Discover the Fountain of Youth. Yes, it’s not a dream anymore!

What we’ve learned about rejuvenation, oxidative stress, and slowing down the aging process

Forever young.

Wouldn’t that be incredible? To not age. How many of us aren’t chasing the fountain of youth? Let’s be honest. We faithfully take hands full of supplements, get injections, subject ourselves to tweaking surgeries, to “tighten” or “re-contour” our bodies—some minor, some major. Only to discover, it’s all an elusive endeavor. Through the ages this has been the case, mankind searching for longevity.

IMG: Hansruedi Etter - pixabay.com - #Children #FountainYouth

IMG: Hansruedi Etter – pixabay.com – #Children #FountainYouth

There is indeed nothing new under the sun.

Alexander the Great, pursued eternal youth while conquering the then-known world, all the while looking desperately for an apparent miracle river which could arrest aging. The Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon, claimed in 1513 to have found the fountain of youth when he discovered a fountain in the present day Florida, in St. Augustine.

When I was 20, I thought, “you’re kidding me, I am youth!” At thirty I started wondering about that and at forty I realized, “uh oh!” Yes, it was happening. I was growing older. My eyes, for one, said, “absolutely!”

Why do we age? How does aging work? Aging is a systemic event. The “whole” body ages—it’s not only our joints or eyes or arteries. It effects everything: from our brains to our hearts, our skin, our knees, to our toes.

In each of our cells, we have 46 strands of DNA, which are coiled into chromosomes. Each of the chromosomes is capped by telomeres, which protect the former from fusion and degradation. Each time the cells divide, the telomeres shorten. Telomere-length has in more recent years been implicated to explain organismal aging—or mortality. Protect your telomeres, and you’ll live longer. Studies that have identified statistically significant linkages between telomere length and mortality had provided some support for this expectation. But perhaps it’s not that simple.

In a recent 2016 study, telomere length (TL) was compared to age, sex, and 19 other variables for predicting the 5-year mortality among people, older than 60. (Study subjects were in the Far East, Central America and the US.) They found telomere length had little discriminatory ability to predict mortality—it ranked 15th and 17th (out of 20)—even less than self-reported variables, such as mobility, global self-assessed health status, limitations with activities of daily living, and smoking.

This having been said, although TL may not be a strong predictor of mortality in older people, it could still be a valuable marker of health span, in age-related disease. What is more, eating a plant-based diet, definitely benefits your telomere length.

Although our brains only make up 2% of our body weight, it receives 50% of the oxygen we breathe. As we grow up and older, especially older, such an abundance of oxygen leaves us vulnerable to the damaging effects of reactive oxygen species (ROS), over time. ROS are derived from the incomplete reduction of molecular oxygen—such as we find in all living cells in our bodies—during the process of cellular respiration. Most of the oxygen is converted to water, but a small percentage form superoxides. The latter (ROS) are very reactive and, when in abundance, can cause cell damage and may influence lifespan.

The Sirtuins (silent information regulators—SIRT 1-7), are enzymes that keep our DNA wrapped up, and can modulate ROS levels, which enhances lifespan. This activity by sirtuins is enhanced, especially during dietary regimens known as caloric restriction (periodic fasting—don’t confuse it with anorexia.) The loss of surtuin activity has been shown to lead to the progression of neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s.

The pharmaceutical industry is aiming to develop drugs that can increase sirtuin activity. You can reduce suppression of these enzymes by limiting your dietary intake of AGEs (advanced glycation end products.) AGEs are found when fat and protein-rich food (meats), are exposed to high temperatures. Your method of food preparation matters—steaming and stewing is better that frying and grilling.

There is no cure or reversal of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease available. But it is, to a large extent, preventable. This is crucial to understand: we can prevent Alzheimer’s and its devastation!

Yes, we can do something about it. Especially how our brain and heart ages. And, science has shown over and over, what is good for our hearts, is also good for our brains. Improve your heart health and you also improve your brain health. When you reduce your chances of a heart attack through what you eat (yes, that simple and that difficult) and how you live every day (still the wonderful staying fit mantra), you also reduce your chances for hypertension, getting a stroke, developing diabetes and developing Alzheimer’s (dementia.)

Six things to do, to slow aging:

  1. Remain fit—lifelong. Walk, run, cycle, row, dance. Don’t sit still! Get a heart rate monitor and push yourself regularly. Keep your heart rate in the safe zone. Have fun! Slow down once you turn 110 years of age.
  2. Eat yourself healthy. Eat to live. Plant-based diet. Think Mediterranean diet. Limit meats. Limit dairy. Periodic fasting and calorie restriction. Lots of water. Junk food—if you must: once a month. Rather steam and stew your food, than fry or grill.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight. The focus is not BMI, but waist circumference and waist hip ratio. Fitness and what you eat, is more important. Keep a food log.
  4. Don’t smoke. If you do—yes, it’s hard to quit—get help—it’s not impossible. Learn how habits work. Get an accountability partner. Reward yourself—but not with food.
  5. Exercise your brain. Read wide: fiction and nonfiction. Play mind games. Play chess. Learn Sudoku. Learn another language. If you speak one, learn # 2. If you speak two, master # 3. Take up Spanish-dancing.
  6. Social interaction. Don’t neglect your friends. Be a friend. Be dependable. Get out everyday. Show kindness—to everybody (even to jerks.). Learn to smile. Go to dances. Volunteer. Join a faith community. A church choir can be healing and therapeutic.

Recent research in aging is pointing, not at the fountain of youth, but perhaps at the “plasma of youth.” The elixir of rejuvenation, has perhaps been found. Tony Wyss-Coray, at his Stanford lab (for one), has been showing that young blood (products) might help reverse aging.

  • They were able to show that by sharing a circulation between an old and a young mouse (through a process called parabiosis), the older mouse’s brain function could be improved. No cells entered the old mouse’s brain, only plasma—thus indicative of blood factors that played this role.
  • The argument is, as the body ages, so does the brain. It is blood that transports oxygen and nutrients to the brain. They found a striking relation between the levels of multitudes of blood proteins, biological age and chronological age.
  • Similar effects may be achieved by administration of “young” plasma to older recipients.
  • They have looked at the effect of giving plasma from young donors to Alzheimer’s patients, once a week for 4 weeks.

The ethics of using young blood/plasma for rejuvenation abounds. The possibility is there, that a black market can be created with young children, harvesting their plasma to “rejuvenate” (affluent) individuals. This should not be made off as only science-fiction. The powerful and the rich, all eventually grow old.

You can listen to Tony Wyss-Coray’s TED-talk here.

Science is still learning about age-related factors, and how we can modulate, alter and reverse them to modify age-related disease, but also increase longevity.

Supplements (in spite of the hype and billions made from it), is less effective than the quintessential healthy lifestyle and what you eat. Young plasma has to be administered every week, is very expensive, and opens a whole new potential ethical dilemma.

It seems, the secret comes down to the basics: Eat sensible. Good whole food. Not processed. More plant-based. And good old healthy, regular exercise—for the body and the brain. As well as regular social interaction. Remain connected, care, and don’t neglect your friends. As simple, and as difficult as that.

Why do we search far and wide for the elusive fountain of youth? We pay vast amounts for treatments that often have little proven effect to make us younger or healthier.

Why?

We don’t want to die.

And yet, all life eventually comes to an end—because we are (all) mortal. In medicine, we “fight” disease, prevent it, treat it, and reverse it. And yet, at a certain point, we have to surrender: death keeps knocking at the door, unrelenting.

It would be incomplete then, not to look at death, at the fear of dying, and at the possibility of life after death. Especially in our pursuit of eternal youth. For many, this life is it. There’s nothing more. Others believe in an eternal life, in a living God. And that faith lessens their anxiety about not living forever on earth; it fills them with a certain hope. Not that the latter free us from the responsibility to take care of our bodies and minds.

For now, it suffices to know, there is much we can do to slow aging, and live a life of purpose—even to beyond a hundred.

Forever young? Perhaps not, but we may find the fountain of youth in unlikely places!

If this article resonated with you, please comment or share!

References/links

  1. Aging and brain rejuvenation: Bouchard J, Villeda SA. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4301186/
  2. https://101waystoliveto100.com/2016/05/22/secret-no-48-cycling/
  3. Increased longevity in repeated very intense exercise, such as cycling: Tour de France athletes (1930 – 1964) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21618162

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “Discover the Fountain of Youth. Yes, it’s not a dream anymore!

    • Hi Jay,

      You’re welcome.
      Thank you for reading (and the kind words!)
      Spread the word?
      Best.

      Danie

  1. Hallo Danie

    Everything in your article makes a lot of sense and thank you for the valuable research information!
    I would like to commit myself to a basic, small set of rules / regulations / guidelines on healthy living, which I will apply religiously, but at the same time need a few, basic measurable indicators of health, in order to establish cause and effect. Could you help in defining such a set of guidelines and indicators? I have no background in medicine but here are a few things I can pick, which sounds logical to me:

    On a daily or weekly basis:
    3 Food intakes: So much water, so much greens, so much protein.
    3 Exercises I should do: walk, push-up, sit-ups.
    3 Mind activities: Social, Sudoku-related, relaxing in nature.
    Sleep patterns, … ok, quickly the list becomes longer.
    Perhaps if you could help define categories and list some options, so that us individuals could pick from the list to make up a quota?

    But then equally important – for motivation, condition should me measurable.
    What could we measure as a indicator for health?

    Heart beat, fitness, general sense / feeling of well-being, etc.

    I would go as far as this namely – I am willing to subscribe to such a plan (super health plan) where I will log my statistics on a daily basis and share it on a database, so that everybody can follow statistics of such a life style.

    What do you think?

    • Hi, Louis!

      Wow, thank you for the thought-provoking comments and questions!
      As I read and re-read you comments, I realized, in order to do justice to it will require a proper answer. The best way for that would be to do so as a formal blog post. (Will do this in the near future.)
      Allow me to comment on some of the topics you raised.
      1. Commitment to a regular basic program is always a good starting point.
      2. Think SMART goals, but keep “stretch goals” in mind. See my post about Charles Duhigg’s book, SmarterFasterBetter: http://bit.ly/1YrJac4
      3. Measuring is good. A basic heart rate monitor is always a good investment. If you want to see real results, monitor your maximum heart rate and push yourself. MHR = 220 – age. As you get fitter push to 90 – 95 % of MHR for short periods. See my post of a few weeks ago on the 1-minute workout.
      4. Like diets, there are numerous exercise regimens. Some of the latter are better than other. I don’t believe in diets, it’s about a whole lifestyle. Here are two individuals who have sensible advice and information on fitness and strength.
      4.1 Mark Sisson: Mark’s daily apple. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/page/3/#axzz4CkPVaT2f (He’s > 60 years and going strong!)
      4.2 Steve Kamp: Nerd fitness.https://www.nerdfitness.com/ (Don’t let the name fool you!)

      5. Body weight exercises are good. There are more you can add to your three, to keep it interesting. Have a look at this Pinterest pin:https://www.pinterest.com/pin/530861874807508782/

      What do I think?

      Happiness is often found in the small and simple things of life. Take breaks often. Keep your eyes, heart and mind open. Grasp opportunities to learn, to give, to care and to laugh.
      It’s often not easy. But worthwhile to pursue.
      Oh, and let’s not forget to live, while doing all this.
      (And now I’m speaking to myself.)

      Best,

      Danie

  2. Doing things that increase our uptake, distribution, and untiizaton of oxygen, as in VO2 max will go a long way towards living well. Doing things that decrease that will not be good for us.

    Hey, the fountain of youth is in St. Augustine, Fl. Y’all come visit sometime, Doctor 🙂

    • Hi Dr. J,
      So true.
      VO2 max – our exercise capacity, is the fundamental physiological and physical indicator of good health, and yes, essentially of longevity.
      I see it every day in anesthesia – VO2 max – this is essentially the only parameter we need, to determine how well a patient will do. It is the one thing we can do so much about, and yet we struggle with improving it.
      I wonder how did Juan Ponce de Leon sweet-talked the people in 1513 to believe he had indeed discovered the elusive “fountain?” He must have been a charmer.
      I’ll have to come and see for myself!
      Thanks for the comments.
      Danie