Forever young – the quest for longevity

The most common risk factor for serious disease is old age. Heart disease, cancer, stroke, neurological conditions, diabetes — all increase radically with advancing years. And the older a person is, the more likely he or she is to have multiple chronic illnesses.

Some scientists hope one day to treat all of them at once — by targeting aging itself.

Humans aren’t built to last forever. The oldest person on record was Jeanne Calment, a Frenchwoman, who died in 1997 at the age of 122. In 2040, the average life span for people in Spain, projected to pass Japan as the country with the longest-lived citizens, will reach about 86 years.

There is considerable dispute, however, over how long humans might live under optimal circumstances. In 2016, a team of scientists declared the upper limit to be 115 years. But in June, researchers reviewing death rates among elderly Italians suggested that there may be no limit at all, according to an article in New York Times.

Questions about age and health and how to live a healthier life longer has taken on a new significance as the number of older people has risen in the Western world.

The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent from 15 percent.

Around 20 percent of the Swedish population is 65 years old or older. Around 2020 the number of 80-year-olds will see a substantial increase, especially people over 85. By 2050 the estimate is that the number of Swedes over 85 will be the double amount compared to today.

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The number of Swedes who reach the age of 100 years or more has increased dramatically in just a few decades. Between 1968 and 2011the group increased 16 times in Sweden, from 105 to 1770 persons, according to the The Swedish Centenarian Survey (SCS).

The increase is prognosed to continue. According to a new study half of all Swedes born today will reach at least the age of 100. Other studies are more conservative, but the trend is clear: we live much longer than our grandparents.

So, the question among a large part of the older population is: how do you take care of yourself to live a long and healthy life? There’s even a special word for it, how to increase your longevity.

In his book Growing Young, the author Marcus L. Gitterle, a doctor with a strong personal interest in longevity, starts with giving some obvious advices: regular training, both cardiovascular training and training with weights, to make up for the muscles you lose when you age, a healthy diet (Gitterle recommends a version of paelo diet) and good sleep.

The take-home message in his book is that aging is not one single process. Instead, aging is a negative synergy involving several factors, each of which inexorably “winds down” over time. When synergy occurs, forces that might be more or less minimal in impact become much more serious. Synergies, by their nature, mean the whole or end result is  bigger than the sum of the parts. 

But even if aging is a negative synergy that is hard to target that’s definitely not stopping people from trying to slow down aging. Of course, that also means that there is now a flourishing market to cater to their needs and dreams. 

Spurred by aging populations and heightened interest in preventative health, sales of vitamins, minerals, and nutritional and herbal supplements have surged, both in the US and in Europe.

More and more people are looking for remedies to cure what ails them, and elixirs to help them stay healthy well into their twilight years. Health is not just a goal. It is both a lifestyle choice and a thriving consumer market.

For rich people there are ultra-expensive clinics designed for Hollywood stars and CEO’s. These anti-aging clinics often charge more than 5 000 dollars for an initial consultation, and more than 1 000 dollars per month for ongoing care. 

In the meantime, science is catching up on aging. In animal studies over the last few decades, scientists have begun to understand the specific cellular and molecular processes that cause the deteriorations of old age. In an essay in the journal JAMA, Tamara Tchkonia and Dr. James L. Kirkland of the Mayo Clinic categorized these processes into four broad groups: chronic inflammation; cell dysfunction; changes in stem cells that make them fail to regenerate tissue; and cellular senescence, the accumulation in tissue of aging cells that accompanies disease.


Could there be any remedy that removes these old cells while leaving young cells? Several are being tested, according to New York Times.

There are dozens of companies in clinical trials, or planning them, tackling all the different causes of aging,” says David A. Sinclair, a professor of genetics at Harvard, to the newspaper. 

“I’m optimistic that there will be a few successes in the coming years.” he adds.

Anti-Aging Medicine is still in its infancy, but it is already undergoing a revolution, writes Marcus L. Gitterle:

”Up to now, we have seen only “baby steps.” Therapies such as hormone replacement, while helpful, are not really “age reversing.”

Whereas the first generation of anti-aging therapies produced some impressive effects, they were superficial ones. Hormone replacement, in a sense, is a way of treating one of the symptoms of aging: hormonal decline. Replacing hormones makes our systems grossly behave as if younger, but our cells - our very building blocks - don’t get any younger. It’s like asking our cells to dance faster. They may look a bit younger from a distance, but up close, biologically speaking, they are the same tired, old cells.”

So, the race is on. There are people and companies out there offering miracle cures that promise us longer, healthier lives.

In the next article I’m going to perform a test on myself with a new training supplement that has become popular and made headlines in the US. 

It’s a testosterone booster which, according to the manufacturer, helps you to lose weight and gain muscles, while at the same time making you feel more alert and sexually active – the middle aged and older man’s dream come true.