The real science of anti-aging

With all the hype around supposed “anti-aging” remedies today, it seems as though some scientists won’t stop until we can all live forever.  

Right now, Sirtris (a division of multi-national drug giant Glaxo Smith-Kline) is running a clinical trial on a new drug that might have a “side effect” of extending lifespan. This drug was initially developed to treat inflammation. And one popular medical theory is that inflammation causes or contributes to virtually all diseases. So better controlling inflammation could potentially prolong lifespan in general. Indeed, this new drug does appear to slow aging in mice and other laboratory animals.

But it has yet to be proven in humans. (And despite what the pharmaceutical industry might want us to believe, the results really aren’t comparable, since humans have much longer lifespans to begin with.)

Others believe the answer to aging may come from stem cells. And the body is constantly replacing old cells with newer cells, tissue by tissue. At Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, researchers have been able to grow human bladders and urethras from stem cells implanted into patients. So, this approach—replacing aging cells with new cells from the same person—may make sense theoretically. But others caution that stem cell remedies for aging may be a long time in coming. (And will undoubtedly remain controversial even if scientists do manage to develop them.)

So another approach is to use machines to replace aging, failing human organ functions.  There are already a few examples of this “anti-aging” approach in common use today. Heart pacemakers, joint replacements, and ear implants for example. And work is taking place on a high-tech exoskeleton that could be placed around human organs, creating a kind of “Terminator.” (Of course, let’s not forget that the fictional Terminator shortened the lifespan of humans.) 

Yet, with all these mechanical and drug fixes in the works, everyone is completely overlooking the one true anti-aging “miracle” that has already occurred over the past century.  

The average life expectancy of Americans has nearly doubled since the year 1900—from 47 to 80. How did this miracle come about? Not from high-tech drugs or medical procedures. But primarily from the most basic of advancements in personal and public hygiene. Clean water and  better nutrition, for example.

In fact, drugs and medical procedures have had far less effect on longevity than these basic “common sense” approaches.

And it’s not so-called “anti-aging” medicine (controversial at best in mainstream medical science) that will point the way to further advances in longevity. But basic research on common problems, like diabetes and heart disease. 

Thanks to the ongoing research in these areas, we are on track to achieve an average longevity of 100 years in coming decades. Even without any specific medical breakthrough.

If that’s not “anti-aging” in the truest sense, then I don’t know what is.