Can we really "reverse" aging? Should we?

Can we really "reverse" aging? Should we?

A bit of medical news that flew over the transom this weekend was interesting in a “kinda good, kinda creepy” sort of way. Newsweek was reporting that a new drug trial had resulted in a group of patients experiencing “reverse aging” with some of them “regaining two years of youth.”

Considering how long Juan Ponce de León spent searching for the fountain of youth (he actually didn’t, that’s just a legend… see episode 65 here) this will certainly be of interest to somebody. I suppose we’d better check in and see what this is all about.

Scientists believe it may be possible to reverse a person’s biological age with a combination of drugs and growth hormones, based on evidence presented in the results of a small clinical study.

The study, which was conducted by geneticist Steve Horvath at the University of California, Los Angeles, effectively reversed participants’ epigenetic clock by an average of two and a half years, the scientific journal Nature reported. Additionally, the patients’ immune systems appeared to rejuvenate after treatment with the combination of growth hormone and two diabetes medications.

Even the scientists who worked on the study were surprised by the results. At the same time, some are urging caution as the results are still preliminary.

So they supposedly accomplished this by giving the patients a combination of diabetes medications and a growth hormone. And they began reverse aging? Assuming this is true (a big assumption) then that’s pretty phenomenal. And if you managed to reverse age them two years on your first try, how much further could you push it after you’ve had time to refine the procedure? A decade? More?

There are a couple of reasons to throw the brakes on our enthusiasm here. The first is that this study is very new and hasn’t really had time for a full review. Other experts in the field are already noting that it was a very small sample size – nine white men between the ages of 51 and 65 – and “not well controlled.” They’re going to have to demonstrate that this is reproducible on a much wider scale before anyone starts planning their 150th birthday party in advance.

Of course, it’s not the first attempt at turning back the clock. We’ve already heard some horror stories about wealthy elderly people getting mass blood transfusions from young people in an effort to stave off the inevitable. And before you run out to try this, the FDA is already warning that it doesn’t work and might wind up killing you.

But let’s assume that this new drug cocktail actually can reverse aging. Is this something we should really be doing? Oh, sure… it sounds like a great idea when it’s just being applied to you. But to everyone? Think of the long term implications. If we have an entire generation that starts living vastly longer lives, the population is going to spike dramatically, with a significant majority being composed of the elderly. If these people are still retiring at 62 to 70, they will have to be cared for by an increasingly smaller percentage of younger, working-age folks. The balance of the entire planet will be thrown off.

And do you really want to live well into your hundreds or even two hundred? I suppose that depends on the quality of life you could expect, but the whole thing just sounds unnatural and probably dangerous. Of course, it sounds like Pandora’s Box may already be open here so the debate might be too little, too late.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on March 31, 2023