Random Facts About … the Possibilities and Realities of Aging

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By David Martin

Our internet tubes were getting really old so we replaced them with new ones. Too bad we can’t do the same with old body parts … but wait, science might have an answer to that.

Shinya Yamanaka won the Nobel Prize for discovering, in 2007, how to reprogram a person’s skin cells to perform as blank slate stem cells that could be used to develop into any kind of cell in the body. Other researchers used this science in a quest to reverse aging. They seem to have done it with mice. Injecting crafted young-again stem cells into an aging mouse’s failing eyes made those eyes young again. At a Harvard Medical School lab run by David Sinclair, old mice have been reset as young again and Sinclair believes the same process can one day be used on humans. Sinclair is apparently viewing aging as a disease that can be cured.

Once your body, brain, eyes, and organs are reset as young again, you will of course resume the aging process. But no matter. When your renewed body grows old, you can be reset young once more. How often can this happen? Sinclair believes people can live well into their hundreds without disease.

But stem cell research is only one among many efforts, ranging from rigorous science to quackery, to increase human lifespans and to ensure that people remain healthy until the end. In Marin County, Calif., the Buck Institute has been studying how to extend human lifespan. Researchers there have already increased by a factor of five the lifespan of … worms. But, hey, it’s a start.

Dozens of other research facilities are studying the aging issue. Obviously, if someone comes up with a “cure” for aging, massive fortunes will be made. But will it be a good idea for people to routinely live well into their 100s? Will the working young become even more overburdened paying for retirements that stretch for 40 or 50 years or more?

Regardless of unintended consequences, many people want to live as long as they can.

CNN Health reported that Sinclair, the Harvard Medical School researcher, exercises regularly and takes vitamins, baby aspirin, supplements, resveratrol, nicotinamide mononucleotide, metformin, and he eats one meal a day.

Live-long advice is along the lines of exercising, eating more veggies and less meat, getting plenty of sleep, and having a satisfying social life.

But a healthy lifestyle is not the be-all, end-all secret to longevity. A surprisingly large number of centenarians have been lifelong smokers, drinkers, and couch potatoes, just as many thin, exercising vegetarians die young. Obviously, something else is going on — lucky genetics, super powerful immune systems, attitude, the luck of the draw, something.

Whatever that something is, it’s increasing our lifespans. According to the Atlantic magazine, “ … by the middle of this century, American life expectancy at birth will be 88 years. By the end of the century, it will be 100 years.” And lifespans have been increasing for 200 years without being boosted (much) by medical breakthroughs or being slowed down by wars or diseases or even by the wealth or poverty of a nation.

We’re living longer — individually and as a species.

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