The Manhattan Beach Project Longevity Summit on aging from November 13-15 in Manhattan Beach, brainchild of entrepreneur David A. Kekich, brought together the leading researchers on human aging and longevity for a discussion on the state of their research today and tomorrow, the implications of their discoveries, and finally for round table to allow cross-discipline discussions that could lead to new and accelerated results. The name of the conference is a deliberate play on the name of another project, the World War II Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb and changed the world. Kekich is the founder of the Maximum Life Foundation, an organization aimed at bringing together biotech, infotech and nanotech together to reverse aging by 2029.
Some of the information was thick with science, but most was understandable without any specialized background. The presentation titles indicated that the organizers did presume an interest in the subject so attendees came with some knowledge of current ideas in the field such as calorie restriction diets, the role of shortening telomeres. There were discussions about the ongoing development of dietary supplements to extend and enhance life. There were presentations on cutting edge, practically sci-fi developments in human organ growth and storage. In the end, the overall impression was one of excitement and anticipation - anticipation of a transformation in the aging and regeneration profile of humans to such a degree as to make it as explosive both personally and politically as the result of the Manhattan Project over 60 years ago. In fact, one presenter began his talk by showing a slide from an intelligence briefing for the incoming members of the Obama Administration which listed their predictions of what look to be the major global destabilizing forces of the next 25 years, and right up there near the top was a dramatically increased human lifespan.
The old fantasy of a Fountain of Youth, a single elixir to cure the ills of aging, does not seem to be what anybody expects. We age on a cellular level, an extra-cellular level, at the level of DNA and on the level of pure macro-mechanics. As you can see in the slide by John Furber, any “cure” for aging will need to solve an entire list of separate failures of the body that produce the effect we call “growing old.”
Many present believe that we are approaching something Aubrey De Grey, the author of Ending Aging calls longevity escape velocity. This is the point where the yearly advances in procedures for extending human life expectancy result in adding one year to our lifespan - thus putting our date with death off indefinitely.
But the goal of the summit is not just to extend the human life expectancy. It is also to reverse aging. The stated goal is to show definitively by 2029 that aging can be reversed in an older human. Twenty years from now, if they can indeed show how humans can grow younger, the face of the planet will change forever.
Meanwhile, the question remains of what can we do now to ensure that we will be around that long. First off, there are the things we all know that we need to do to live healthier and longer: keep your weight in the normal range (BMI between 18 and 22), exercise regularly, don’t smoke or do drugs, alcohol in moderation, stay hydrated, and get enough sleep. If you want to go into greater detail and really throw yourself into a healthier lifestyle, you can download David Kekich’s ebook, Life Extension Express, for free here. There are a few surprising things you can do as well. Did you know that not flossing can hurt your life expectancy about as much as smoking does? So floss.
One surprise I got at the event was the importance of fasting. Studies now show that periodic fasting - not eating for a day or even just a meal every now and then - has been showing the same health and life extension benefits as a Calorie Restriction (CR) diet without all the problems. CR means taking in only 80% of the daily recommended allowance of calories for your body. In some mammals, their lifespan has been increased by as much as 40% by limiting caloric intake. However, on such a limited diet, it becomes extremely difficult to avoid malnutrition. And it’s a bit severe for a lifetime of eating on the hope that what works in some mammals will also apply to humans. There are undeniable health benefits in fighting diabetes, cancer and heart disease, all major killers, that have demonstrated with CR even if the life extension benefits are as yet unproven.
And here’s where periodic fasting comes in. Studies are showing pretty much the same benefits to periodic fasting as in calorie restriction. The most serious approach is alternate day fasting, where you do not eat one day and then eat as much as you like on the alternate days. But the benefits are present even when you don’t eat for one day a month. Just skip it. Science is not quite sure why there should be such a dramatic improvement in health and longevity from such a simple thing as skipping a few meals, but their guesses revolve around the idea of feast and famine. That the body actually banks on the down time to clean up the waste of all the work of processing food into energy. The walls need to be hosed down, the floors swept and the tools cleaned to be ready for the next rush. Otherwise, the body’s energy factory machinery gets all gunked up and stops working so well. Even just skipping a meal once or twice a week can give the cleaning crew time to empty a few bins.
Overall, the message of this conference was stay healthy for the next 25 years and you may be looking at living well into the next century. And if you have money to spare, money to donate, money to invest, you might want to think about David Kekich’s question, “Will you be part of the last generation to die from aging, or will you be part the first generation to enjoy open-ended youth and vitality?” As for me, right now I’m going to floss.
Published on Nov 28, 2009