Most of us have accepted that our time on Earth has an expiration date. But some researchers and a few ambitious Silicon Valley titans have begun to question whether our years are really numbered. Maybe if we tinkered around with the body—adjusted our diet, popped a promising supplement, tried out some experimental tactics—we could push that date. Maybe we could even live forever. “Today, we’re starting to really think, is aging and death a natural process or is it associated with less-than-optimal functioning?” says Equinox advisory board member Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., founder of the Institute for Functional Medicine. “If we could optimize everything in our environment, would that eradicate death? That’s something we’re trying to figure out now.”
In their quest to extend life, some enthusiasts are picking up new habits in hopes of tacking on a few more years or even decades. Here’s how their aspirational tactics measure up against science.
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The claim: Five hundred dollars will get you a one year supply of Basis, a supplement that’s reported to increase levels of NAD+, a coenzyme that helps energy production, regulates circadian rhythms, maintains the health of DNA, and unfortunately, declines as we age. Two of its main ingredients, pterostilbene and nicotinamide riboside, are also thought to activate sirtuins, which are proteins—fueled by NAD+—that play a role in turning our genes on and off in response to environmental changes. In mouse studies, it’s been shown to rejuvenate cells.
The expert opinion: For a while, Basis’ claims were only backed up by animal studies, but recent research found that people who took Basis once a day had 40 percent higher levels of NAD+ levels after four weeks. Still, it’s not clear if that increase necessarily translates to a longer and healthier lifespan for humans. “There’s no evidence that it’s not safe, but I think that at this point, we’re still waiting for more human trials to better evaluate what the outcomes are,” Bland says.
The claim: Many immortalists swear by some form of fasting. Instead of taking in three square meals a day (or six smaller ones) they’re switching to something more restrictive. There are two basic fasting formats: one is your purely calorie restriction and the other has you eating during short intervals and abstaining from food for at least 12 to 16 hours (sometimes even a day or two). The thinking is that fasting pushes the body to repair cells and burn fat instead of glucose, staving off conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and maybe even cancer.
The expert opinion: Scientists seem to be optimistic about fasting practices that aren’t too restrictive. For example, researchers at the University of Southern California found that people who followed a fast-mimicking diet—where you eat normally for five days a week and then limit yourself to around 600 calories the other two days—lowered their blood pressure, body fat, and waist size, conditions which are typically risk factors for disease. An earlier study found that mice who were put on the same diet lived longer, experienced less incidences of cancer, and had better cognitive abilities; and a small human trial in that same study showed that they had decreased risk factors and biomarkers for aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. “Put together, for researchers, this work gives us the confidence that our eating patterns really do influence our bodies right down to the cellular level—something really important is happening here,” says Bland.
Read more at Furthermore.