Living to 100 and beyond

There is no denying that in a civilized society with a sensible and coherent health care strategy we find that people are living longer and longer over time. It follows then that people living in the most technologically and socially advanced nations will have the greatest longevity and people living in nations with a developing economy or a primitive society will have shorter life spans. These statements are supported by statistical evidence based on census studies. Beyond these basic considerations it is also evident that the allure of enticements offered by the wealthy and productive nations enjoying the prosperity of a first world economy can impair one’s goal of enjoying a long life. It is universally accepted that one can enjoy living well past the age of 100 years if one applies the practices and methods which contribute toward that goal. This, of course, provided that there does not appear to be a genetically inherited predisposition for dying young in one’s family. Even those who think that there is can cheat death for a considerable time if they apply the right strategies.

Diet is of course the most important component of longevity-enhancing strategies. It has been found that people who are on a calorie-restricted diet tend to have longer lifespans. It is better to eat less than more. It is thought that this is because this practice maintains the immune system’s optimal state of preparation and response to threats from infection and keeps it honed. Statistical analysis has provided us with a chart showing the body-mass index for a person’s age and height. Regardless of the skepticism that one may have regarding the BM index it is still a simple fact that the evidence shows that individuals with optimal fat to weight ratios tend to live longer. The numbers don’t lie.

Of course it is very important what it is that one eats. A diet low in white flour products, refined carbohydrates, and starchy white foods like white rice and pasta will contribute to an optimal BM index. Reducing one’s intake of these foods is the first step that one should take if one wishes to apply a program of healthy eating for a long life. Increasing one’s intake of foods high in beneficial fatty acids like the Omega-3, -6, and -9 fatty acids and low in trans-fats contributes to a healthier body. Limiting one’s protein intake to fish, poultry, and lean red meats in moderation with a healthy supplement of beans and a variety of root and garden vegetables with plenty of greens constitute healthy eating.

We can do more to enhance our diet. Red wine is often touted as a longevity promoting substance. An explanation is in order.

The compounds in grape seeds known for making red wine good for the heart are called procyanadins. Procyanadin is a tannin, a class of compound found in plants and especially in tea. The seeds of Tannat grapes contain the highest concentrations of procyanadins.

Resveratrol is found in the skin of red grapes and in laboratory experiments with high concentrations of this compound it is found to extend the life of yeast, flies, worms, and fish. This substance was previously touted as the longevity promoter but Roger Corder at Queen Mary’s School of Medicine in London has discovered that it occurs in such low concentrations in red wine that it would be necessary to drink about 1,000 liters to derive any benefit, whereas drinking only one glass of wine per day made from seeds high in procyanadins would have a positive effect on longevity.

It was found after comparisons of regional wines that the best way to determine just which grape seeds and therefore which wines derived therefrom have the highest procyanadin content was to research how the wine was produced. Areas where traditional wine making techniques were in use are preferred. Wines from Southwest France and from Sardinia averaged the highest concentrations of procyanadins. Before you rush to the wine store and begin stocking up on red wine you should know that procyanadins are found in much higher concentrations in chocolate and apples than in the average bottle of red wine. Roger Corder does inform us that two glasses a day of certain wines from the Gers region of southwest France have two to three times the concentration of procyanadins than do 100 grams of dark chocolate. He noted that it is probably much easier for the average consumer to drink two glasses of wine every day than it is to eat that much chocolate.

Again, statistics tells us that we can take all this information quite seriously. The French are noted for their regular wine consumption. The Gers region in Southwest France on the border with Spain has twice the French national average of men aged 90 or more. The French eat as much fat as the British and have similar blood cholesterol levels but four times as many Britons die of heart disease as do Frenchmen. Research shows that procyanadins improve the elasticity of blood vessels, making them much less likely to retain the plaque that cannot be so easily sloughed off in hardened arteries. Modern wine production removes large amounts of procyanadins from the finished product. The traditional wine production method, known as vinifi l’ancienne, preserves them. This technique allows the wine to maintain contact with the seeds and skins during the slow fermentation process.

Thus far I have discussed the immediate measures we can undertake which, if we stay with them can have a very positive effect on increasing our lifespans. There are additional steps that we can take beyond the obvious ones of regular exercise and sufficient time given to our sleep. These are in the form of dietary and nutritional supplements.

Among the books that I have read on the subject of anti-aging therapies is one titled “The Superhormone Promise” by Dr. William F. Regelson. In it he describes the substance DHEA, or Dehydroepiandrosterone, which is the molecular precursor to all of the steroidal hormones that essentially make you tick, including androstenedione and testosterone. The normal amount of natural DHEA in the bloodstream is measured in picolitres per decalitre and this concentration has a linear relationship when plotted against age – the amount decreases linearly and in direct proportion to age as we get older. Dr. Regelson drew the logical conclusion that among other factors, maintaining a consistent level of DHEA in the blood might contribute to increased longevity. In fact, studies in mice have shown substantial increase in expected lifespan and people who have been taking the substance in moderate doses have enjoyed renewed vigor and ambition, both attributes of the human physiology which diminish with age. DHEA is perfectly safe when ingested in normal amounts since it passes harmlessly through the liver, unlike straight testosterone taken orally which can corrode the liver.

It is important to apply moderation to any attempt to tamper with nature. This is why I do not view vegan-ism with the same enthusiasm as do many others because for example the only natural source of one very important vitamin, namely B12, is red meat. I therefore encourage the use of multi-vitamin supplements as a matter of course once a day with a healthy breakfast, remembering that a considered amount of healthy fat intake is important since certain vitamins are fat-soluble only.

Let us leave dietary strategies for a moment and investigate research in the world of science and technology to understand the process of aging.

A company called Telomolecular has been developing what it calls telomolecular nanotechnologies to address the issue of aging by regenerating human tissues through “..the delivery of therapeutic agents that lengthen and repair chromosomal telomeres in living animals.” In vitro experimentation has shown that telomeres can be regenerated using the enzyme telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT). Cells that were originally doomed to die from old age were immortalized, demonstrating rejuvenated behaviors of vigorous cell division and protein production. The procedure has been proved in the labs of over 800 research institutions.

Additional research has indicated that the enzyme TERT is not usually present in healthy cells, therefore the normal aging process continues. However, cancer cells are not lacking in TERT and it is believed that this is what causes the continuous and uncontrolled cell division characteristics of cancer. Current experimental therapies are being examined which combine TERT inhibitors with an inhibiting agent that interferes with the enzyme called tankyrase 1, which helps to make the telomeres accessible to TERT. This research has been done by a group headed by Dr. Hiroyuki Seimiya from the Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research in Tokyo.

While the Telemolecular research raises hope in the fight against growing old it should be pointed out that TERT, while effective for all the results claimed in vitro, “ molecularly too big to deliver with known pharmaceutical gene therapy tools and its use in vivo has been impractical.”

However, the research has demonstrated the potential for affecting longevity and to that end Telemolecular has continued to study ways to affect telomere growth in vivo. Enter the nanocircle, which consist of “..multiple repeats of the complement of telomere repeat sequences.” They are smaller than plasmids and promise practical in vivo therapies. They are essentially templates which by using the cell’s own machinery can catalyse the growth of natural telomeres in cells with linear chromosomes. It is to be hoped that eventually the Telemolecular research will lead to pharmaceutical longevity enhancing intervention of the natural biological processes.

We might never be able to defeat mortality altogether, all factors considered, but I believe that with our current knowledge there is no reason to believe that it is within the capability of anyone to live past the age of 100.