comparing ‘apples and pears’ isn’t it? They are undeniably different – different classifications. That is also the reason why I have been extremely modest with metformin. If you had to start taking metformin at a relatively young age and you started when you were in good health, I suspect, ceteris paribus, you could really live to a ripe old age.
What Professor Barzilai proposes in the study ‘TAME’ will be to show that metformin as an ‘anti-aging’ drug that can obstruct the development of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer – up to a point, in the older adult. This is why I earlier wrote that, “…Remember that to live long, you must apply yourself early…” and this statement did not necessarily apply to metformin. I made this statement because I suspected that if you started taking metformin, then from day one almost, the drug would start protecting you from the ‘death-grip’ of old age – but up to a point obviously. I say this because that it what drugs do – not like starting an exercise regime or suddenly drinking more coffee.
Incidentally, what struck me when reading research about metformin, was how enthusiastic overweight diabetics were about how effectively they shed excess weight when on the drug.
For an aging civilian like me, it seems extraordinary that so many millions must be spent and so much time taken by very high-level scientists and personnel to convince the FDA that their original authorization can now be changed. Reports on Google indicate that Tame was due to start in November 2019 and will finish in November 2024.
Even the estimable Dr Nir had this to say about metformin, “metformin is basically the first and the weakest drug that will delay aging.” I therefore reluctantly give it 3 stars or 5 years. Dr Nir is pre-diabetic who takes metformin as do many endocrinologists and other doctors. I urge you, if you are not diabetic or pre-diabetic to ask your physician to give you an off-label prescription for the drug.
CONCLUSION, and finally, the calculation – 100 years or more?
Now my smart readers would have been counting stars/years: so, assuming you were that paragon who lived a joyous, stress-free life, drinking lashings of coffee but eating frugally etc etc for at least 40 years – a Σ would give you 54 years! Ah, but I am a statistician so that is rejected – many of the Supports, as I call them, are homologous therefore should you choose two or more Supports then the following rule will apply: you add the years and then take 50% of the Σ and that will be your number. For example, I choose calorie restriction = 15 years and coffee drinking = 10 years. Added together will give 25 years and 50% of that is 12.5 years. You should therefore, ceteris paribus, get 12.5 years extra life.
What is the starting point you may ask? Here I shall use the figure for life expectancy in the US which for 2019 is 79 years (rounded). So in the example above where you have, for 40 years been eating modestly and drinking your coffee you should, ceteris paribus, live to be 79 + 12.5 = 91.5 years. And if you did everything right, and scored on all thirteen supports, according to my list you would live to be: 79 + (54 x 0.5) = 106 years. God bless you.
Living as we do in 2020 there will always be the grouch who will object, for whatever reason, at the veracity of my figures. Let them, because when you are on your death-bed, having long since done your sums, and having lived for over a 100 years, are called Methuselah by an admiring family – you will hopefully remember Maximus who, all those years ago forecast how many really jolly years lay ahead. Hallelujah!
My best wishes to you all, plus a personal message to a friend: please stop smoking John-John!
- 1. Apple S. the more researchers learn about a compound called metformin, the more it seems like a medieval wonder drug poised for a 21st century comeback. 2020 Condé Nast.
- 2. Barzilai N. et al. The TAME (Targeting Aging with Metformin). Trial pamphlet summarizing the process.
- 3. Barzilai N. et al. Metformin as a Tool to Target Aging. Cell Metab. 2016 June 14: 23(6): 1060-1065. Author Manuscript.
- 4. Glossman HH, Lutz OMD. Metformin and Aging: A review. Gerontology 2019; 65: 581-590, September 13, 2019.
- 5. Harris L. The Safe, Boring, and extremely Cheap Drug that could cure Aging. September 5, 2018.
- 6. The Guardian. Scientists Harness AI to Reverse Aging in Billion Dollar Industry. December 21, 2019.
- 7. Independent News. Drinking up to 25 Cups of Coffee a Day, safe for Heart, Study Finds. Queen Mary University of London. 3 June 2019.
- 8. Kern ML, Friedman HS. Do Conscientious Individuals live Longer? University of California. Health Psychology (vol 27, 2008).
- 9. Loftfield E et al. Association of Coffee Drinking with Mortality by Genetic Variation in Caffeine Metabolism. Jama Internal Medicine – Original Investigation. August 2018.
- Petre A. Thirteen Habits linked to a long Life. Healthline 2019.
- 10. Public Release: 19-MAR-2019. Dr Nir Barzilai to present at the 6th Aging Research for Drug Discovery Forum in Basel.
- 11. Reason. TAME trial fo the effects of metformin in humans to proceed this year. Fight Aging! September 6, 2019.
- Redman LM et al. Metabolic Slowing and Reduced Oxidative Damage with Sustained Caloric Restriction Support the Rate of Living and Oxidative Damage Theories of Aging. Cell Metab, 2018 April; 27(4): 805-815.Epub 2018.
- 12. Shriver M. Could longevity pill help you live longer and healthier? Today. September 13, 2017.
Please note that the statements above, particularly with reference to metformin and CBD and to any of the other so-called ‘Supports’ have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease – or extend life. Users should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have, and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions.