Not too surprisingly, perhaps, the range of methods which have been, and are, advocated in the quest for a longer life are mind numbing. They range from the quite reasonable to the extremely bizarre, with tomes and tracts enthusiastically supporting their use, whether this involves abstinence from sex or the injection of animal glandular cells, or some other method or practice.
To be sure, some of these methods do have what appears to be a rejuvenating influence, not unlike that seen in the use of growth hormone as described in earlier chapters. That is to say there may be the apoearance of a restored youthfulness in certain respects’ with definite signs of a reversal in some of the outward manifestations of aging (wrinkles lessened, muscles firming, memory improving etc.) . . but there remains little evidence of any extension of life as a result.
The truth is that only one method of life extension has been proved to be effective, beyond any reasonable doubt, and that is the use of calorie restriction diets within the framework of full intake of all other nutrients. Even antioxidant nutrition, for all its known health benefits (whether through diet or supplementation), has only been shown to extend life in some species (not in all those tested, unlike calorie restriction). Reduction in oxidation activity is, in any case, itself a feature of what happens on calorie restriction diets. Also, a feature of what happens in calorie restriction is the reduction in metabolic rate and the consequent lowering of core temperature, making this a result of the life extension programme, rather than something necessarily needing to be engineered outside of it (although there seems to be no reason why use of methods which achieve this, as outlined in the previous chapter, should not be used to reinforce the dietary methods).
As we hear the siren calls of the various advocates of different life extension methods we need to keep in mind the fact that the one proven method of life extension (calorie restriction) also produces major health benefits, such as a far lesser chance of the diseases associated with old age ever appearing, and the very real chance of those which might already be apparent disappearing.
Do any of the other purported methods of life extension offer these benefits as well? Such health benefits would certainly be easier to prove than the somewhat hard to prove chance of a longer life. The answer is almost always no. Those supposed methods of life extension which I briefly outline below, offer little in the way of proof of prevention of ill-health or of the likelihood of promoting restoration of health once serious disease is present.
Some which do offer health enhancement potentials, such as lowering of excessive serotonin levels (see below) are also related to effects produced on the calorie restriction diet, as one of its many benefits.
So, just what is on offer in the marketplace of ways of increasing the human life span?
Hormones, serotonin inhibitors and the benefits of negative ions
- Hormone replacement therapy in menopausal women is an example of the way in which a more youthful appearance, and some health benefits, can be created by use of medication. Possible side-effects are apparent in most cases, and none of the hormone replacement methods currently in use make any claim to extend life, merely to ensure that what remains of it has less physical impact.
- L-dopa, a drug used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, has been found to have remarkable effects on rats in terms of starting elderly female animals ovulating again long after menopause, and in extending the average life spans of mice fed large amounts of the drug. In humans, when the drug is used therapeutically to help control the tremor of Parkinson’s disease, many older patients report a return of sexual urges, long since absent. There are many reported negative side effects when the drug is used in any quantity and there is no evidence of it having any capacity to enhance longevity, making its use of similar value to that suggested for synthetic antioxidants (see Chapter 14).
Whatever ‘youthening’ effect l-dope has is considered by many to relate to its antagonism to serotonin, a substance used in the body in nervous system activities, but which tends to accumulate with age. There are theories which relate the accumulation of serotonin with a ‘death hormone’ release, and the benefits of l-dope with its suppression of excessive buildup of levels of serotonin. Serotonin accumulates more rapidly with age, more rapidly on a very high protein diet, and also more rapidly when atmospheric conditions tilt towards an excessive level of positive ions in the air.
- Another theory has recently emerged which links decline in the levels of l-dope to a reduction in levels of growth hormone (Beth-EI, D., ‘Rejuvenating effects of natural L-Dopa content in Vicia Faba Golden Beans’ Israel Journal of Anti-Ageing Research (1990) 4:9-11). Researcher Dr Dan Beth-EI of the Institute of Gerontology in Israel says: ‘There is a progressive age-related decline in secretion of the hormone from the third to the ninth decade of life, and there is a direct biochemical relationship between this decline and lower levels of l-dope.’ He sees deficiency of l-dope as leading to growth hormone deficiency, resulting in slowness of movement, and speech, memory and thinking defects. At the same time bone density and body mass reduces while cholesterol and skin thickness, as fat deposition, increases (in other words: aging). One of his main answers to this is the abundant use of natural l-dope derived from broad (V~cia Faba golden) beans.
‘The amino acid l-dope is present in only one species of plant, and it is easily oxidized. Two or three days after harvest it declines and is absent by the time the plant finishes its growing period and starts to get dry.’ Two cupfuls (200 grams) of pods and seeds contain around 600 milligrams of 1-dope when picked fresh. Three days later this is down to 400 milligrams, and by the time they are marketed 200 grams of beans contain under 90 milligrams.
These beans are now commonly used as a ‘natural’ treatment of Parkinsorls disease, at which time youth enhancing/anti-ageing characteristics are said to be evident. Dr Beth-EI states: ‘A constant daily inclusion of natural l-dope in meals will avoid exhaustion and later atrophy of the human brain dopaminergic system . . . prolonging the youth period of human life, and at the same time adding strength and capabilities to many body functions.’
This extremely useful and apparently valid approach seems to help maintain youth, an outcome which is highly desirable but which is not the same as the achievement of life extension.
- Positive ions, which encourage serotonin build-up in the nervous system, are increased by various phenomena – such as electrical storms, strong dry prevailing winds (like the mistral of southern France), modern synthetic furnishing materials, electrical equipment such as TV sets and VDUs, very poor ventilation in buildings (often associated with central heating, air conditioning, very low humidity and sealed windows), cigarette smoke and other atmospheric pollution – all of which stimulate production of serotonin (because of the positive ion levels).
These effects can be reversed by exposure to negative ions, produced by plants, found in fresh air of reasonable humidity, and nowadays by special machines (ionizers) which are inexpensively available from electrical equipment stores. Negative ions reverse the build-up of serotonin and are therefore a far safer and more natural way of combating the damage this substance can cause, when present in excess, than by the use of drugs.
- Experimentally it has been shown that animals kept on a low tryptophan diet (tryptophan is the constituent amino acid of protein from which serotonin is synthesized) have their lives extended almost as efficiently as those on calorie restriction programmes. Perhaps some of the benefits of calorie restriction is the result of the relatively low protein (and therefore tryptophan) intake which it demands
Ana Aslan’s Discovery
Romanian physician and researcher Ana Aslan has been responsible for developing a widely used anti-ageing substance called GH3. To understand the story behind this, we need to understand the effects of yet another important substance related to nervous system activity. We all have present in our systems an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO), the job of which is to restore to normal levels any excessive amounts of certain neurohormones which might appear in tissues, and which are vital to normal function, such as epinephrine (adrenaline). As we age we build up larger and larger amounts of MAO which means that the deactivation of vital neurohormones can actually become excessive, to the point where this affects the nervous system and brain activity, often leading to depression.
Drugs called MAO inhibitors are prescribed in such conditions. However, these can, under different circumstances, lead to a wide range of unpleasant symptoms induding both very high and very low blood pressure swings, breathing and heart difficulties. The remarkable substance, GH3, developed in Romania, has been found to act as a safer MAO inhibitor than most other medications, and it is claimed that it also has a marked anti-ageing potential.
Ana Aslan reports that, in the 1940s, when she was using the local anaesthetic substance procaine in the treatment of arthritis and other pain conditions, she began receiving reports from patients of reduction in depression, and feelings of greater vitality and youthfulness. Later, on becoming head of a geriatric institute, she found that she could improve the likelihood of these benefits appearing by adding a number of additional substances such as benzoic acid and a potassium compound to the product, calling the result Gerovital H3 or GH3. This was administered intramuscularly three times weekly, and she claimed that it produced a number of anti-ageing effects.
Her claims have been variously proved and disproved over the years (poor results were usual when procaine has been tested alone without Dr Aslan’s additional substances which seem toimprove its usefulness). One of the more important positive investigations took place at the University of Southern California, where it was discovered that GH3 was a mild MAO inhibitor. Apparently it was specifically inhibiting that form of MAO which influenced levels of particular neurohormones such as norepinephrine, but not others. It therefore had many of the benefits of MAO inhibitors without their drawbacks.
Various animal studies indicate a slowing of the ageing process of cells of animals when GH3 is added to them, but no evidence as yet exists for life extension, as such, being achieved. More probably it acts by retarding some of the effects of ageing, which is enough justification for many people to undergo GH3 therapy, but is really not sufficient justification for adding it to a life extension programme.
A commonly used drug, employed in treatment of certain bowel
disorders, and based on sulphur, has been shown to markedly
increase health, and to have a rejuvenating effect on humans and
animals. Sulfadiazine (salazopirin in Europe) is almost non-toxic,
only producing side-effects in about one person in a thousand,
and has been shown in human geriatric patients to improve
hearing, vision, sexual function, general state of tissues and
sense of well-being. There is, according to John Mann (Secrets of
Life Extension, Harbor, 1980) only limited evidence of actual life
extension, though, when used in animal studies, and the drug
probably allowed the animals to live longer than animals not
treated, rather than actually extending their natural life spans.
Swiss doctors have for over half a century been promoting the use of live cell injections in order to reverse the ageing process. Cellular therapy is now commonplace throughout Europe. It involves cells from embryonic animals (commonly sheep) being injected intramuscularly after being mixed in a saline solution. Additionally, organs and glands of various animals are injected
for specific effects. The general idea is that the genetic material (DNA and RNA) from these relatively uncontaminated creatures will transfer to the cells of the recipient helping them to function more normally as they age. Unlike cells from adult animals, the relatively immature immune systems of the embryos results in the cells not being rejected as foreign protein, it is thought. There are well substantiated claims for a rejuvenating effect from such methods, although no claims of actual life extension.
A logical development of this idea is gaining support, that cells should be taken from young people and stored until later in their life, when they could be injected in this way, acting as a boost to regeneration and immune functions. While there is little doubt that people receiving cell therapy seem to feel better, have better memory and general function, and often look much younger than previously, this does not constitute life extension.
Nucleic acid therapy
Nucleic acids (RNA and DNA), often derived from yeasts and sometimes from animal sources, are being used in an attempt to encourage life extension. This method has been promoted in the US for many years by Dr Benjamin Frank (Dr Frank’s No Aging Diet, B. Frank and P. Miele, Dell, New York, 1976) with apparent success. It is claimed that in animal studies a 30 to 50 per cent increase in life span has been achieved.
Dr Frank says: ‘RNA from foods and supplements, when combined with metabolically associated B vitamins, minerals, amino acids and sugars, will enter the cell and in so doing will bring about normal enzyme synthesis and activation’ He believes that nucleic acid therapy encourages the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which can be synthesized from nucleic acid, and therefore lead to more efficient cell function, and indeed regeneration. Food sources of nucleic acids are brewer’s yeast, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, lentils and most beans, chick peas, animal liver, and oysters.
Supplementation with health store purchased DNA/RNA tablets is suggested by Dr Frank in doses of 100 to 200 milligrams daily. Benefits, which should emerge within two months on the programme, he says, include fewer wrinkles, improved color, and improved strength and well-being.
The use of nucleic acid will increase levels of uric acid, which, as we have seen, is a powerful antioxidant itself, but which we also know can trigger conditions such as gout when in excess. It is worth noting that the benefits which are claimed for nucleic acid therapy are similar to those which calorie restriction would produce anyway, including improved cell function; and the calorie restriction diet emphasizes the use of foods rich in nucleic acid.
Whether you should add supplements of RNA/DNA to the programme must be a personal choice. It can do little harm unless uric acid levels are high, and it might (just) help a calorie restriction diet. However, it would certainly add to protein intake, and this should be taken into account when assessing protein levels in relation to your weight.
It seems that whichever method we look at that has some degree of justification for its claims to influence either retardation of aging or promotion of actual life extension, we find these claimed effects such as the promotion of growth hormone, the influence of lowered core temperature, or antioxidant benefits are delivered naturally by calorie controlled dieting. Even when we come to some of the more unusual life extension methods, like serotonin reduction by drugs such as 1-dope, or MAO inhibition by the use of GH3, even supplementation with nucleic acid, all the benefits associated with such methods are available through application of the calorie restriction diet.
It is also important to remind ourselves that many of the antiageing effects produced by these assorted methods (other than calorie restriction) are not truly life extending, rather they give the appearance of youth, with some of the benefits (better function physically and mentally), but they do not add years to your life.
The other major benefit which calorie restriction offers is enhanced health, and while some of the additional methods mentioned make claims for particular benefits, none of them (apart from fasting and antioxidant nutrition perhaps) can make similar health claims, with any proof or authority.
The best way to extend your life, and to improve the quality of your life in terms of health, is to apply the calorie restriction diet described in this book. This can best be helped by periodic fasting, general supplementation, antioxidant supplementation, good stress coping skills, adequate sleep and exercise, access to negative ionization, and the application of methods such as meditation which encourage slower metabolic rates.
I wish all readers long, happy and healthy lives.