Are there any promising interventions, besides plastic surgery, of course, that slow aging?
Sure. First, you could do what your mother told you. You could eat properly, which means modestly, with more veggies. You could exercise, not smoke, wear your seat belt. All of these things will extend your longevity. Other things will alter the aging process. There have been studies of Seventh Day Adventists, who have a lifestyle of moderation. If you compare them to their age match in ordinary folks, then there’s a six-year difference in the mean lifespan in favor of Seventh Day Adventists.
What about that colony in Italy, people who eat a Mediterranean diet and drink a lot of wine. Don’t they have longer life spans?
Right, and that’s the French Paradox, which led to the discussion and understanding of drugs such as resveratrol. I mean, how can the French sit in cafes all day, smoking and drinking wine all day, and live longer than we do? Resveratrol is interesting because it seems to be what we call a caloric-restrictive mimetic. Caloric restriction is the one method that’s been known for about 70 years as being capable of delaying the onset of longevity and increasing lifespan. This has been verified hundreds of times and is probably the most robust finding in the field, and it works in all organisms that are tested.
Have you tried caloric restriction?
And how did that work out for you?
Not good. I said, “To hell with this stuff!” The problem is that it’s a 40-percent reduction in calories, but you have to keep your nutrients up.
And how long did you do it?
I think it was over by the end of the first week or two.
I recently read an article about a group called the Calorie Restriction Society, which has 2,000 members. Are they likely to live longer than the average person?
The physiological status of these people … is consistent with everything we know about being at very low risk for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. So that’s one factor that suggests they should live longer. On the other hand, this is not an unblemished panacea, because all animals who are on caloric restriction are highly susceptible to infection. It involves a suppression of the immune system … and that seems to be a problem.
Are there any up-and-coming pharmaceuticals or dietary supplements that look promising?
Yeah, there’s several. One is fish oil. One of the reasons for taking fish oil is that one of it’s major components is in fact the source material for the body’s synthesis of the molecules that shut down chronic inflammation. We need to have an acute inflammation, because that’s the way our bodies protect themselves from infection, but if you don’t shut down the inflammation once it’s gotten rid of the virus, then it becomes chronic, and chronic inflammation is harmful to the body. It turns out the shutdown process is a little more complex than people thought, and it uses some molecules that are made from the ingredients in fish oil. It doesn’t guarantee shutdown, but it helps.
Another one is a molecule called lipoic acid. It’s an antioxidant that’s taken up to the mitochondria—the power houses of cells and the source of where most of the free radicals are involved. The free radicals were thought 10 years ago to play a major role in aging, and they do play a role, although it’s not as key a role as we thought. But the lipoic acid will go to the mitochondria and reduce the amount of free radicals that are produced, and that seems to have an effect on longevity. And you can buy that in a health food store.
You can also buy a compound called Juvenon, which is a proprietary compound, and all it has in it is lipoic acid and alpha carnitine. It’s a nonessential amino acid, but it turns out that fatty acids are one of the things we metabolize for energy. When fatty acids are brought into mitochondria, they have to hook onto a carnitine molecule. The combination of carnitine and lipoic acid has an effect—reducing oxidative damage. There’s anecdotal data that shows that taking carnitine increases one’s energy.
You can get these in the drugstore, right?
I buy mine from a reliable source. And there’s some data in humans suggesting—but not proving—that resveratrol, in moderate amounts, is a fairly good anti-diabetic drug. Scientific data says that it does lower insulin resistance, so it eases the effect of diabetes. Anecdotal data says that the circulatory disorders that come with diabetes, like varicose-vein networks in your legs, can be diminished or even disappear, not in everybody, but in some people.
Is there anything else that you do to counteract your own aging process?
I exercise. I do 75 to 125 miles on the bike every week.
Some people are taking human growth hormones to retard the aging process. What do you think of that?
They’re going to kill themselves. Everything we know about studies involving human growth hormones in animals shows that excess human growth hormones will, in fact, shorten your life.