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Maya Elhalal

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You may not have heard of Ken Bald but, if you are a lover of SuperHero comics, you have no doubt seen his work. For more than 70 years, Ken has been creating some of the most iconic covers and inner art work for DC and Marvel comics. Ken, who passed away on March 17th, 2019, is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s oldest comic book artist.

Ken got his start in the comic book business when a piece of fan art he drew at age 14 was published in issue #9 of More Fun Comics. Over the course of his seven decade career he has created some of the most iconic covers in the industry, including those of Dr. Kildaire, Dark Shadows and Captain America. 

At the age of 96, Ken came out of retirement at the request of Marvel executives to illustrate their Contest of Champions #2, which was published in January, 2016.

Gymnastics is  not a sport you traditionally associated with the elderly. After all, it involves a whole lot of jumping, bending and stretching – things which old folks are not meant to be good at. Johanna Quass turns that notion on its head. This German super ager is the world’s oldest gymnast. At the age of 95, she still competes in German amatuer competition.

Johanna has been a gymnast since the age of nine. In 1945 she began coaching gymnastics. Over the next twenty years she coached hundreds of athletes including several Olympic competitors. In 2012, 86 year old Johanna became a viral sensation on YouTube when a couple of clips of her doing gymnastics moves clocked up more than 3 million views each. 

Johanna’s healthy, vibrant lifestyle, which involves regular daily workouts, lots of fresh air and sound, balanced nutrition is a powerful testament to the ability of the human body to keep performing when it is properly nurtured!

At 99 years of age. Fashion icon and businesswoman Iris Apfel is as sprite, witty and fabulous as ever. Iris celebrated her birthday on August 29th, marking the event with the following Twitter post . . .

My old hourglass is doing just fine…

Sand’s dripping away, arriving at ninety plus nine.

Happy Birthday to Me, may I be of good cheer!

To give thanks for thriving & surviving one hell of a year!

In 1948, 27 year old Iris and her husband Carl launched the textile firm Old World Weavers. They ran the business until retiring in 1992. Over that time, Iris participated in a number of high profile restoration projects, including at the White House. In 2019, Iris signed a modeling contract with IMG at the spritely age of 97. She is also the oldest person to have a Barbie doll made in her image!
As she is knocking on the door of a century, Iris continues to inspire the world with her unique style and love of life. Earlier this year she released an adult coloring book to help people get through the COVID-19 lockdowns. Commenting on her inimitable style, Iris told NBC’s TODAY show ‘I always dressed for myself. I don’t care what anybody thinks. I’m not a rebel and I don’t do these things to shock anybody. Frankly, I don’t give a damn.’

Over the last hundred and fifty years, the human lifespan has doubled from 40 to 8- years. But the quality of life for the majority of our eldery folk has been severely impacted by chronic disease. It seems as if, by challenging the biological clock, we’ve run up against a limit to healthy aging that makes physical breakdown inevitable.

However, that’s not what we see in nature.

In this second part of our multi part series, we investigate aging in nature in order to understand whether illness in old age is inevitable in humans. 

In Nature, Ill Health in Old Age is Not Inevitable

In the interest of learning about alternatives to the aging process humans experience, in recent years, biologists have studied the healthspan mechanisms of animals and plants that don’t age in the same ways that we do. These species may die of a disease or an accident, but, unlike us, they barely suffer senescence (biological aging). From unicellular and multicellular organisms to vertebrates, some species enjoy plateaued existence, even as they age, until the very end of life.

Take the Great Basin bristlecone pine – a long-living tree species found in the taller mountains of California, Nevada, and Utah. One member of this species has been around since the very early days of recorded history. 

This tree is 5067 years old. 

Another example of extreme health span is Turritopsis Dohrnii, also known as the immortal jellyfish. Found in the Mediterranean Sea and in the waters of Japan, these jellyfish are able to undo their development, aging not towards death but rather backward to their youth, and begin a new cycle. 

If that were an option for humans, many would sign up for that in a heartbeat! It is one of the few known animals capable of reverting completely after having reached sexual maturity and, theoretically, this process can go on indefinitely. 

Mother Nature is not against healthy longevity; she is just extremely selective of it. There’s still a long way to go from where we stand now to healthy longevity in humans, but gaining a better understanding of the very rare conditions when it is made possible is a step in the right direction.

We find extreme healthy longevity in some clams, turtles, lobsters, sharks and other animals. One of the secrets to their longevity is that they mostly manage to avoid the accumulation of damage overtime. 

But, what about species that are biologically closer to us? Are there cases of mammals that age and maintain health simultaneously? 

If we are able answer these questions, it would take us another step toward understanding the possibility of improving human health span, and making it possible.

Good Health in Old Age is Possible in Animals, Too

Turns out mammals can age healthily too. Nature has provided an astonishing example of health in old age in the form of a wrinkled rat, and the mysteries of its biology have puzzled scientists for decades. While this particular species may not be considered “cute” by the human critic, there are many reasons to admire and envy the mammalian world champion of healthspan – the naked mole rat. It lives in a good reproductive and health state for the most part of its 30 years of life – outliving rodents of its size ten times over. The naked mole rat is a unique creature in many ways; going above and beyond hygiene standards when compared to most other mammals. In their tunnels, they delineate a separate toilet area, where feces and urine get stored. 

Yet, the characteristic perhaps most interesting for us in terms of healthy longevity research, is that naked mole rats are biologically at a risk of accumulating cellular damage as a result of metabolic processes similar to ours. The difference is that they seem to have found a way to overcome it. They are virtually resistant to cancer; there have been fewer than half a dozen recorded cases of cancer in the heavily studied naked mole rat. Even more interesting is the fact that, for them, the biological “cost of operating a life” does not rise exponentially with age. Rather, it has only negligible negative effect on their health. 

Implications for Humans

How is it possible for the naked mole rat not to accumulate the ‘costs of operating a life’ in the same way that humans do? In 2017, scientists working for Calico, an Alphabet (Google) research and development company whose public mission is to devise interventions that enable people to lead longer and healthier lives, presented evidence that the naked mole rat is time-resilient in more ways than we knew. The mortality of the naked mole rat, they say, does not increase with age. 

With discoveries like these, we are one small step closer to understanding the biology of healthy longevity. While, like naked mole rats, we, too, have figured out that separating the toilet from our bedroom is important, humans don’t have the longevity genes they do. 

The next question has to be, are there cases of extreme health span in humans?   We’ll explore the answer to that question in Part Three of this multi part series.

For Part Three: Is Living a Long Healthy Life Luck of the Draw? CLICK HERE

For Part One: Is Living a Long Healthy Life Luck of the Draw? CLICK HERE

From the beginnings of human existence, we’ve been desperately seeking a way to stave off the inevitability of death. In recent years, the research into longevity has proceeded at pace. What has been discovered has threatened to overturn long held ideas. 

Take longevity itself. We’ve long though that our lives are like an egg timer with a set number of grains of sand constantly being depleted. By the time we get to ninety or a hundred, we run out of grains of sand and we die. Yet, recent research challenges that notion. 

The ‘Mortality Plateau’ Study; Can You Live Forever?

A study of almost 4,000 ‘super elderly’ people in Italy suggests that there is no natural limit to aging. Each of the study subjects were aged 105 or older. The researchers found that the risk of mortality increases as we age but then tapers off after age 105. They referred to this phenomenon as a ‘mortality plateau.’ After the age of 105, the odds of dying over the next 12 months level to 50:50. (1)

According to Jean-Marie Robine, a demographer at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research in Montpellier, the study suggests that humans could actually live forever . . .

If there is a mortality plateau, then there is no limit to human longevity.

– Jean-Marie Robine

The research, which was published in a 2018 issue of the journal Science, comes on the top of years of debate among researchers as to what is the limit of human existence. The conventionally held view has been that the risk of mortality increases until the age of around 80. After that, there has been much debate about whether the risk increases or not. Scientists looking at the same data have come to opposing conclusions, with some concluding that mortality risk keeps increasing as we get into our ‘super golden’ years, with others being convinced that the risk of dying tapers off when we close in and go beyond being a centurion. 

Prior to the 2018 study, the largest study on mortality limits was conducted by a team of geneticists out of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. They analyzed the ages of death of the world’s oldest people over the previous 50 years. Their conclusion was that human longevity peaked at between 115-125 years. They also found that there had been no significant increases in max life span since the 1990s. The overall conclusion of this study was that human aging had already peaked with the oldest record human. That was the French woman Jean Calment who died at the age of 122 in 1997. (2)

The Ongoing Debate: Upper Limit On Age or Not?

The results of this study were immediately challenged, with complaints being laid about the statistical methods which were used. One of the authors of the 2018 study, Ken Wachter, states that they went to great lengths to ensure that the records they collected were unimpeachable . . .

We have the advantage of better data. If we can get data of this quality for other countries, I expect we’re going to see much the same pattern.

– Ken Wachter

However, Robine is not so sure that the study is globally representative. He points to the fact that all of the participants were from Italy. He says that unpublished data from Japan, France and Canada does not support the idea of a mortality plateau. 

A global study of centurions is needed to provide a truly representative picture of what happens to our risk of dying in the super advanced years. 

 Jay Olshansky, a bio-demographer at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is another researcher who doubts the conclusions of the 2018 study . . .

You run into basic limitations imposed by body design.

– Jay Olshansky

Oshansky points to the fact that there are cells that do not replicate. These cells, such as neurons, will wither and die as we age and not be replaced. This in itself, he contends, places an upper limit on life span. 

There are around half a million people in the glocal centurion club. Researchers predict that that figure will double every decade to come. It has also been estimated that the age of the oldest person alive will increase by one year every decade going forward. 

Researchers are speculating as to the cause for the levelling off of the mortality rate in the super aged. A theory put forward by Siegfried Hekimi, a geneticist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, is that the cells of the body reach a state where their ability to repair themselves offsets cellular damage. 

The 2018 study has  led to much debate among scholars with the inevitable result that more research will be forthcoming. Those of us who have a keen interest in longevity eagerly look forward to it. 

References

  1. Barbi, E., Lagona, F., Marsili, M., Vaupel, J. W. & Wachter, K. W. Science 360, 1459–1461 (2018)
  2.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27706136/

Your Heart Rate Variability could well be one of the most important measures of your health. Discover how to track it and what you need to do to improve it!

Most of us have been using our heart rate as a measure of our aerobic fitness level since we were kids. After a run at school we were taught to feel the pulse on our wrist. While this is, indeed, an important measure of our heart’s performance, it is not the only one, nor the most important. 

It turns out that monitoring the beat to beat variation and the time intervals between heart contractions provides a far more valuable window into what is going inside our body, possibly as important as our expected lifespan This biofeedback healthspan hacking measure is known as heart rate variability. (1)

In this article, we take a deep dive into heart rate variability. We’ll discover why it is such an important biofeedback marker, how it can be used to optimize physical and cognitive performance and what healthspan hacking techniques you can start using today to improve your heart rate variability.

The Ever Changing Heart Rate – And Why It Matters

Contrary to what many people believe, the heart rate does not follow a constant pattern like a metronome. The time between beats is constantly changing. It turns out those changes reveal an incredibly valuable message about our health. This fluctuation is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which is made up of the parasympathetic and the sympathetic system. (2)

The sympathetic nervous system is also known as the fight or flight system. Its activation causes an immediate increase in the heart and respiratory rate as the body prepares to meet a stressful situation. This requires a lot of energy. 

The body then returns to a state of homeostasis by switching to parasympathetic dominance. This system promotes rest, digestion and wellbeing. Whether or not we are in sympathetic or parasympathetic dominance is controlled by the vagus nerve in the brain. 

The imbalance between sympathetic and parasympathetic activity has been recognized as a key indicator of both psychological and physical illness. The measure of heart rate variability has been shown to be the best window available into these opposing systems. Heart rate variability is a normal and desired outcome. However, the more stressed we are, the shorter the interval between heart beats. Conversely, the more relaxed and calm we are, the greater the intervals between beats and the higher the HRV. 

So, we can consider HRV to be a measure of the interplay between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The higher the HRV reading, the more balanced that relationship is. From a healthspan hacking point of view, our goal is to increase our HRV in order to enhance the state of homeostasis that enhances our overall health. 

While it is certainly possible to improve your HRV measure, it should be noted that there are a number of factors that determine your heart beat intervals. Genetics plays a role, as does age and gender. So, rather than trying to achieve an arbitrary ideal HRV number, it is more advantageous to set the goal of improving your HRV in relation to your rolling baseline. This is the best practice for both physical and mental wellbeing. 

2 Hacks to Improve Your HRV

When you improve your HRV, your daily readiness to tackle life will be enhanced, your resting heart rate will go down and your body will better adapt to external stimulus. Here are two hacks you start incorporating today to enhance your HRV:

Cold Exposure

Cold exposure is a hermetic stressor that results in acute sympathetic arousal. This then brings on a parasympathetic state during recovery from the cold exposure. Immediately following the cold exposure you will experience a significant lowering of HRV. However, in order to get back to a state of homeostasis, this will be followed by a higher rate of HRV as you enter the parasympathetic state. (3)

Hot and cold contrast showers and cold plunges are effective methods of cold exposure. 

Better Quality and Quantity of Sleep

The better quality and quantity of sleep you get, the higher your HRV will be. That’s because the majority of your body’s repair, recuperation and recovery occurs while you are sleeping. It is also while you are asleep that your heart rate is at its lowest. A key aspect of healthspan hacking is providing the body with the optimal environment for these processes to occur(4) (5)

One key to achieving a good night’s sleep is maintaining an ideal bedroom temperature. That ideal temperature has been shown to be 65°F (18.3°C). This temperature best correlates with your body’s internal temperature throughout the night. 

Another consideration to enhance your sleep environment is to keep your bedroom as stimulus free as possible. This will help your mind and body to relax as it winds down for the evening. Keep all technology (including your phone) out of the bedroom. Try to make the room as dark and noise free as possible. 

3 More Ways to Improve your HRV

  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Minimize stimulant consumption

Summary

Heart Rate Variability is an essential marker of your body’s cognitive and mental health, as it provides a window into the interplay between your body’s competing stress and restore nervous systems.  In order to improve your HRV markers, use cold therapy and take active steps to improve your quality and quantity of sleep. Doing so will improve your health longevity, helping you to advance to a vibrant, energetic future. 

References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17111118/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8458993/
  3. https://pubmed.Functional anatomy of the autonomic nervous systemncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18785356/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3427038/
  5.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301051115000447

In the previous parts of this article, we identified that the incredible increase in human lifespan over the past couple of centuries has not been matched by improved health as we age. Yet, we have also highlighted that this apparent inevitable age related heath decline is not mirrored in nature. In this instalment, we highlight the experiences of super-agers, which suggest that living and long and a healthy life may be more about lifestyle choices than genetic predisposition.

Healthy Aging in People is Rare, but Possible

People like Holocaust survivor Yisrael Kristal, and some 450,000 centenarians worldwide provide living proof that extreme longevity is possible. Supercentenarian Jeanne Louise Calment, the longest living person in documented history, lived 122 years and 167 days, setting a health span world record that has yet to be broken, Calment picked up fencing at 85, still rode her bicycle at 100, and walked unassisted (not even a cane) until she was 114. She showed impressive mental acuity and high spirits throughout her long life. At her 110th birthday she famously said: “I’ve only ever had one wrinkle, and I’m sitting on it”. During her final pubic appearance, the day of her 122nd birthday, though almost blind and deaf, she was in surprisingly good health.

We know that super-agers suffer less frequently from chronic diseases than other older age groups. We also know that when they do suffer from diseases like Alzheimer’s, it’s markedly delayed compared to the general population.

Scientists have been working on identifying the genetic determinants of healthy longevity for decades. With the motivation that insights from animal models may someday be applicable to humans, hundreds of research projects are in process, and fascinating discoveries have been made. For example, in the worm model C. elegans, over 70 genes have been found to influence lifespan. 

In 2016, researchers made progress in recognizing the gene variants that lead to longevity in humans. Does this take us any further in making it possible for the rest of us to age more healthily? Not quite yet. We have had success tweaking genes for healthy longevity in animal models but the road to longevity gene editing in humans may be a long one. That said, with the recent advances in gene editing in humans for therapeutic purposes, there’s hope for practical applications from research on super-agers.

http://pictures.reuters.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=2C0BXZ4W71UOW&SMLS=1&RW=1386&RH=734#/SearchResult&VBID=2C0BXZ4W71UOW&SMLS=1&RW=1386&RH=734&POPUPPN=34&POPUPIID=2C0BF1RGZJROA

Science is Changing Longevity from Roulette to Poker

Most of us are not lucky enough to have won the super-centenarian genetic lottery. But aging healthier is now more a game of skill than a game of chance. Better lifestyle choices, science tells us, can add years of health to life.   

The link between food choices and health is long known. But, so far ancient wisdom like “let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food” hasn’t been very actionable. Now, grants given to leading universities and research centers to determine what we should be eating for healthy longevity make diet recommendations scientific. 

Valter Longo, a gerontology research professor just received $10M from the National Institute of Aging for his research on how diet can influence aging. The goal of his grant is to extend the success of a preliminary clinical trial showing that cycles of a five-day fasting-mimicking diet can reduce risk factors for many age-related illness.

There’s compelling research linking calorie restriction to longevity, but after we find a formula to calculate an “optimal” caloric consumption, is there a scientifically-backed optimal diet for extending our life? 

The Impact of Personalized Food Choices 

A study conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science found that the answer varies greatly from one person to another.  One factor includes microbial ecosystem in your gut (bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungi and mold). Last year DayTwo, an Israeli startup applying insights of the Weizman microbiome study, raised $12 million from investors including Johnson & Johnson Innovation and the Mayo Clinic to deliver personalized food choice recommendations to consumers. The demand for DayTwo in Israel has now exceeded the capacity of the company. Customers who realize the health potential are willing to wait months for their personalized diet. 

We are advancing at a rapid pace in turning food recommendations from trial and error into an exact science. Nutrigenomics startup Viome takes this science to the new level. Viome, will give you personalized recommendations of what foods to eat and what foods to minimize based not just on the presence of gut organisms but on their actual expressions and effectiveness in producing nutrients and reducing inflammation. Their goal is to make chronic illness truly a matter of choice and not a matter of bad luck.

Israeli startup Lumen, promises specific recommendations based on your body’s ability to produce energy from available carbs and fat during rest and workout time. In the past year they have been helping hundreds of beta testers to lose weight and live healthier lives according to their metabolism. 

It’s About More Than What You Eat

Food choices matter. However, a healthy diet, as personalized as it may be, is not enough to keep you healthy as you age. A study of Blue Zones—rare longevity hotspots around the world – reveals that healthy longevity is multifactorial. How physically active you are, your level of social engagement, spirituality, living a life of meaning, alcohol consumption, and other factors come together when it comes to extending healthspan.

 But can insights from a study of traditional communities be made actionable on a larger scale and as part of a modern lifestyle? In 2009 the city of Albert Lea, Minnesota started a project to achieve just that, applying a holistic program inspired by the 9 common longevity factors discovered in the Blue Zones. They have so far collectively reduced health care claims by 49% and increased life expectancy by 3 years. 

Optimizing all the aspects that contribute to healthy longevity may not leave much time to, well, live. Here, too, science can help people make more informed choices and priorities. The many tests now available to determine your genetic predisposition for age-related health conditions, including diabetes, cancers, and cardiovascular disease, can help personalize your effort. It may also give you the important nudge to hedge your health risks with early detection tests if you have an increased likelihood of developing a particular disease based on your genetic makeup.

The personalized and predictive technology available to us today is a game changer. With AI insights on health data, applying longevity studies to modern lifestyle, plus taking advantage of genomic biotech, may add up to a preventive effect worth years of health.

In the final part of this series, we focus in on regenerative medicine and how an emphasis on healthspan rather than lifespan can add health to our years.

For Part Four: Is Living a Long Healthy Life Luck of the Draw? CLICK HERE

For Part Two: Is Living a Long Healthy Life Luck of the Draw? CLICK HERE

In 1944 Polish candy factory owner Yisrael Kristal lost his wife and two children after the family was transported to Auschwitz concentration camp. Kristal survived, making it though the brutal 1945 death march. After the war he went back to his home town where he met fellow Hholocaust survivor Bat Sheva.  They married and began a new life together, The couple married, started a family, and opened a new candy factory in Haifa. Yisreal lived on to became the Guinness world record oldest Holocaust survivor in 2010, and lived to see his great grandchildren thrive in Israel. 

Throughout the most part of his long life, Yisrael enjoyed good health. He died surrounded by his extended family in 2017, just 5 days short of his 114th birthday. Kristal was a middle aged man when he lost everything, and in the seven decades that followed the war, he got to start a new life and live it fully. 

Yisrael Kristal 
Taken from jpost.com (photo credit: COURTESY OF FAMILY)

Living Longer But Not Healthier

Celebrating life with such healthy longevity is a rare individual achievement. Yet, as a species, we have made extraordinary improvement in the longevity stakes over the 150 years. During that time the average global lifespan has more than doubled.  A two-fold increase in longevity in a blink of an eye on the evolutionary time scale, is a remarkable human achievement. However, the extended human lifespan has brought with it some major adverse effects. Consequently, for most of us, an increase in lifespan iis not equal to an increase in healthspan. 

Credit: OurWorldInData.org

As we age, put chances of getting sick increase. In fact, the risk of suffering from such conditions as cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease goes up exponentially with every year we add to our lives. Arthritis, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and many other chronic diseases are all associated with aging. In 2020, more than half of Americans 65 and older are being treated for multiple chronic conditions. A typical chronic combination of conditions is diabetes together with high blood pressure and a heart condition. 

A 2011 study by the world economic forum projected that by the year 2030 the cost for treating chronic illness worldwide would exceed 47 trillion dollars. The rising cost of managing the ill health of old age is devastating and the impact on the quality of life of a chronically ill individual is immeasurable. 

Longer lives have come with a dire unintended downside. In extending lifespan we hoped for a commensurate better quality of life. Instead, it seems we have stretched our limits beyond sustainable biological longevity. As a result, ill health in old age, and the economic healthcare burden that can bring economies to their knees, is inevitable. 

Or is it? 

In this article series, we explore breakthroughs in longevity science and biotechnology that suggest it is time for us to rethink the notions that extended lifespan and health are mutually exclusive. As technology advances and we learn more about biological aging, there are more reasons to be optimistic that good health over most of a long life may be possible.

 Imminent even. 

Why Do We Get Sick When We Get Older?  

Longevity and health are an age old human desire. Every culture has its tales of longevity outliers. In the Bible, Methuselah lived to the ripe old age of 960, with many Bible patriarchs living well into the multiple centuries. Yet, for millions of years the average life span was between20 and 30 years. A few millennia ago it began to gradually climb until it reach into the early 40s in the second part of the 9th century.

The burning question driving scientists globally is, with the rare exception of centenarians, could the reason we get sick when we age be that in doubling lifespan we have broken some irrefutable law of biology?

What we do know is that risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimers, arthritis, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and many other chronic conditions goes up as we get older. These illness are very different in nature from the infectious diseases that contribute to mortality in the early parts of life. 

Is There a Common Root Cause to the Diseases of Old Age? 

The answer, growing insights from longevity science tell us, is the process of biological aging. 

Gerontologists refer to it as senescence. Simply put, it is a gradual and ultimately fatal deterioration of function that results from accumulated damage in the body. This appears to be a deadly side effect of essential metabolic processes in a biological economy that from middle age on suffers from diminishing garbage disposal and repair resources. 

Think of this as biological operating expenses that rise exponentially from middle age until,l eventually, running the business of staying alive becomes unsustainable. In the past we didn’t live much beyond middle age. 

Age related illnesses came along as we took evolution into our own hands and deliberately ventured humanity to new frontiers of longevity. 

Does that mean that ill health in old age is inevitable? Or can a biohealth hacking focus allow us to live longer AND healthier lives? In Part Two of this multi part series we search for answers.

For Part Two: Is Living a Long Healthy Life Luck of the Draw? CLICK HERE

The phrase ‘super ager’ has become popular in recent times. A super ager is generally defined as a person who is 80 or over whose mental or physical capabilities are are comparable to people who are decades younger. Whether they know it or not, super agers is a healthspan hacker. Their ability to remain young doesn’t happen by accident. Rather, it is the cumulative result of a lifetime of healthy habits of mind and body.

The following four habits are common among super agers:

They remain physically and mentally active
They constantly challenge themselves
They have strong social relationships
They drink alcohol in moderation

Want to join the super agers club? You couldn’t do better than following through on these four lifestyle habits!

In the first three instalments of this series put forward a compelling case for a total paradigm shift when it comes to again. By transform our approach from sick care to preventative healthcare, we may be able to realize more life in out years as we grow older. In this final instalment, we focus in on the potential health spanning effects of regenerative medicine.

The Promise of Regenerative Medicine

Time seems to take a particularly heavy toll on the eyes, even with the healthiest of super-agers. The main reason is age-related Macular Degeneration (dry AMD). Dry AMD occurs when the light-sensitive cells in the macula of the eye break down due to the death of a supporting cell type called retinal pigment epithelial cells (RPE). Dry AMD impairs vision and it is the leading cause of blindness in people over age 60. 

There are currently no approved therapies for dry AMD. 

But, what if we could introduce the missing cells into the subretinal space? Would cells from an external source be able to halt the progress of AMD? 

Regulatory clearance from the FDA and the Israeli Ministry of Health was recently granted in order to initiate a clinical trial to see if this hypothesis is true.  OpRegen, one of the therapies offered by the Cell Cure – a subsidiary of the the publicly traded biotech company BioTime – is being developed in Jerusalem, by Benjamin Reubinoff, M.D., Ph.D. The Israeli Innovation Authority awarded in 2016 a grant of $2.2 million to help finance the development of OpRegen.  

OpRegen is just one example where regenerative medicine utilizes advances in stem cell biology, biologics, biomaterials, lab-generated cells to work wonders in the body. We’ve made incredible progress in medicine. The revolution of providing healthy cells and tissues to complement the regenerative capacity that the body loses due to an illness, or altogether replace a failing organ may offer a real cure, rather than merely treat the symptoms of a disease.   

What does this have to do with healthy longevity?

 We are born with a built-in capacity to repair tissues and organs to restore normal function. Through our lifespan, we experience changes in regenerative abilities, and during aging, numerous tissues exhibit a progressive decline in homeostasis that results in degeneration, malfunction and pathology. Making healthier personal lifestyle choices, the occasional fast, and other longevity practices may help slow down this process but it can’t altogether stop it. At some point cell senescence goes into higher gear and damage that we are no longer able to repair starts accumulating. This is where regenerative medicine could come in very handy. 

What  Next?

A person’s healthspan is the length of time that the person is healthy—not just alive. The term was officially added to Mirriam Webster Dictionary in March of 2016.

Now, let’s remember the idea of doubling longevity, mentioned in our first article. But this time, let’s separate between years added to life (extended lifespan) and healthy years added (healthspan). 

What do you think has been the most significant contributor to extending our healthy longevity over the last century and a half? Many believe it’s medicine but, surprisingly, it’s not. It’s hygiene and sanitation. So far, it is the ultimate healthspan technology. It has increased both lifespan and health at the same time, not by curing illness but by preventing it.

The 4 Ps of Future Health

Is it possible that we might, at some point in the future, reach a scientific breakthrough in understanding aging or invent another technology that will further extend both human longevity and health on a global scale? 

Interestingly enough, we may have already discovered or invented it. It may be applying insights from the Blue Zones to modern life, or a personalized diet based on nutrigenomics, the key could be preventative early detection based on DNA predisposition tests, or it may be regenerative stem cell therapy. 

Probably, it’s a mix often referred to as the 4Ps of the future of health: personalized, predictive, preventative and participatory. 

The sad reality is that we are not moving nearly fast enough to explore this direction in time to save more people from falling into the chronic illness trap. The focus of medical research and healthcare systems today is treating illnesses. Earlier this year at the Undoing Aging Conference this was recognized as one of the leading obstacles we face in closing the lifespan-healthspan gap. Undoing Aging, founded by Aubery De Grey of SENS Research Foundation, is a gathering of healthy longevity scientists, investigators and thought leaders to discuss the future of healthcare and how to accelerate rejuvenation therapies. 

Systemic Challenges

Take regenerative medicine. Today, to benefit from the regenerative medicine revolution you must first be diagnosed with an illness that is listed on the WHO International Classification of Diseases. We know that biological aging is the driving force behind multimorbidities of older age. But, biological aging is not classified as a disease. That means, we must first allow senescence to run havoc in the body before we can offer any intervention or therapy. 

In a similar way to the application of OpRegen to slow down Age-related Macular Degeneration, regenerative medicine may be applied to the systemic gradual degenerative process that occurs in the body as part of normal biological aging. But for now, we must allow aging to progress to a degree that symptoms are acute enough as to be classified as a disease before regenerative medicine can be offered. 

Maintaining full bodily and mental function as long as possible (and as close as possible to the end of life), should be our next gerontological goal. Right now, the main barrier is not scientific or technological, it’s that we practice “sick-care” rather than true healthcare. Much of the healthcare infrastructure, the training of physicians, and other health professionals, therapeutic processes and procedures, not to mention insurance, is geared to curing a contagious illness that derives from a single cause or treating an injury or an acute medical event like a stroke. 

The Challenge Ahead

A system-wide change of mindset, infrastructure, training and compensation is required if we are to address the chronic illnesses that are today’s health reality. We must shift from putting out symptomatic fires to prevention, to systemic investigation and getting to the root causes of illness, and to regeneration.  

Hygiene and sanitation have given us the first doubling of healthspan through disease prevention. Personalized, predictive, preventative and participatory healthcare may give us the second healthspan breakthrough, but only if we apply it early enough in life. The health outcome we need to start measuring is age related disease prevention. Aiming towards lengthening healthspan may be imminent, but only if we first let go of the idea that ill health in old age is an inevitable part of life.

For Part Three: Is Living a Long Healthy Life Luck of the Draw? CLICK HERE

For Part One: Is Living a Long Healthy Life Luck of the Draw? CLICK HERE