Life extension, also known as anti-aging medicine, experimental gerontology, and biomedical gerontology, refers to attempts to slow down or reverse[clarification needed] the processes of aging to extend both the maximum and average lifespan. Some researchers in this area, and "life extensionists" or "longevists" (who wish to achieve longer lives for themselves), believe that future breakthroughs in tissue rejuvenation with stem cells, molecular repair, and organ replacement (such as with artificial organs or xenotransplantations) will eventually enable humans to have indefinite lifespans through complete rejuvenation to a youthful condition.
The sale of putative anti-aging products such as nutrition, physical fitness, skin care, hormone replacements, vitamins, supplements and herbs is a lucrative global industry, with the US market generating about $50 billion of revenue each year. Medical experts state that the use of such products has not been shown to affect the aging process, and many claims of anti-aging medicine advocates have been roundly criticized by medical experts, including the American Medical Association. Bioethicists question whether and how the human lifespan should be extended.
Average and maximum lifespans
During the process of aging, an organism accumulates of damage to macromolecules, cells, tissues and organs. The maximum life span for humans is in excess of 120 years, whereas the maximum lifespan of a mouse, commonly used as a model in research on aging, is about four years. Genetic differences between humans and mice that may account for these different aging rates include efficiency of DNA repair, types and quantities of antioxidant enzymes, and different rates of free radical production.
Average lifespan in a population is lowered by infant and child mortality, which are frequently linked to infectious diseases or nutrition problems. Later in life, vulnerability to accidents and age-related chronic disease such as cancer or cardiovascular disease play an increasing role in mortality. Extension of expected lifespan can often be achieved by good diet, exercise and avoidance of hazards such as smoking.
Maximum lifespan is determined by the rate of aging for a species inherent in its genes and by environmental factors. One widely recognized method of extending maximum lifespan in organisms such as nematodes is calorie restriction. Another technique used evolutionary pressure such as breeding from only older members.
Theoretically, extension of maximum lifespan could be achieved by reducing the rate of aging damage, by periodic replacement of damaged tissues, or by molecular repair or rejuvenation of deteriorated cells and tissues.
Current anti-aging strategies and issues
Diets and supplements
Much life extension research focuses on nutrition—diets or supplements—as a means to extend lifespan, although few of these have been systematically tested for significant longevity effects. The many diets promoted by anti-aging advocates are often contradictory. For example, two diets with different approaches and some support from scientific research are the Paleolithic diet and Caloric restriction.
The free radical theory of aging suggests that antioxidant supplements, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Q10, lipoic acid, Carnosine and N-acetylcysteine, might extend human life[further explanation needed]. However, combined evidence from several clinical trials suggest that high dose vitamin E and beta carotene supplements increase mortality rates[specify]. Other substances proposed to extend lifespan include oxytocin, insulin, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and erythropoietin (EPO). Resveratrol is a sirtuin stimulant that appears to extend lifespan in simple model organisms such as nematodes and short-lived fish.
Some supplements, including the minerals selenium or zinc have been reported to extend the lifespan of rats and mice, though none has been proven to do so in humans, and significant toxic effects were observed[which?]. Metformin may also extend life span in mice.
Cosmetics and Surgery
Cosmetic interventions such as skin treatments (for example, facials, skin resurfacing, Botox, Argireline) and plastic surgery are widely used to mask the visible effects of aging, although they do not actually affect lifespan.
The anti-aging industry offers several hormone therapies. Some of these have been criticized for possible dangers to the patient and a lack of proven effect. For example, the American Medical Association has been critical of some anti-aging hormone therapies.
The evidence for use of growth hormone as an anti-aging therapy is mixed and based on animal studies. An early study suggested that supplementation of mice with growth hormone increased average life expectancy. Additional animal experiments have suggested that growth hormone may generally act to shorten maximum lifespan; knockout mice lacking the receptor for growth hormone live especially long. Furthermore, mouse models lacking the insulin-like growth factor also live especially long and have low levels of growth hormone.
Scientific controversy regarding anti-aging nutritional supplementation and medicine
Some critics dispute the portrayal of aging as a disease. For example, Leonard Hayflick, who determined that fibroblasts are limited to around 50 cell divisions[further explanation needed], reasons that aging is an unavoidable consequence of entropy. Hayflick and fellow biogerontologists Jay Olshansky and Bruce Carnes have strongly criticized the anti-aging industry in response to what they see as unscrupulous profiteering from the sale of unproven anti-aging supplements.
Ethics and politics of anti-aging nutritional supplementation and medicine
In the United States, product claims on food and drug labels are strictly regulated. First Amendment freedom of speech protects third-party publishers' rights to distribute fact, opinion and speculation on life extension practices. Manufacturers and suppliers also provide informational publications—but because they market the substances—they are subject to monitoring and enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which polices claims by marketers. What constitutes the difference between truthful and false claims is hotly debated and is a central controversy in this arena.
Proposed strategies of life extension
Future advances in nanomedicine could give rise to life extension through the repair of many processes thought to be responsible for aging. Raymond Kurzweil, a futurist and transhumanist, believes that advanced medical nanorobotics could completely remedy the effects of aging by 2030.
Cloning and body part replacement
Some life extensionists suggest that therapeutic cloning and stem cell research could one day provide a way to generate cells, body parts, or even entire bodies (generally referred to as reproductive cloning) that would be genetically identical to a prospective patient. In one experiment, a functioning dog's bladder was grown and proved to be viable after implantation. Recently, the US Department of Defense initiated a program to research the possibility of growing human body parts on mice. Complex biological structures, such as mammalian joints and limbs, have not yet been replicated. Dog and primate brain transplantation experiments were conducted in the mid-20th century but failed due to rejection and the inability to restore nerve connections. Proponents of body part replacement and cloning contend that the required biotechnologies are likely to appear earlier than other life-extension technologies.
The use of human stem cells, particularly embryonic stem cells, is controversial. Opponents' objections generally are based on interpretations of religious teachings or ethical considerations[according to whom?]. Proponents[who?] of stem cell research point out that cells are routinely formed and destroyed in a variety of contexts. Use of stem cells taken from the umbilical cord or parts of the adult body may not provoke controversy.
The controversies over cloning are similar, except general public opinion in most countries stands in opposition to reproductive cloning. Some proponents[who?] of therapeutic cloning predict the production of whole bodies, lacking consciousness, for eventual brain transplantation.
For cryonicists (advocates of cryopreservation), storing the body at low temperatures after death may provide an "ambulance" into a future in which advanced medical technologies may allow resuscitation and repair. They speculate cryogenic temperatures will minimise changes in biological tissue for many years, giving the medical community ample time to cure all disease, rejuvenate the aged and repair any damage that is caused by the cryopreservation process.
Cryonicists do not believe that legal death is "real death" because stoppage of heartbeat and breathing—the usual medical criteria for legal death—occur before biological death of cells and tissues of the body. Even at room temperature, cells may take hours to die and days to decompose. Although neurological damage occurs within 4–6 minutes of cardiac arrest, the irreversible neurodegenerative processes do not manifest for hours. Cryonicists state that rapid cooling and cardio-pulmonary support applied immediately after certification of death can preserve cells and tissues for long-term preservation at cryogenic temperatures. People, particularly children, have survived up to an hour without heartbeat after submersion in ice water. In one case, full recovery was reported after 45 minutes underwater. To facilitate rapid preservation of cells and tissue, cryonics "standby teams" wait by the bedside of patients who wish to be cryopreserved to apply cooling and cardio-pulmonary support as soon as possible after declaration of death.
No mammal has been successfully cryopreserved and brought back to life, and cryonics is not currently accepted as viable by science[clarification needed]. Some individual scientists support the idea based on their expectations of the capabilities of future science.
Theoretical combination strategies
Another proposed life extension technology would combine existing and predicted future biochemical and genetic techniques. One such theoretical strategy proposes a cure for cancer, stem cell treatments, addition of new enzymes to the human body and moving mitochondrial DNA to the cellular nucleus. This proposal is said to lack scientific evidence and has been called pseudoscientific because its proposed techniques are speculative.
Gene therapy, in which artificial genes are integrated with an organism to replace mutated or otherwise deficient genes, has been proposed as a future strategy to prevent aging. Targeting catalase to the mitochondria resulted in a 20% lifespan increase in transgenic mice, and improved performance in AAV[clarification needed] therapeutically infected mice.
History of life extension and the life extension movement
In 1970, the American Aging Association was formed under the impetus of Denham Harman, originator of the free radical theory of aging. Harman wanted an organization of biogerontologists that was devoted to research and to the sharing of information among scientists interested in extending human lifespan.
In 1976, futurists Joel Kurtzman and Philip Gordon wrote No More Dying. The Conquest Of Aging And The Extension Of Human Life, (ISBN 0-440-36247-4) the first popular book on research to extend human lifespan. Subsequently, Kurtzman was invited to testify before the House Select Committee on Aging, chaired by Claude Pepper of Florida, to discuss the impact of life extension on the Social Security system.
Saul Kent published The Life Extension Revolution (ISBN 0-688-03580-9) in 1980 and created a nutraceutical firm called the Life Extension Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes dietary supplements. The Life Extension Foundation publishes a periodical called Life Extension Magazine. The 1982 bestselling book Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach (ISBN 0-446-51229-X) by Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw further popularized the phrase "life extension".
In 1983, Roy Walford, a life-extensionist and gerontologist, published a popular book called Maximum Lifespan. In 1988, Walford and his student Richard Weindruch summarized their research into the ability of calorie restriction to extend the lifespan of rodents in The Retardation of Aging and Disease by Dietary Restriction (ISBN 0-398-05496-7). It had been known since the work of Clive McCay in the 1930s that calorie restriction can extend the maximum lifespan of rodents. But it was the work of Walford and Weindruch that gave detailed scientific grounding to that knowledge. Walford's personal interest in life extension motivated his scientific work and he practiced calorie restriction himself. Walford died at the age of 80 from complications caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Money generated by the non-profit Life Extension Foundation allowed Saul Kent to finance the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, the world's largest cryonics organization. The cryonics movement had been launched in 1962 by Robert Ettinger's book, The Prospect of Immortality. In the 1960s, Saul Kent had been a co-founder of the Cryonics Society of New York. Alcor gained national prominence when baseball star Ted Williams was cryonically preserved by Alcor in 2002 and a family dispute arose as to whether Williams had really wanted to be cryopreserved.
Regulatory and legal struggles between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Life Extension Foundation included seizure of merchandise and court action. In 1991, Saul Kent and Bill Faloon, the principals of the Foundation, were jailed. The LEF accused the FDA of perpetrating a "Holocaust" and "seeking gestapo-like power" through its regulation of drugs and marketing claims.
In 1992, the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) was formed to create what it considered an anti-aging medical specialty distinct from geriatrics, and to hold trade shows for physicians interested in anti-aging medicine. The American Board of Medical Specialties recognizes neither anti-aging medicine nor the A4M's professional standing.
Ethics and politics of life extension
Leon Kass (chairman of the US President's Council on Bioethics from 2001 to 2005) has questioned whether potential exacerbation of overpopulation problems would make life extension unethical. He states his opposition to life extension with the words:
"simply to covet a prolonged life span for ourselves is both a sign and a cause of our failure to open ourselves to procreation and to any higher purpose. …[The] desire to prolong youthfulness is not only a childish desire to eat one's life and keep it; it is also an expression of a childish and narcissistic wish incompatible with devotion to posterity."
Transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom has argued that any technological advances in life extension must be equitably distributed and not restricted to a privileged few. In an extended metaphor entitled "The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant", Bostrom envisions death as a monstrous dragon who demands human sacrifices. In the fable, after a lengthy debate between those who believe the dragon is a fact of life and those who believe the dragon can and should be destroyed, the dragon is finally killed. Bostrom argues that political inaction allowed many preventable human deaths to occur.
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- Brain Fitness. Anti-Aging Strategies To Fight Alzheimer's Disease, Supercharge Your Memory, Sharpen Your Intelligence, De-Stress Your Mind, Control Mood Swings, and Much More… Robert Goldman, M.D, D.O., Ph.D., With Ronald Klatz, M.D., D.O., and Liza Berger. Doubleday. 1995. Paperpack, 346pp. ISBN 0-385-48869-6
- The Directory of Life Extension Supplements. Life Extension Foundation. Published annually.
- Fantastic Voyage: The Science Behind Radical Life Extension Raymond Kurzweil and Terry Grossman M.D., Rodale. 2004. 452pp. ISBN 1-57954-954-3
- 50 Simple Ways To Live A Longer Life: Everyday Techniques From The Forefront Of Science. Suzanne Bohan and Glenn Thompson. Sourcebooks. 2005. Paperback, 287 pages. ISBN 1-4022-0375-6
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- The Life Extension Companion. The Latest Breakthroughs in Health Science. Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw. Warner Books. 1984. Hardcover, 430 pages. ISBN 0-446-51277-X
- The Life Extension Revolution: The Definitive Guide to Better Health, Longer Life, and Physical Immortality. Saul Kent. 1980. Hard Cover. ISBN 0-688-03580-9
- The Life Extension Revolution: The New Science of Growing Older Without Aging. Philip Lee, M.D. and Monica Reinagel Miller. Bantam. 2005. Hardcover, (416 pages). ISBN 0-553-80353-0
- The Life Extension Weight Loss Programme. Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw.
- LifeSpan-Plus. 900 Natural Techniques To Live Longer. Rejuvenate Your Heart; Stay Infection-Free; Prevent a Stroke; Reduce Stress; Control Your Blood Pressure; Strengthen Your Bones; Eliminate Body Toxins. By the editors of Prevention Magazine. Rodale. 1990. Hardcover, 422 pages. ISBN 0-87857-908-7
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- The Long Tomorrow. Michael Rose. Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 0-19-517939-0
- Merchants of Immortality. Chasing The Dream Of Human Life Extension. Stephen S. Hall. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2003. Paperback, 439 pp. ISBN 0-618-49221-6
- Mind Food and Smart Pills. How To Increase Your Intelligence and Prevent Brain Aging. Ross Pelton. 1986. Paperback, 170pp. ISBN 0-936809-00-0
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- The Wrinkle Cure. The All-Natural Formula for Stopping Time. Unlock the Power of Cosmeceuticals for Supple, Youthful Skin. Nicholas Perricone, M.D. Rodale. 2000. Hardcover, 208 pages. ISBN 1-57954-237-9
- Your Personal Life-Extension Program. A Practical Guide to the New Science That Can Make You Stronger, Smarter, Sexier, More Energetic, and More Youthful. Saul Kent. Morrow. 1985. Hardcover, 384 pages. ISBN 0-688-00629-9
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- http://dovepress.com/articles.php?journal_id=63[dead link] Clinical Interventions in Aging Editor-in-Chief: Dr Richard F Walker. Publisher: Dove Medical Press Ltd. ISSN 1176-9092. Published Quarterly
- Rejuvenation Research Editor: Aubrey de Grey. Publisher: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. ISSN 1549-1684 - Published Quarterly
- Aging Research Centre
- Aubrey de Grey: 'We will be able to live to 1,000'
- Immortality Institute
- Kurzweil Biomed/Life Extension News
- Longevity Meme
- Vitae Institute non-profit for developing life-extension technology through basic research
- Why We Age - An Anti-aging and Longevity Research Resource
- The British Longevity Society