What is Longevity vs. Anti Aging? Is Reversing Aging A Myth Or Reality?

The following are my responses to a newspaper’s interview request (separate from NY Post coverage).

What does Anti-Aging mean according to you?

The term anti-aging has proven to be a misnomer, with products that fail to deliver on the promise of counteracting the effects of aging. The primary reason they have failed is that they don’t address the underlying causes of aging, and for that reason, the scientific movement that focuses on slowing and even reversing the aging process has resorted to the term “longevity.”

Longevity, or the new generation of “anti-aging” that lives up to its name, means interventions that are capable of addressing the fundamental biological causes of aging, for which there are officially 12, which will thereby slow down or even reverse aspects of the aging process. In doing so, we stand to delay and lessen the severity of the most common age-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, most forms of cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s, type II diabetes, glaucoma, sarcopenia and others. This is important because even if we were to cure one of these diseases–take cancer–we would only extend the average lifespan by 3.2 years in the US, because if not for cancer, heart disease or a neurodegenerative disorder might immediately follow. Researchers note that delaying aging would have a much larger effect on life expectancy and health because aging is the number one risk factor for many of the most common diseases.

Put another way, the most effective means to significantly extend healthy human lifespan, and reduce the suffering of disease, is to look at the common denominator of all of these diseases–aging–and to counteract its biological contributors (the twelve mechanisms of aging). This approach is going “upstream” to the common denominators of disease (preventive medicine), rather than treating maladies when momentum is working strongly against us (the medical establishment’s approach).

In doing so, we will stand to benefit in additional ways here and now, from more youthful physical abilities, energy levels, cognition and even aesthetics.

Is Anti-Aging a Myth?

No, the ability to slow down and even reverse aging, at least in animals, is not a myth. We see in many studies that the maximum lifespan of virtually all studied species can be increased by different interventions, and there’s reason to believe that many of these interventions would also apply to humans. The only reason why we’re not definitively sure about humans is because of our long lifespans, but there are multiple ways we can gather evidence to support the assertion that humans can counteract aging.

For example, we can look to other species to see if their lifespans and health spans can be increased by interventions, and also see if specific interventions or biological pathways extend lifespan across multiple species, which would indicate that the pathway is likely evolutionarily conserved, even in humans.

The DrugAge database, which is the brainchild of NOVOS’ Head of R&D, Dr. Diogo Barardo Ph.D., is the world’s largest database of life-extending compounds, both prescription and natural. We see that the fungal species Saccharomyces cerevisiae’s life was extended by up to 93% from litocholic acid. For C. elegans, a frequently studied worm species, the prize goes to Thioflavin T, which increased lifespan by 78%.

Increasing in biological complexity, Drosophila melanogaster, a species of fly, had its lifespan increased by 50% by the prescription drug rapamycin. Similarly for mice, Mus musculus, median lifespan was increased by 36.7% by the same substance, rapamycin, a commonly used, off-label longevity drug, considered the gold standard in longevity research.

To that point, FDA-approved drugs like rapamycin (immunomodulator), metformin (type II diabetes), acarbose (type II diabetes) and others, show evidence to potentially extend both healthspan and lifespan not only in animals, but in humans too, and many longevity enthusiasts and integrative medicine doctors are using them with anecdotal claims of improved health outcomes.

The over-the-counter supplement NOVOS Core contains ingredients that are backed by more than 400 scientific studies, and the combined formula is perhaps the most studied formula to simultaneously address the 12 mechanisms of aging. In vitro studies have shown that the NOVOS formulas are able to reduce damage to human cells’ DNA from irradiation, cellular senescence, and cellular inflammation. Further, in an in vivo case study, NOVOS formulations reduced the biological age of 73% of participants aged 39 to 76–with 0% of participants experiencing an accelerated rate of aging–which introduces another concept by which we can prove out that interventions do in fact work in humans: epigenetic clocks.

Going back to 2011, researchers that include UCLA’s Dr. Steve Horvath, began using biometric data to predict one’s chronological age. Since then, scientists have been rapidly developing age clocks that instead focus on one’s biological age, to determine how old someone actually is, in terms of physiological capacities and risks of morbidity and mortality (as we all know, our risk for death increases exponentially as we age. Specifically, according to the Gompertz-Makeham law of mortality, a demographic model that describes the age dynamics of mortality, our risk of death doubles approximately every 8 years we’re alive after puberty. This can vary between 7 to 10 years, depending on conditions, but generally holds true).

The most accurate and powerful of these clocks to date are called epigenetic clocks, which look at the epigenome and detect patterns of which genes are turned on or off. Amongst those, the latest third-generation clock, DunedinPACE, created by researchers at Columbia University and Duke University, is considered the most accurate and precise of all clocks according to objective measures. What these epigenetic clocks are now showing us is that various interventions can actually slow down the pace at which we’re aging, which is associated with reduced morbidity and mortality risk.

Can the Aging Process be Reversed?

The rate at which we age can certainly be reversed or slowed. Whether our biological age can currently be reversed according to all manifestations of aging is a more contentious topic.

Epigenetic clocks provide us with biological age calculations, and many will use the results to claim that they have in fact reversed their age. For example, my biological age was found to be 13.6 years younger – the best result that the lab had ever seen, according to its founder. However, I don’t actually believe I’m 25 years old through and through. Perhaps my risk of disease or death is that of an average 25-year-old, as a derivative of my healthy lifestyle, but even just looking at me, I physically look like I’m in my 30s, not 20s. How is it that both can be true?

First, it’s important to consider our health on an individual organ basis. I might have a heart that is the equivalent of a 22 year old, a liver that is roughly that of a 28 year old, and a facial structure and adipose tissue that resembles someone in their 30s. Until more sophisticated tests are made available, it’s very difficult to determine the age and rate of aging of each of my organ systems. Nonetheless, my biological age, based on the epigenetic analysis of blood samples and run through multiple biological age clock algorithms, is a good indicator of my overall health and disease risk percentile. And that says I’m much younger than the average 39 year old. Is that because I reversed my age by all accounts, or is it only the epigenetic aspect of my aging process (the epigenome is only one of the 12 mechanisms of aging, albeit, a highly impactful one) – nobody really knows for sure at this time. Nonetheless, the metric is important because it is indicative of a significant contributor to my aging.

Second, I believe we should spend more time focusing on the rate at which we’re aging, because it is more sensitive to change and a measure of our aging trajectory. Ultimately, we want to get that number to be as close to zero as possible, with “1” being average (one biological year per chronological year). As I think most would agree, slowing down aging is more realistically achievable at this time than taking an old person and inducing the “Benjamin Button effect,” suddenly making them young again (though, researchers in a landmark study have proven that it’s at least possible to make an old organ young again using proteins known as Yamanaka factors, at least in mice; a whole human is an entirely other matter, being multiple orders of magnitude more difficult to achieve). In fact, we see it in our own lives: everyone knows that 60 year old who looks 50 and the one who looks 70; the difference between the two is stark.

So, the question turns to what can be done to significantly slow down the aging process? With a biological pace of aging of 0.69, I’m aging approximately 31% slower than the average person. Based on scientific research and my own anecdotal experience, I can say that it comes down to some obvious factors (diet, eating less, exercise, reductions of or coping with stress, having close and healthy relationships, etc.) and some not-so-obvious factors (the time of day in which you eat your meals, how long you go without food, specific supplements that can slow down the pace of aging and improve other hallmarks of aging, sleep hygiene, etc.). As a Public Benefit Corporation, NOVOS offers free guidance and tools for all of these lifestyle interventions and more. 

What are your thoughts about anti-aging?

The traditional anti-aging industry was based on an incorrect perspective of aging: that DNA damage causes us to age, and therefore antioxidants will extend lifespan. However, we’ve found that many forms of antioxidants can accelerate aging, and that DNA damage is only one of the 12 mechanisms of aging.

Further, anti-aging has also attempted to mask the signs of aging, by for example, moisturizing skin with topical creams. Although this may make you look a little better in the mirror, it’s not doing anything to address the fundamental causes of aging.

That’s where longevity medicine comes in, which I am very optimistic about. Researchers are slowing down the aging process and extending health span and lifespan in innumerable animal studies, and the evidence in humans is strongly in favor of multiple currently available and promising future interventions being capable of doing the same for us.

In 1800, global life expectancy was 29 years old on average. By 1950, it increased to 48 years, and now, it’s at 73 years. Much of this has been the product of sanitation and water treatments, antibiotics and vaccines, which have more than doubled human lifespan. It seems entirely realistic for us to continue to extend lifespan, especially now that we are knowledgeable about the biological causes of aging which we can directly address and counteract.