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Book Review: Lifespan

David Sinclair’s work Lifespan gives a nice overview of the state of longevity research for a lay audience. He describes his theory of aging: As cells cycle between “growth” and “repair” modes, they shuffle proteins in the epigenome to in/activate corresponding growth and repair genes. Over time the proteins get lost, failing to move where they need to be. Consequently, the cells lose their identity and/or become senescent.

He also addresses some ethical and social concerns around the fruits of his research: living longer. We must adjust some of our social systems, but none of these problems constitute a reason to prevent the research. I think he should argue even more forcefully than he did. He personalizes his experience with the inadequacy of our current institutions by relating from his own experience, a trip to the dentist who didn’t want to give him the treatment normal for a 20yr old and doctors willing to risk his daughter’s life while they waited on test results.

Many people pepper him with personal questions, most commonly: “What supplements do you take?”. So he has brief section on that as well. In several spots he highlights modern miracles: His own father seeing a renewed vigor from taking NMN, performing his own DNA sequencing to prove to doctors that his daughter had contracted Lyme, and some products and services (beyond his own research) that help him customize some lifestyle optimizations (diet, exercise, sauna, etc).

As long as you take steps to extend your healthspan, you can expect a good life. This means staying in the workforce longer, a chance for a second or third career, and increased earnings that derive from valuable experience. These improvements compound over your life, so trim your calorie intake and start exercising.

Some things you could look into and other brief notes.

  • Get your DNA analyzed and check for aging factors, Longevity and Genetics: FOXO3, CETP, IGF1, and more
  • Luigi Cornaro, a fifteenth-century Venetian nobleman who could, and probably should, be considered the father of the self-help book. The son of an innkeeper, Cornaro made a fortune as an entrepreneur and lavishly spent his money on wine and women. By his mid-30s, he was exhausted by food, drink, and sex—the poor guy—and resolved to limit himself in each regard
  • Roy Walford, a researcher from California whose studies on extending life in mice are still required reading for scientists entering the aging field
  • Xenohormesis: the idea that stressed plants have phytochemicals that our bodies detect, via our diet, and which trigger us to respond in kind, e.g. with an expectation of drought. If you’re looking for new drugs from the natural world, expect this area to bear fruit. Organic foods might be better for you due to the more stressful conditions of their growth.
  • NAD has an advantage over other STACs because it boosts the activity of all seven sirtuins.
  • The dream of personalized medicine has arrived: Patients with an RPE65 mutation that causes blindness, for example, can now be cured with a simple injection of a safe virus that infects the retina and delivers, forever, the functional RPE65 gene. The eye was targeted first for this therapy because it is immunologically isolated.
  • E. Topol, The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care, 2011

Choice quotes

The trick to revolutionary change is finding ways to make self-interest align with the common good.

Pessimism, it turns out, is often indicative of exceptional privilege.

Indeed, our medical system is built on ageism. When we are young, we don’t get treatments that could keep us healthy as we grow old. When we are old, we don’t get the treatments that are routinely used on the young.

Skillbaticals, which might take the shape of a government-supported paid year off for every ten worked, might ultimately become cultural and even legal requisites, just as many of the labor innovations of the twentieth century have. In this way, those who are tired of “working harder” would be afforded every opportunity to “work smarter” by returning to school or a vocational training program paid for by employers or the government.

“Might we be cheating ourselves,” the council asked, “by departing from the contour and constraint of natural life (our frailty and finitude), which serve as a lens for a larger vision that might give all of life coherence and sustaining significance?”[President’s Council on Bioethics, Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, 2003]
Oh, for goodness’ sake, if we truly believed that frailty was a requisite for meaningful life, we’d never mend a broken bone, vaccinate against polio, or encourage women to stave off osteoporosis by maintaining adequate calcium levels and exercising.
… The chair of the committee that wrote it, Leon Kass, is one of the most influential bioethicists of our time and came to be known, during the tenure of George W. the report was issued, aging research was framed not as a fight against a disease but as a fight against our humanity. That’s hogwash, and, in my mind, it’s rather deadly hogwash.

But because of a lack of funding, people over sixty today may not live long enough to be helped. If you and your family members end up the last of humanity to live a life that ends all too early with decay and decrepitude, or our children never see the benefits of this research, you can thank those bioethicists.

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