Friday, April 23, 2010
That's the intriguing title of a book by Greg Critser. The full title is Eternity Soup, Inside the Quest to End Aging, published by Harmony Books,New York, 2010. Critser is also the author of Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World and, Generation RX: How Prescription Drugs are Altering American Lives, Minds and Bodies.
First of all, I have to tell you, in case you're not 200 percent sure, that there is no way to escape The End. Everybody dies. It's a natural event. However, there is a huge anti-aging industry, particularly in the U.S., that wants to deny, or at least delay, the inevitable and Critser presents information about the latest theories and treatments.
Because I studied gerontology, because I spent a lot of my career working with seniors, and because my joints refuse to obey me in the morning; I wanted to know if there was anything new and beneficial out there.
Possibly there is, but there are also a lot of weird and not-so-attractive ideas. For example, there's a group called the Caloric Restriction society. They believe in eating as little as possible to sustain life and they talk a lot about beneficial changes to their biochemistry. They also say that the always-hungry feeling goes away after a while and they live longer. I don't know but I tend to agree with the author who says:
"Do you want your extended life to be a life, or not? There had to be a better way than the cold way. The hungry way. The flat-ass, no-sex way."
So, what about hormone supplements like testosterone, estrogen, and even human growth hormones and other types of supplements? The uses of testosterone and estrogen are well known, but human growth hormones? Some research shows that HGH may improve bone and tissue mass and slow some affects of aging, but other research doesn't support it. There is a big new medical supplement industry and American doctors mostly get paid in cash to compound these supplements because they aren't often funded by HMO's. Lots of doctors attend seminars to find out how to jump on this cash cow/er bandwagon.
Did you know there is an American Association of Anti-Aging Medicine? Many of the members are corporations with products to sell of course. Including Earthing Solutions, a company that sells "Barefoot Connections" a device which "helps the earth's electric field transfer easily to the body", and another company that sells colon hydrotherapy stations. Egad! Then there are the doctor purveyors of hormones , lots and lots of hormones.
Can we replace and rejuvenate worn out parts of ourselves? We already can do some things. Maybe someday we can make new kidneys using cells from our own body. That would be tissue engineering. Critser provides a lot of detailed information on what researchers are doing in this area. Stem cells, which can become any kind of tissue are key, because the number of stem cells decreases with age. What if we could age more slowly at the cellular level. Could that extend our healthy time and our life span?
Some scientists note that "when single genes are changed, animals that should be old stay young. In humans, these mutants would be analogous to a ninety-year-old who looks and feels forty-five. On this basis we begin to think of aging as a disease that can be cured, or at least postponed." Aubrey de Grey, a Cambridge cell biologist got a lot of press for his view that aging is a disease that - "kills fucking 1000,000 people world wide and I want to stop it." Frankly, I think that's nonsense.
The book gets technically more and more complicated as it examines engineering approaches to fixing aging and playing with regenerating neural connections and using liquid peptides for repairs.
Perhaps the life-span of people in the most developed and richest countries of the world will increase, but one of the most important issues of aging that is scarcely mentioned in the book, until the end, is loss.
Maybe it's my non-scientific, interest in all the extremely important psycho-social issues that leads me to believe an essential part of what makes us live longer and happier lives has been left out of the book until close to the end. We have a primal need to be connected to other people.
In conclusion, I have no desire to live forever, but if some of my words survive me, I will be content.