The Fountain of Youth is a mythical spring that restores the youth of anyone who drinks from it or bathes in its waters. Tales of such a spring have been recounted for thousands of years, appearing in the writings of Herodotus in the 5th century BC. The legend became particularly prominent in the 16th century, when it became associated with the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, the first Governor of Puerto Rico. Ponce de León was supposedly searching for the Fountain of Youth when he traveled to Florida in 1513.
Modern seekers after the Fountain of Youth include tech billionaires who plan to be cryo-preserved until science finds the secret of eternal youth. Peter Thiel and Jeff Bezos have both heavily funded start-ups studying how to slow the aging process. Researchers have studied “blue zones,” where people live the longest, and are healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California. Not only do these places have large numbers of residents in their 90’s and older, but they remain largely free of most of the diseases associated with aging. They share common attributes of lifestyle and diet noted below.
How long can we hope to live? The best evidence is that the limit to the human lifespan is about 120 years. It is very unlikely that any intervention will dramatically change this number.
Probably more realistic, and in my mind more important, is to delay the myriad ills that we accumulate as we get older: frailty, dementia, disabling arthritis, heart and lung disease. In other words, we should hope to extend our healthy years rather than simply living longer.
How can we accomplish this? Some of this is not new: do not smoke, drink little or no alcohol, maintain a healthy weight, eat a plant-focused diet and exercise regularly. If you do all five of these, you can add 12-14 good years to your life. Being socially engaged and having a sense of purpose is also helpful.
Further study is needed, but marked calorie restriction has been shown to extend the lifespan in many species, including mice, and is now being tested in human volunteers.
The diabetes drug metformin has been touted as having anti-aging properties and is being tested in two on-going trials. It is clearly beneficial in patients with type 2 diabetes; whether that will translate to the rest of us remains to be seen.
Some 20 years ago, reports began to emerge that taking blood from young mice and giving it to old mice seemed to dial back the clock on aging for the elderly rodents. Soon after, entrepreneurs began doing this with humans without any proof that it was effective, but researchers are now testing the idea. Still in the laboratory is injecting one of several new anti-inflammatory drugs. There are some indirect markers that suggest these may work, but as yet no meaningful results have been demonstrated.
So, at this point, practice as many of the lifestyle habits listed above as you can and wait to see what science has in store. Eat well, exercise and get involved in your community.
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