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Lifespan - a book review by Matthew Romans

An interesting book came out in 2019 called Lifespan: Why We Age - and Why We Don't Have To. The co-authors are David A. Sinclair, PhD, and Matthew D. LaPlante. Sinclair is a tenured professor of genetics at the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School, and is also the co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging Research at Harvard. LaPlante is an associate professor of journalistic writing at Utah State University. Dr. Sinclair is best known for his research on genes and small molecules that delay the aging process such as sirtuins ( a class of proteins that influence cellular processes), as well as touting the benefits of supplemental NAD+ (which is a coenzyme that affects hundreds of metabolic processes).

Dr. Sinclair's thesis is that most of us simply accept the fact that aging is inevitable, as is the physical decline that goes along with it. He believes that a great failure of the medical system is that it too often takes a myopic viewpoint, rather than seeing the big picture. At this point aging is still not considered a disease, even though it fits all of the criteria. The medical establishment tends to treat one disease at a time, rather than treating aging as a whole. If measures are taken to treat aging, the rates of individual disease should decrease. The authors believe there is no documented evidence supporting the accepted wisdom that aging and a loss of function are inevitable.

The book is divided into three sections: What We Know (The Past), What We're Learning (The Present), and Where We're Going (The Future). In section one, Dr. Sinclair says that there are two types of information in biology: digital and analog. DNA is digital; it's a reliable way to store and copy information. Your epigenome is analog. These are traits that are heritable, can turn genes on or off, and control the production of proteins in particular cells. According to Dr. Sinclair, "Aging, quite simply, is a loss of information." He also says "Unlike digital, analog information degrades over time....worse still, information is lost as it's copied." This contributes greatly to our quality of life, as well as our lifespan.

In section two, Dr. Sinclair discusses the benefits of doing things that cause a little bit of adversity for our bodies and the importance of cellular stress. He says, "A bit of adversity or cellular stress is good for our epigenome because it stimulates our longevity genes." Specifically mentioned are intermittent fasting, periodic exposure to both heat and cold (such as sitting in a sauna or taking a brisk outdoor walk in the winter), avoiding processed foods and sugars, and exercise. According to Dr. Sinclair, "Exercise, by definition, is the application of stress to our bodies. It raises NAD levels, which in turn activates the survival network, which turns up energy production and forces muscles to grow extra oxygen-carrying capillaries." While he wasn't specifically referencing our exercise protocol, this is what we have been saying at Total Results for years. The authors also make reference to some of the lifestyle practices of people in the so-called Blue Zones, where a significant part of the population lives into their 90s and beyond 100.

In the third section of the book, Dr. Sinclair discusses what may come in the future. While the average life expectancy in the developed world is around 80 years, he believes that reaching the age of 100, 120, or beyond is not out of the realm of possibility in the near future. One reason for this, Dr. Sinclair says, is that "...every day the odds increase that even more effective molecule or gene therapy will be discovered&" Later in this section, questions are asked about where the planet is headed and how large a population the earth can reasonably sustain. There are reasons for optimism as well as reasons for concern, and he does an excellent job of mentioning some potential unintended consequences of a longer lifespan, certainly from an economic and ethical point of view.

I agree with the book's sentiment that we as individuals have the power to improve our quality of life and increase our lifespan. We need to take control and not wait for someone else to do it for us. While it may seem crazy to think that 100 or 120 can be the new 80, as Dr. Sinclair points out, people thought the Wright Brothers were nuts before they actually took flight. All the things that can improve our quality of life and maintain our functional independence are within our grasp. To illustrate this point, I will end with a quote from Dr. Sinclair himself: "Spend a day in a nursing home every few days like my wife does. Go feed people who can't chew. Wipe their bottoms. Bathe them with a sponge. Watch as they struggle to remember where they are and who they are. When you are done, I think you will agree that it would be negligent and cruel for you not to do what you can to combat your own age-related deterioration."

Posted February 07, 2020 by Tim Rankin