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Press Pause: Slowing the Aging Process

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Humans live longer than they did 100, even 50, years ago, yet the human body progresses in age as it always has, allowing many individuals to see a myriad of challenges that accompany advanced age. Scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health are studying ways to slow aging. Specifically, epidemiologist S. Jay Olshansky is studying the longevity of the human body, and looking for ways that humans can live healthy lives longer.

Olshansky recently teamed up with a group of researchers to study how the diabetes drug metformin could slow biological aging. On April 14, 2016, Olshansky went to Reddit to answer some questions about his research and aging. A few of his answers are below.

Q: What is the best way to measure biological aging?

A: If you’re looking for an interesting potential biomarker of aging, why not tap into our knowledge that the offspring of long-lived people tend to look younger for their age than their age-matched counterparts. This probably means people who look young for their age are aging more slowly — that is, one year of chronological time is matched by less than one year of biological time. You can take this test yourself by going to facemyage.com and upload your photograph to see whether you look younger or older for your age. 

Q: Some are claiming that calorie restriction is the key to slowing the aging process. Is there any truth to that?

A: Caloric restriction has been known for decades to extend life, but questions have arisen about whether it would extend life in humans. The primate studies of CR suggest it might be an effective way of extending healthspan. Chances are that the longer the species lives in general, the less longevity benefit you can expect to get from CR. So, it might work well in worms and mice, but not so much in other long-lived species such as primates, humans, or bowhead whales. … people won’t practice CR on a routine basis as it has notable negative side effects for some (inability to control body temperature, loss of fecundity, etc.).

Q: How soon can we expect for some kind of evidence-based anti-aging pill to become available?

A: When will an aging intervention come online? No one can know the answer to this question in advance since it takes years to study the safety and efficacy of potential interventions. However, we’re no longer talking about something theoretical here. We can observe decelerated aging today in people that, in many cases, may be your friends, relatives, or even yourself. Centenarians today are in all likelihood living that long because their bodies and minds are not really 100+ years old – they might very well be 10, 20 or even 30 years younger. Scientists like Dr. Barzilai at Albert Einstein or Dr. Tom Perls at Boston University are studying the genetics of these long-lived subgroups in order to discover (and perhaps recreate) their genetic advantage for the rest of us. It’s an exciting time to be involved in aging science, and I’m optimistic that an intervention that slows aging in people will arrive in time to positively influence most people alive today.

Q: What does he do personally to slow down aging in his own body and mind?

A: Here’s my recipe: 1) choose long-live[d] parents (begin there – guess what, it all begins with genetics); 2) exercise every day (this is like an oil, lube and filter for your car – you don’t have to do it, but when you do, the machine operates better); 3) eat less and have smaller meals more often (this is a way to control your insulin levels – perhaps one of the primary gatekeepers of rate of aging); and 4) have sex every day (this may not make you live longer, but hey, it’s not about life extension, it’s all about the journey along the way).

Read the whole Reddit thread here.