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Another Use For Resveratrol October 22, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Chemical.
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Apparently, resveratrol has potential uses other than increasing human longevity.  Davies Agyekum, a second-year Ph.D. student in the MCG School of Graduate Studies, has found a potential new use for the compound in the treatment of sickle-cell anemia, where resveratrol induces production of fetal hemoglobin and decreases the sickling of red blood cells.
The more observant among you may be thinking, “Hey, if resveratrol increases the amount of hemoglobin, the protein in RBC’s that carries oxygen, shouldn’t it act as a performance enhancer in endurance exercise?”  The answer to that seems to be yes but as far as I could find it doesn’t seem to be related to production of hemoglobin but rather production of new mitochondria, as shown in a 2006 study of mice.  Whatever the mechanism, resveratrol is looking more and more promising.


Alcohol’s Benefits Have Their Limits October 14, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Longevity.
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The benefits of consuming a low to moderate amount of alcohol are still controversial.  While there seems to be a great deal of correlation between moderate alcohol drinkers and lower levels of age related diseases there is very little in the way of causation.  About the only thing that alcohol has been shown to reduce is rates of heart disease and according to a new study that may indeed be the only thing.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, studied over 3000 adults aged 70-79 and found that when adjusted for things like education, body weight and physical activity moderate alcohol consumption produced a negligible effect on functional decline.  The study noted that moderate drinkers did have a lower incidence of mobility limitation and disability but this was more likely due to lifestyle factors rather than there alcohol consumption.


BIL-PIL Conference October 9, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Transhumanism.
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I will be attending the BIL-PIL Healthcare Innovation Conference on October 30-31 in San Diego and like a kid going to his first day of school I’m excited.  For those who don’t know the BIL-PIL conference is an offshoot of the BIL conference, a medical technology conference that has positioned itself as an alternative to the TED conference.  Like the BIL conference, BIL-PIL is held in what they are calling the unconference format.  Basically what that means is there are no fees to attend, no sponsored speakers and theoretically anyone can attend and participate.  Think of it as the open source model of conferences.

Anyways, as the name implies the BIL-PIL conference covers healthcare and medical technology and while it is not strictly a transhumanist event the issues that will be discussed are all transhumanist issues.  To quote from the website:

A few examples of topics to be addressed by those already scheduled to speak:

  • What are the consequences of the personal genomics revolution?
  • How can patients relate to each other as never before using Web 2.0 technologies?
  • How can science address life extension and aging?
  • How can diagnostics more accurately match a patient to the right therapy?
  • What does new legislation imply for the future of the biotechnology industry?
  • How can we revolutionize the way we think about paying for healthcare?
  • What if your iPhone could “look” at your pills and spot a possible drug interaction?

Genomics?  Life extension?  Biotechnology?  We might as well be reading Citizen Cyborg.  For those of you in San Diego or with the means to get there I really suggest checking this conference out.  Should be a fun time with lots of interesting info presented.  Oh, and I did mention it was free right?

New Longevity Enhancer Found October 1, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Longevity, Nutrition.
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It seems like a new longevity enhancement is popping up every week these days so here’s another one to add to the list.  Researchers at the Institute of Healthy Ageing at University College London have managed to extend the life of by up to 20% while reducing the number of age related diseases they experienced.  The method they used to achieve this is gene therapy, specifically altering the mice to block production of the S6 Kinase protein, which plays a role in protein synthesis, cell proliferation and how the body responds to food intake.  This therapy produces an effect similar to caloric restriction.

Now if you’ll allow me to digress slightly, those of you who have been paying attention may have noticed a pattern in regards to all the new longevity enhancers currently being tested.  Rapamycin inhibits the mTOR protein, which regulates cell growth, cell proliferation, transcription and protein synthesis and is stimulated by insulin (among other things.)  Metformin, a drug that may have some life extension capabilities, is more commonly used to treat type-II diabetes, which as you surely know is caused by the body having a resistance and often over-abundance of insulin. Caloric restriction probably has numerous factors which give it it’s effects but one notable thing it does is lower insulin levels in the body (less calories mean less blood sugar, which means less insulin.)  Now we have S6 Kinase which as I said above plays a part in how the body responds to food.  What does the body release to take sugar out of the bloodstream after you eat a meal?  You guessed it, insulin.

Now it would be irresponsible and stupid of me to suggest that insulin holds the key to eternal life.  Ageing is a complex process that involves many different factors.  That being said it does seem like most of the promising longevity treatments involve reducing insulin activity.  Perhaps we have a better understanding of insulin’s role in ageing than we do other factors.  Perhaps insulin is simply easier to study and work with.  Perhaps I’m completely wrong and talking out of my ass.  It’s possible, but I doubt it.  It’s well established that an excess of insulin in the body can lead to disastrous effects (see diabetes) and better thinker than I have seen a link between insulin and poor health (Ray Kurzweil in Fantastic Voyage.)  Fact of the matter is, I would put money on the next big longevity enhancers following the same tract as the others: reducing insulin activity.

Centenarians and the American Health Care Debate September 12, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Fitness, Longevity.
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It’s official.  If you want to live 100 years you have to move to Okinawa.  Okay I made that up but it is true that Okinawa has the highest percentage of centenarians in the world at about 52 in 100,000.  That’s one of the many things you will learn by reading the article linked below which is in fact a pretty interesting article.

You can read the article yourself for the full story but what I want to talk about is something different.  I want to talk about how centenarians tie into the current health care debate going on in America.  Amongst all the fear mongering of a government take over of the health system and communist infiltrators destroying the country there is a legitimate debate going on over how to reduce costs, which considering the escalating costs of health care is something that needs to take place.   Both the Democrats, led by Obama, and the Republicans have plans out for how they would reform the heath care system.  Obama’s plan to reduce costs involves the creation of a public insurance plan for private companies to compete with, cutting waste in the Medicare system and emphasizing preventive care to catch diseases before they advance.  The Republican plan seems to chiefly revolve around tort reform.

The problem is that, according to experts, neither plan seems like it would decrease health care costs all that much.  According to the Congressional Budget Office medical malpractice costs make up less than 2 percent of all health care spending so any reform in tort law is unlikely to produce the kind of savings everyone is looking for.   As for Obama: driving down costs with competition sounds great but there is no guarantee, the same goes for cutting waste in Medicare and while preventive care will certainly save lives studies show that it fails to save money, since many of the tests that would be used to catch diseases early would be given to people who would never have developed the disease.

The thing is, neither plan address were most of the spending in medicine takes place: the elderly.  Estimates for the amount spent on health care for those over 65 go as high as 60% of total costs and it’s no secret why.  The elderly are much more likely to suffer from a number of crippling degenerative diseases (Alzheimers, osteoporosis, diabetes) which rather than kill them quickly, which is horrible and cheap, kill them slowly, which is horrible and expensive.  The cost of keeping the elderly alive is where most health care costs come from and this is what makes centenarians so interesting.

According to this article and other research, centenarians avoid many of the degenerative disease that afflict those who die slightly younger and are able, in many cases, to live independently till the day they die.  The reason for this is simply that those who make it to the extremes of old age are the strongest and fittest, able to resist the damaging effects of aging better than there counterparts.  While lifestyle certainly plays a part in this (the article mentions diet, exercise, “psycho-spiritual” and social as contributing factors) centenarians also seem to possess a genetic advantage over the rest of us, as evidence by the fact that the various centenarian hot spots around the globe tend to be isolated island communities with a large amount of inbreeding.  Centenarians may indeed hold the secret to longevity and health in there DNA and that is where the focus of health care should be.

You want to cut costs in health care Mr. President, start funding anti-aging research.   Find every centenarian you can and turn their genetic code inside out, look at every substance that shows the slightest promise of halting aging, because if we can slow aging even the smallest bit the implications could be enormous.  Leaving aside the benefits people would experience by living longer and healthier lives (which I assume I don’t need to go into,) the savings in costs would be tremendous.  Every degenerative disease, which as I said are the ones that cost us the most money to treat, is either caused or is made worse by one thing: aging.  Cure that and you go a long way towards curing them all.

I will finish this by responding to a counter argument I’m sure some of you are making.  “Sure, all this sounds good but it won’t do anything to reduce costs now.”  You are right.  This will not in any way help to reduce costs in the immediate future and as such needs to be only one part, though a large part, of any plan to fix our health care system.  But if we think what we have now is bad, we haven’t seen anything yet.  The baby boomers are on the brink of retirement and with today’s medical technology stand to live even longer than the generation before them.  If we start this research now, we may just be ready for them when the time comes.


(As a side note, though you may not be able to tell from the article I support a single payer universal health care system.)

A Healthy Lifestyle Reduces Risk Of Heart Disease July 21, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Longevity, Nutrition.
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Shocking.  Absolutely shocking.   According to a study published in JAMA you can actually reduce you risk of heart disease simply by exercising regularly, not smoking, eating a diet high in fruits and whole grains and drinking alcohol in moderation.  This is mind-blowing, the idea that you can increase your health and longevity without resorting to expensive drugs or fancy gimmicks.  Now that we have this information I have no doubt that we will see rates of heart disease plummet once people start taking up this advice.  (To those unable to detect the sarcasm in the previous paragraph, I pity you.)

Okay so maybe that was a little over the top but seriously, how does this qualify as news?  We know that a healthy lifestyle can increase lifespan and decrease risk of heart disease, along with a lot of other stuff.  We’ve known that for quite awhile now.  We’ve been telling people for quite awhile now.  The problem is that while people have certainly been listening it hasn’t changed a damn thing.  As a personal trainer I am amazed at how many times I have been talking to a client about fitness and find that they already know all the information I’m giving them.  They know what they need to do to be healthy and know all of the benefits that it brings yet they still don’t do it.  This conundrum has been frustrating public health officials for decades and to be honest I don’t see it ending soon (though I do see it ending, which I’ll address at the bottom.)

To be blunt, people don’t change their habits because they are short sighted.  Considering that for most of our history as a species individuals died before reaching 30 it’s very hard for us to think 50 years into the future and make plans accordingly.   Most cultures that are healthy like Okinawa or the Basque are not so because they choose to be, they are because of there culture and circumstances.   They eat healthy diets high in vegetables and fruits because that’s what they traditionally eat.  They get more exercise because the design of their cities or the way in which they live favors walking over driving.   Many of these cultures place a large emphasis on strong social and familial bonds, a factor linked to longer longevity.  The point is that they do not choose to healthy, their culture is just more conducive to a healthy lifestyle.  Change their culture and diet to something closer to the standard Western one and you’ll see those longevity number drop (something we are seeing in younger members of traditionally long lived communities.)

There is basically only a few ways to make populations healthy on a large scale (note that I am using the term healthy here to refer to longevity and lack of degenerative diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, etc.)  You can change the culture, change humans or make being healthy so easy that it no longer becomes an issue.  The last option is what most people want and seem to be waiting for, the metaphorical silver bullet.  Exercise in a pill.  The good news is that scientists are hard at work developing just that and within most of our lifetimes we should witness it.  This is what I meant when i said I do see it ending.  Technology will make it so easy to be healthy that people will do what they need to without thinking about.  The bad news is that those technologies are still a ways off and unless we start taking care of the bodies we have now, some of us won’t live to see that day.


Easter Island Compound Shows Anti-aging Properties July 8, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Longevity.
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When I first read this I thought it must either be a joke or some new age mumbo-jumbo, but this seems to be for real.  Scientists have found that a compound called rapamycin, first found on Easter Island, may have longevity enhancing capabilites.  What is more interesting is that it seems to have this effect regardless of what age it is administered.  This could be a big step forward because caloric restriction, the only way outside of gene therapy to increase lifespan, doesn’t seem to be effective when implemented in elderly animals.  Rapamycin, which is also used in stents and transplant operations, seems to affect the same metabolic pathways as caloric restriction but may be a more effective treament because of this.   Another way it may be better than caloric restiriction is that people may actually use it.  Anyone can tell you that asking people to cut down their calories for the rest of their lives is a strategy doomed to fail, but asking people to sprinkle a drug on their food for the same effect is a different story.


Americans Still Getting Fatter July 1, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Fitness.
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This is bad news.   Obesity rates went up in 23 states last year.  Many of those are baby boomers that are starting to hit retirement age.   That health care overhaul better come fast.


Mediterranean Diet Improves Longevity, But Some Foods More Important Than Others June 23, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Longevity, Nutrition.
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It seems the much touted Mediterranean Diet is a bit more nuanced than we may have thought.  A recent study found that certain foods commonly found in the diet are more important than others.  Specifically eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts, pulses and olive oil, and drinking moderate amounts of alcohol was linked to greater longevity while eating more fish, seafood and cereal was not.  Read the whole article in the link below.


New Technique Kills Cancer By Cutting Off It’s Food June 15, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Genetics, Longevity.
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Cancer is the number one killer in the United States, is responsible for 13% of all human deaths, and even for those it doesn’t kill it leads to a drastic decrease in quality of life.  As such, any serious discussion about improving human longevity has to start with treating and curing cancer.  Thankfully scientist don’t need us to remind them of that and have been hard at work looking for better and better ways to stop this deadly disease.  One such group is a team at the University of Florida, who have developed a new gene therapy which treats cancer by cutting of the supply of blood to the tumor.

To do this, the researchers developed what they call a “fusion protein” which was delivered into the cells by a transposon they call Sleeping Beauty.  The imbedded protein does two things: first, it promotes thrombosis, or blood clotting, and second it reduces blood vessel density inside the tumor.  Both of these effects result in the tumor receiving less nutrients.  The researchers found that in their test mice tumor volume decreased 53 percent and cancer cell growth slowed by 49 percent.