At the Longevity Now Conference, Dr. Aubrey de Grey presented on where anti-aging is going in the future. I located this video from TED that gives a much shorter version of basically the same talk. It’s well worth watching.
Here are some of the key things I gained from his presentation.
According to him, diseases of old aging are simply a side effect of living. Even doing the best things for you health, eventually a person will have cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, etc. These things are universal if you live long enough. So even if we extend the life span to 120, 150, 200 years, these diseases will eventually occur as something has to take us out. That is unless some of the research they’re looking at in his foundation and other places works as well as they hope.
There are 7 types of damage that occurs in and around cells. Everything fits into these categories and nothing else has been discovered that fits outside of this list in 32 years. The first three have to do with the life cycle of the cells and the final four have to do with the sub-cellular or molecular level.
- Cell Loss and Atrophy
- Division-Obsessed Cells
- Death-Resistant Cells
- Mitochondrial Mutations
- Intracellular Junk
- Extracellular Junk
- Extracellular Matrix Stiffening
Cell Loss and Atrophy – Cells die. It’s natural. You have lots of cells, but lose many and that portion of the body, whatever it is, is going to begin to lose function. At some point, lose too many and you will die.
Division-Obsessed Cells – Basically this is cancer. When cells become cancerous they divide at a fast pace which can result in big tumors, spreading throughout the body, and becoming too much for your immune system to fight.
Death-Resistant Cells – It is normal for cells to die at certain points. This is called apoptosis, the process of programmed cell death. If a cell won’t or can’t die that can lead to a variety of problems as well.
Mitochondrial Mutations – The mitochondria are the powerhouses in our cells that generate energy. They’re critical to life, but also can lead to damage themselves and even mutate the cells’ DNA.
Intracellular Junk – This includes by-products of the cells’ processes that aren’t removed and taken care of. It can also be environmental toxins that get stored in the cell. A little bit is not a problem, but at some point this junk can lead to loss of function.
Extracellular Junk – Outside the cells junk and toxins can also accumulate leading to similar and different problems.
Extracellular Matrix Stiffening – The cell walls themselves can become “stiffened” from glycation and crosslinking thus allowing less to move between them as “juicy” cells should.
In the video he describes some of the research they’re looking into to combat each of these 7 types of cell damage. Certain methods are closer to being put into use rather than theoretical, like using bacteria to help clean up cell junk.
For more information check out Dr. Aubrey de Grey’s SENS Research Foundation. If you want to help this research you can give donations there.
How Long Can Humans Go?
There is something called the Hayflick Limit which says we can only live to roughly 120 years maximum. From Wikipedia:
The Hayflick limit (or Hayflick phenomenon) is the number of times a normal human cell population will divide until cell division stops. Empirical evidence shows that the telomeres associated with each cell’s DNA will get slightly shorter with each new cell division until they shorten to a critical length.
The topic of telomeres was previously mentioned in our article about Jing. Although there are legends of yogis, mystics and others living past this suppose limit, to 150 or 250, these claims are unverified, at least by the people who verify these things.
Again, according to Wikipedia, the oldest person ever, whose age was verified, was 122 years. Everyone else seems to get stopped at 115 or 116.
Calment wasn’t particularly involved in health or exercise, but some notables from her diet include olive oil, port wine and almost a kilo of a chocolate every week!
What Dr. Aubrey de Grey and many other scientists believe is that these future methods and technologies will allow us to go much further than that, simply because we will be able to clear up the damage that living causes. Rather than prevent the damage or manage symptoms of it, his goal is to fix the damage.
Where Herbs and Healthy Living Come In
In that video at 8:30, as well as the presentation I saw, he has a slide showing a little piece of how the human metabolism works and how complicated it is.
This is why when you take a pharmaceutical drug to fix one issue it can cause 10 others!
That’s why we recommend natural supplements like herbs. Nature is wise. Sure, with science we have seen many amazing advances, but there is so much we DON’T know even today about what is inside herbs and how the human body works. We can isolate one component and do placebo-controlled, double-blind studies on what it does, but what about the 200 other components in a single herb?
With a whole food or supplement, including whole extracts as have been used for thousands of years, you have the intelligence of nature, which typically has a far less chance of completely screwing everything else up.
This is especially true with the tonic herbs (as opposed to inferior ones) which you can be on every day of your whole life. So let’s look at that list of cell damage again and look at some natural methods you can do now.
In some cases, if you reverse bad behaviors, you can certainly reverse damage you have in your cells. You may not be able to completely reverse things, or stop damage from accumulating, but at the very least you can slow down damage.
Cell Loss and Atrophy – Cells should die when it is proper for them to do so. Not at other times. Having the right levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, hormones and other compounds is going to do a whole lot to support cells in living their natural lifespan.
Division-Obsessed Cells – Its said that every single person has cancerous cells in our body. The difference between this and people who “have cancer” is the amount of them. These cancerous cells are routinely dealt with by the immune system. The medicinal mushrooms like reishi, chaga and cordyceps appear to be some of the most powerful herbs for combating cancer.
Death-Resistant Cells – Educating the immune system is what this is about. So anything that helps to modulate the immune system should help.
Mitochondrial Mutations – Some of the herbs are said to stop or slow down DNA damage, like chaga, ant and pine pollen. Other herbs are said to support the mitochondria directly like shilajit. All the vitamins and minerals are necessary to keep the cells, and their mitochondria, functioning properly.
Intracellular Junk – This is about detoxing. So anything that supports those processes will help out. In addition it is important to lessen the environmental exposure of toxic chemicals, heavy metals, bad estrogens, and more that then get stored in cells and can end up contributing to the other problems. Schizandra supports both phases of detox in the liver which is where all those toxins get processed.
Extracellular Junk – Ditto for the above. You body can handle lots of “junk”, and their are certainly methods of supporting it in doing so.
Extracellular Matrix Stiffening – Avoiding charred meats and sugar in your diet which form advanced glycation end products (AGE’s) is going to help here. Then anything that supports the membranes of your cells will help. And that would primarily be good quality fats including omega 3’s and saturated fat.
If an herb is said to be anti-aging, as most of the top herbs are, then by definition it will have to help support one or more of these seven types of cell damage that occur. The best anti-aging herbs are going to work on multiple pathways and have strong effects in doing so. Take a look at he shou wu and the list of benefits it provides and you’ll see why its recommended as one of the best anti aging herbs in Chinese medicine.
Overall, this framework of seven types of cell damage, gives us a model to look at which is helpful in dealing with aging, whether we do it through natural or “Western scientific” means. In my opinion, when we bring ancient wisdom together with modern advances we can get truly remarkable results.