Author: J. Hawthorne

Aubrey de Grey has become the leading prophet of the radical life extension movement. To adherents, he has become a messiah figure as well; the long Jesus-like beard serves him well.

No other speaker trumps his passion for the subject of aging. Instead of searching for pragmatic methods to slow aging using current technology, de Grey has his sights set on the future.

His primary message is that even with all the major advances in regenerative medicine and biotech, we are still far from the goal of repairing damage accumulated from aging. Funding isn’t adequate enough to benefit people living today; it needs to be ramped up dramatically. Business will only act if there is sufficient demand along with promise of profitability. Aubrey’s goal is to convince scientists, decision makers, and the public at large that the answer to aging will materialize if we want it bad enough. The time has come to vote with our voices and our wallets.

Without further ado, here are some key quotes from Aubrey de Grey.

“A lot of people, especially journalists, like to characterize my work and the SENS Foundation’s work as being about immortality or living forever. (…) But actually what we’re about is stopping people from getting sick, which is a very down to earth and not terribly controversial topic.”

From Singularity University talk

Q. “First, a personal question; you are now approaching fifty; I am even older. Is it too late for you, and more importantly, is it too late for me to live to a thousand?”

A. “I have no idea, though I would say I have maybe a 50% chance. (You don’t say how much older than me you are, so I can’t comment.) All I know is that the sooner we develop these therapies, the better my chances. But my motivation is actually very largely independent of that. I focus on the fact that every day that I bring the defeat of aging forward, I’ll have saved 100,000 lives (that’s the number of people who die every day at present from causes that young adults rarely die of). That’s pretty good motivation, whether or not I’m one of the people in question.”

From interview

“… I encounter knee-jerk resistance about the desirability of the ability of postponing aging; and this arises primarily from the way it is portrayed in the media. In the media there is a tendency to try to make everyone feel comfortable with what they are hearing and what they’re reading. The whole prospect of postponing aging doesn’t make people feel comfortable because they’re worried that it won’t be in time for them.”

From interview

Q. “Of the ‘seven deadly things’ that cause ageing – cell loss, mutant mitochondria, mutations, death-resistant cells, tissue stiffening, and extracellular and intracellular aggregates – which will be the most difficult to address?”

A. “I’m in no doubt that the hardest one to address is mutations in our chromosomes. The problem with those is that they lead to cancer, which has natural selection at its disposal – so the cleverer we get, the cleverer it gets. That’s why the SENS approach to combating such mutations is so aggressive, and indeed so ambitious.”

From interview

“People have fear of the unknown. They appreciate that a post-aging world will be unbelievably different from the world that we know today.”

From interview

“The human body is at root is a machine. It’s a really, really complicated machine. There’s no dispute about this… but as we all know the human body is a machine. (Swigs beer) Machines accumulate wear and tear. Machines have what you might think of as a warranty period. They’re built to last a certain amount of time and they probably won’t last much longer than that, other things being equal. (Shows slide of VW jeep) Here is a machine that has lasted unusually long, for a car. This is more than fifty years old. And the reason it has lasted that way is because it was built unusually well. (…) That’s one way for a car to last longer than the ten or fifteen years your average car is likely to last. (…) There is another way to achieve that level of longevity for a car. (…) There are just as many fifty year old VW bugs driving around the streets of the U.S.A as there are fifty year old land rabbits. (Shows slide of VW bug) And the reason is because they’ve got style. Their owners are sufficiently in love with them that they’ve done enough maintenance on them; comprehensive enough maintenance to keep them going.”

From Singularity University talk

“The phrase ‘natural causes’ is a very strange one, really. Ultimately what it means is: they die of aging in a way that has not been given an additional name. So when someone dies of cardiovascular disease, for example, from a heart attack or a stroke, they die of aging just the same as someone who dies of natural causes. It’s just that the last stage of what they died of is given a particular name. It’s just a matter of terminology.”

From interview

“Anything that mainly kills the elderly, anything that young adults essentially never die of is death from aging. (…) Which means if we look at the international classification of diseases, we can determine that something in the region of two-thirds of all deaths worldwide are from aging. That’s 30 World Trade Centers every day.”

From TEDMED talk

“I’m not a worrier, actually. I figure I’ve got an extraordinarily privileged life. I’ve been able to go into a position of making a very substantial difference to the world’s biggest problem. As a scientist… someone who likes working on hard problems, you can’t get much better than that.”

From interview

Futurist and anti-aging writer Ray Kurzweil gobbles down 250 supplements per day. To us normal folk such measures seem excessive given the limited power of such interventions. At the other extreme, contemporaries like Aubrey de Grey see little value in supplements.

Often the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Supplementation won’t extend your lifetime but there is a good chance it can improve the quality of your life. After all, who wants to hang on to a miserable existence with a frail body? What we really need is a way to maintain our vitality and our youthful approach to living.

1. Resveratrol

There isn’t a more promising compound within the grasp of mere mortals. The scientific studies and evidence behind resveratrol continues to stack up. Findings have been largely positive although major pharmaceutical companies have funded unfavourable studies of questionable credibility.

Resveratrol mimics the effects of caloric restriction, which to date is the only known way to slow down the effects of age-related disease in mammals. As a side effect of the way it alters metabolism, resveratrol fends off the threat of type 2 diabetes. This means that overweight people benefit from it more than thin, active people.

2. Coenzyme Q10

Co Q10 is an anti-oxidant produced naturally by the body. Problems start to arise when production of Co Q10 slows down with age. At this point supplementation can make up for these losses.

Patients with congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, hypertension and a host of other coronary diseases tend to lack coenzyme Q10 in their body. Studies have shown that Co Q10 has managed to improve the condition of patients in the late stages of heart diseases previously thought of as irreversible. Of course it is best to use coenzyme Q10 to prevent problems in the first place.

3. Fish Oil (Omega 3)

Omega-3 fatty acids have long been touted as an effective means to ward off coronary heart disease. It turns out that the benefits don’t stop there.

In 2010 researchers found that people with the highest levels of omega-3 had longer telomeres than people with low levels. At present it is believed that telomeres are an accurate way of gauging how much a person has aged. This new information suggests we may have more control over the aging process via lifestyle choices than previously imagined.

4. Curcumin

Spicy Indian food is good for you, as long as you watch the oil and animal fat. The secret is found in a popular spice used to make curry: turmeric. It turns out that turmeric contains a compound called curcumin which is one of the most powerful anti-oxidants known.

Curcumin has the ability to actively kill cancer cells that presently have no formal means of treatment. The evidence that curcumin is valuable as a cancer prevention supplement are piling up: the terms curcumin and cancer returns 1535 research abstracts of published literature. In animal studies it prevented oxidative stress in fruit flies resulting in long lifespans. Given, we aren’t sure we’ll get the same results as humans.

5. Melatonin

Melatonin is commonly thought of as the sleep compound. It is naturally produced by the body and is responsible for making us feel tired at the appropriate times at night. Levels of melatonin decrease as we age which explains why senior citizens tend to wake up at ridiculously early hours in the morning. These seniors need more sleep but cannot stave off the urge to wake up due to the lack of melatonin.

In addition, melatonin is an anti-oxidant that is safe to take at night. Other anti-oxidants such as resveratrol have the most positive effects in the morning, so this is a good way to keep your body protected from oxidative stress throughout the day.

The science behind telomeres is fast becoming a pop culture phenomenon. Just about anyone interested in anti-aging interventions has heard about its effect on aging. People with longer telomeres are said to look and feel younger, regardless of biological age.

A few years ago resveratrol was the talk of the town. However, when new research showed that resveratrol does more to improve quality of life than extend life span, the hype died down. The anti-aging community soon after found its new saviour.

Coaxing telomerase into lengthening telomeres is the new hope for longer human lives.

It turns out that humans do have a built-in mechanism to control the process of aging. The passage of time along with poor lifestyle choices wears down telomeres. The function of telomerase is to rebuild the tips of the DNA. The problem lies in the fact it can’t keep up with the damage. No matter how carefully you follow the direction of your doctor, eat right and exercise, the gradual decline of your genetic code persists. Mutations give us age spots, sagging skin and weaker organs. When our telomeres get too short, we die.

Despite the lack of funding, a small group of biotech laboratories are working around the clock to find out what substances can lengthen telomeres. Companies such as Sierra Sciences in Reno, Nevada use sophisticated robots to test compounds. Their goal is find something that can effectively halt the aging process. So far the best compound they have found has reached 15.89% of this target.

As the public, we have no idea what has been tested so far and what hasn’t. What we do know is an herb popularly used as complementary medicine is among the top performers; it’s called astragalus. The plant was known by the ancient Chinese to have a positive effect on the immune system. How interesting that all these years later, there is evidence to show they were right.

So does this news make astragalus the new super supplement every health-conscious person over 30 needs to take? Scientists are in disagreement.

One camp, including nobel prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn, feels that there isn’t enough data in place to suggest astragalus can extend life in humans. More testing and clinical trials need to be done before it can be responsibly recommended. This is of course the default position of scientists: one of scepticism.

The other camp, including Sierra Sciences founder Bill Andrews, feels that being overly conservative can cost us years of life that could otherwise be saved. Although there isn’t conclusive evidence that astragalus based supplements like TA-65 work, we’ve got a pretty good hunch based on sound research. The only way you’d be able to tell if astragalus worked is if it was given to a large group of people from middle age to death. Tests of that magnitude aren’t realistic so we could be waiting for the data Blackburn speaks of indefinitely.

It is important to note that run of the mill astragalus supplements don’t have much ability to extend telomeres, if any. The compounds that work are rare portions extracted from the plant: astragaloside IV or better yet cycloastragenol. Some readily available supplements have traces of astragaloside IV, check the label. Keep in mind that such tiny dosages won’t do much good. The only products with promise are cycloastragenol from RevGenetics and TA-65 from TA Sciences.

Prices are shocking to the casual supplement-popper, so chances are most will be waiting on the wings until more studies are published and more options are available.

tanningPrior to the 20th century tanned skin was associated with the underprivileged class. It was easy to spot who worked in the fields. Well-off Caucasians spent much of their time indoors. Wide-brimmed hats were worn outdoors to avoid altering their pale, nearly translucent skin.

By the mid-1920s everything had changed. The poor now largely worked indoors. Leaders in fashion like Coco Chanel and Vogue magazine succeeded in glamourizing the look of bronzed skin.

Medical quackery convinced the public that the sun had a healing effect on the body. A tanned physique was now associated with good health. Pale individuals were perceived as sickly looking and weak.

Culture vs. Science

Through modern science we now recognize tanning for what it really is: a sign of skin damage. Skin cells that have been compromised by UV rays produce more pigment, achieving a darker skin tone.

Old perceptions persist. Many still associate tanned skin with good health. They are attracted to the allure of tanned skin due to cultural conditioning yet probably aren’t aware of the root of their preferences.

The tanning bed business is a very profitable one. Marketers know that as long as pop culture icons are tanned, the public will feel compelled to live up to this standard of beauty. Even those well aware of the skin damage caused by tanning beds ignore the “dark side” because arbitrary fashions often trump health concerns.

The Tragic Tale of Sun Damage

A Woman in her early 20s looks very pleasant as she starts to visit the tanning salon regularly. Complements are rich in supply. Acquaintances inquire if she recently went on vacation, giving her the feeling of elevated status. Initially positive reactions encourage the tanning regimen. She becomes a familiar face to the staff at the local tanning salon.

As skin damage progresses very slowly it is harder to notice its accumulation when she looks in the mirror. Over the years the chronic tanner’s skin starts to look haggard to people that she has spent time apart from. Those that were quick to give out complements in the beginning now avoid mentioning anything about her skin.

As more years pass and she reaches her mid-40s, her golden skin start to take on a leathery texture. Men once charmed by her beauty now cut conversations short. Friends gossip about how she is aging poorly behind her back.

Tanning Beds: No Better than the Sun

Despite the claims of tanning salons and tanning bed manufacturers, there is no distinct advantage to lying in a tanning bed rather than basking in the sun. Tanning beds give off the same UV rays that not only lead to prematurely aging skin but also increased risk of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

If you must have bronze skin the only safe way to do it is to pick up a sunless tanning product. Darkening lotions temporarily give you a tanned appearance so you don’t feel embarrassingly white at the beach or during outdoor events.

gary-hair11-267x300Resveratrol is one of the most discussed supplements on health message boards such as Longecity at There is a wealth of information in a giant thread entitled the “500 club.” Users chime in about benefits and side effects experienced as well as how much they take daily. You’ll commonly read about increased energy. This effect has been proven in mouse studies. You’ll also come across less common results like reversal of gray hair.

There is more feedback about reversal of hairs in the beard than on the scalp. Some have photographed their lower face as evidence. In one example some hairs were dark at the root and white at the tip. Although far from conclusive it seems there is substance to the claims.

So far resveratrol users that claim to have less gray on the scalp are met with scepticism. First off, it is very hard to prove because it is a noted improvement, not a dramatic reversal. There are generally 100,000 hairs on the average human head to account for. Secondly, there is no way to confirm that the resveratrol alone is solely responsible for the reversal. Let’s remember that it is a compound taken by people concerned with optimal aging and health. Any number of positive lifestyle changes may help darken the hair.

Since gray hair reversal from resveratrol hasn’t been studied or proven it isn’t a good bet to buy it based on a handful of antidotes on the internet. Some lucky folks may experience less gray hair but this should be thought of as a pleasant side effect.

Primarily resveratrol’s strength lies in prevention and treatment of a number of age-related diseases. It will certainly make you feel younger. Whether it helps you keep your youthful good looks is still up for debate.

Better Off with Hair Dye?

Rumours are circulating that L’Oréal holds a patent for gray hair reversal without dye. In the future we may be swallowing a pill to restore hair color. It’s exciting to think about, but still a long way off. If you are unhappy with your grays the best way to take care of the problem is still hair dye.

Another option is of course is to embrace your gray. Women are starting to warm up to the idea of showing off their natural color with pride instead of shame. Jamie Lee Curtis, Emmylou Harris and Meryl Streep are just a few of the mature stars inspiring women around the world.

Traditionally it was seen as un-masculine to be a slave to hair dye. All this is changing. More men are dying their hair today than in the past.