Immortality: The Longevity Trend

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#Immortality is trending as a hot topic.

In February, Time magazine explored various factors that influence how long we live. A March issue of Newsweek focused on ambitious research programs in the tech sector as Silicon Valley CEOs search for bold new drugs to slow the aging process. This kind of news catches our attention: a University of Calgary survey found that 59 per cent of Canadian adults would eagerly sign up for scientific breakthroughs that allowed them to live to 120.

Immortality? We’re not there yet. But from the innovative to the unconventional, here’s what may – and may not – add years to our lives

Final Countdown
A new wristwatch called the Tikker counts out the estimated remainder of your life, based on a set of screening questions. It sounds dire but it might motivate you to exercise and eat better. If you don’t have a Tikker, just talk to your friends. According to a study from Washington University in St. Louis, the people who know you best may be the best predictors of your life span. That’s because traits like anger, depression and risk-taking – all very obvious to your buddies – are linked to an earlier death.

Birthday Party Animals
The ocean quahog, a type of clam, is the longest living animal in the world, easily reaching 500 years. Biologist Steven Austad at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is studying this creature on a cellular level to unlock its mysteries. At the University of Liverpool, bioscientists are investigating the genome of the bowhead whale, which, at 200-plus years, is the longest living mammal.

Don’t Be a Fool, Send Your Kids to School
Two California sociologists have discovered that having college graduates for kids – instead of high-school dropouts – can add two years to your life. In fact, your offspring’s education level appears to matter even more than your own. The researchers suggest that better-educated kids may have extra health and tech know-how to help their parents out – not to mention a bit more of the dough-re-mi.

Say No to Seconds
Calorie restriction is widely thought to extend the life span of humans (or maybe it just feels that way). It’s already been proven in small organisms and, last year, researchers in Wisconsin showed that it also works in primates. But what if you enjoy food more than life itself? At the University of Florida, scientists have shown that fasting intermittently (and feasting on other days) can make a positive difference to some of the bodily mechanisms associated with aging. At Harvard, researchers have identified a molecular pathway that, if manipulated by drugs, might fool your body into thinking you’re fasting – even if you’re enjoying a five-course meal.

Take a Steam

A study that has been following 2,315 Finnish men has uncovered a surprising tidbit: those who used the sauna frequently were much more likely to be alive after 20 years. Researchers aren’t sure whether the longer lives are due to the heat, the relaxing atmosphere, the social aspect – or even the fact that you’re not so overscheduled you can’t make time for a steam.

You Are What You Eat
You may think more vegetables and fewer processed foods will lead to longer life. But in Lithuania, it’s believed you’ll live longer if your hard-boiled Easter brunch egg doesn’t crack when you play a game of knocking it against someone else’s. In India, facing east while eating is said to increase your life span. In China, eating long noodles represents a long life.

New Blood
Could you turn back the clock with a blood transfusion from a younger donor? The idea has prompted a flurry of testing in animals. An aging mouse, for example, will function better and look healthier when its circulatory system is connected to that of a younger mouse. So what runs in the blood? Harvard researchers pinpointed a single protein called GDF11 (we have it, too) that, when injected into older mice, appears to revitalize heart, brain and muscle function. They hope to start human trials within three or four years.

Stem Cell Therapy
Imagine swapping your old kidneys for a younger set or trading in your heart for a fresh new one. We’re not there yet, but it’s one of the possibilities that stem cell researchers around the world are considering to help us live longer. Stem cells rely on proteins, hormones and other molecules around them to tell them how to grow and develop. Researchers are working on interpreting – and hopefully learning to control – this complex system of signals.

Live Forever … in a Freezer
The Arizona-based Alcor Life Extension Foundation offers whole-body cryopreservation (it’s half-price if you freeze only your head!). But you don’t want to miss the fine print, especially if you’re planning to be brought back when a cure is found for whatever ailed you. Although you’re paying to be kept in cryonic suspension, the company acknowledges that “cryopreservation is not yet reversible.” Oops.

Social Butterflies
It’s already been established that an active social life is linked to longevity. Brand new research at Brigham Young University now shows it also works the other way around: loneliness and social isolation can shorten your lifespan as significantly as obesity!

A Longevity Pill?
Scientists are learning more about the microscopic changes in our bodies that lead to death. So in the future, will we stop aging just by popping a pill? Researchers in Bonn, Germany, have found that rapamycin, an anti-rejection drug used in organ transplants, extends the life of mice. So do a cancer drug, dasatinib, and a health supplement, quercetin, according to Mayo Clinic scientists. Metformin, a diabetes medication, is also being studied after it lengthened life in small animals. Even Google’s scientific labs are working on an anti-aging treatment. But aging is a complicated process of more than 150 changes in the body. So when a longevity pill does appear, it may prove too big to swallow.