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Of Mice and Men…and Reversing Ageing!

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While one may want to argue the merits of living forever, or the burden that will fall on the young as the old get older and live longer, but who would not jump at the chance for a magic pill to stop or even reverse the ageing process? Oh to regain that lost youth (and retain our experience)  that, as Oscar Wilde said was “wasted on the young”.

Researchers in the US (Harvard University)  and Australia (University of New South Wales) anticipate that an anti-ageing product can be trialled on humans in 2014, following success in reversing the ageing process in muscles in laboratory mice.

It involves a process of restoring the efficiency of cells: Two-year-old mice were given a compound over a week, moving back the key indicators of ageing to that of a six-month-old mouse. Researchers said this was the equivalent of making a 60-year-old person feel like a 20-year-old:  As a man nearly at his sixtieth the birthday, the idea of springing out of bed one morning, cycling to the bowling alley and clocking up strikes and spares galore like I did 40 years ago is somewhat appealing!

Anti-Aging

But if successful, the compound may not just reverse ageing, but also reverse and roll-back (and therefore treat) diseases such as cancer, diabetes and dementia.

Without getting too technical, the research concentrated on an area of cells, called mitochondria, which produce energy. Over time, the vital communication between this area and the cell nucleus degrades, leading to the ageing process. Researchers injected a chemical called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD, which reduces in the body as we age. The addition of this compound led to the breakthrough reversal in the ageing of the mice. The process was also rapid- almost overnight the reversal of ageing began. The compound is also based on something that naturally occurs in the body and so no or few side effects are expected. It may not allow us all to live till we’re 200, but will mean we will be healthier in our later life.

As always there’s a cloud to ruin an otherwise azure summer sky. This one is cost. The one-a-day magic pill made from the compound for a human would cost about $50,000. Imagine then a world where rich people live longer, healthier and presumably happier than the rest of us. Wait a minute doesn’t that occur already?!!

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“Of mice and men” is of course from the John Steinbeck novel, which in turn took the line from the penultimate stanza of Scot’s poet Robbie Burns’ “Ode to a Mouse”:

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

 

 

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A Nutty Way to Cheat Death?

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Eat nuts, and live longer. That seems to be the outcome of a large study supported by National Institutes of Health and a research grant from the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation. One of the key findings was that people who ate a daily handful of nuts were 20 percent less likely to die from any cause over a 30-year period than those who didn’t consume nuts. And this conclusion isn’t from a bunch of wobbly pseudo-scientists; the people who were engaged to do the spadework were  say from the Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital  and the Harvard School of Public Health. Their report was published in the respected New England Journal of Medicine.

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The research also found that regular nut-eaters were slimmer than those who didn’t eat nuts. It was previously believed that heavy nut-eaters were prone to obesity. The report also looked at the protective effect of nut-eating on specific causes of death.

Charles S Fuchs, the Director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Centre at Dana-Furber, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and senior author of the report , said;

“The most obvious benefit was a reduction of 29 percent in deaths from heart disease — the major killer of people in America. But we also saw a significant reduction — 11 percent — in the risk of dying from cancer.”

The reduction in mortality was similar for both peanuts (a legume, or ground nut) and for tree nuts — walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, pecans, pistachios, and pine nuts.

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What about previous studies on the effects of nuts on life and death?

Several previous studies had found an association between increasing nut consumption and a lower risk of diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, gallstones, and diverticulitis. Higher nut consumption also has been linked to reductions in cholesterol levels, oxidative stress, inflammation, adiposity, and insulin resistance. Some small studies have linked an increase of nuts in the diet to lower total mortality in specific populations.

As part of the study, participants in the studies filled out detailed food questionnaires every two to four years. With each questionnaire, participants were asked to estimate how often they consumed nuts in a serving size of one ounce. A typical small packet of peanuts from a vending machine contains one ounce. The researchers found that individuals who ate more nuts were leaner, less likely to smoke, and more likely to exercise, use multivitamin supplements, consume more fruits and vegetables, and (perhaps surprisingly) drink more alcohol. However, the detailed analysis was able to isolate the association between nuts and mortality independently of these other factors.

Ying Bao of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and first author of the report said:

“In all these analyses, the more nuts people ate, the less likely they were to die over the 30-year follow-up period. Those who ate nuts less than once a week had a 7 percent reduction in mortality; once a week, 11 percent reduction; two to four times per week, 13 percent reduction; five to six times per week, 15 percent reduction; and seven or more times a week, a 20 percent reduction in death rate.”

One thing is for certain, there’s always going to be a bowl of nuts on my coffee table from now on!

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The Memento Mori Watch – Remember You Will Die

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If you are still, like so many of us, blind to the fact that our lives are limited and short, then this may be the watch for you. It is to remind us that we too will die. The watch is a link to the venerable tradition of the memento mori – an object designed to remind us that life is brief and that we should seize the moment while we are here. It is designed to make us aware of the time we have and that we are indeed here to use that time wisely. Let’s not be ignorant of the fact of death. We don’t like talking about it and yet everyone will sooner or later die. If you wear the watch, then you will most likely enjoy your life just a little bit more!

 

The watch can be bought here

 

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Artificial Blood Is Nearly Reality

Artificial blood

Avid True Blood fans are well aware of the importance of synthetic blood, but even without considering Vampires, In the United States alone, a transfusion is required every two seconds. Scientists in Romania have come close to a substance that may well replace blood very soon. The blood is composed of expected ingredients like water, salt, and albumin, but it also contains proteins from an unlikely source: marine worms. The iron protein, hemerythrin, is responsible for oxygen transport and storage.

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Time To Die! The Death Watch

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You’ve probably heard the expression “My Goodness, is that the time? I must be Going!”  With this new wrist watch, you may still be saying that, but you may be “going” to the after-life. It’s a watch that countdowns to when you will die. Nice.  At anytime you can’t glance down and see how many more years, months, days and hours you have left on earth.

The Tikker, or “death watch” if you prefer counts down how much time you have left until Mr G. Reaper Esq parks his cloak and scythe in your passage and awaits you to complete your final preparations for paying the Ferryman.  You may remember that there was a website that did the same thing, well here you have your life-line there on your wrist. Tick, tick, ticking away your span of life, like one of the Three Fates.

How do you “wind up your life into the watch in the first place? There’s some bureaucracy. Yes, even planning for death requires you to fill out a questionnaire with information about your medical history, weight, lifestyle details such as if you drink or smoke and how often you exercise. Add to that information about any diseases that may run in your family, plus any predictions given to you by de facto claivoyants, seers, sages, and horoscopes. All these are factored in, and number-crunched and hey presto! You are given a score representing your entire lifespan including the years you have already lived or squandered. After your current age is deducted from this score, the Death watch is primed and the countdown to mortality commences.

The manufacturers claim that this is an uplifting accessory.  It’s not about how much time you have till you shuffle off this mortal coil, but is an encouragement to do great things with the time you have left.  How it makes you feel if you’re waiting for hours in an airport terminal waiting for the fog to clear whilst your life is visibly ticking away seems no fun at all.  But at least it’s cheap. Not life, I mean the watch. $40 for a basic design and up to $1000 for a custom designed one. Hurry…  The grains of time are  slipping away…. Not sure if you get a refund if you die before your allotted time!

 

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Could We Cope with Immortality?

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We see more and more advances in medical and biological sciences, which see us not only extending the average useful life of the human over the next decades, but tease us with the tantalising prospect of a cure for all the body’s ills- and immortality.

While some scientists and researchers claim that all life has in-built mechanisms to ensure that we will all eventually expire, others think that if a total understandin of how everything in our bodies works- there are no limits to what can be achieved and no illness or degradation of the body can be avoided.

Less thought is given to what we would do with immortality. Not just how we would feed a population that would continue to grow, but because no-one dies, at a phenomenol pace. How would we feed everyone? How would we house everyone?  How would we co-exist with the fauna and flora (which presumably would also not die- no more endangered species?).

Perhaps colonising other planets may be a way forward, but there’s also another side. How would we cope with knowing that each morning we wake, is just one of an endless line of mornings waking, stretching off to infinity? The dilemma was well put  by Prog Rock band Van der Graaf Generator, in their song on immortality called “Still Life”.  A snatch is:
Arrival at immunity from all age, all fear and
All end
Why do I pretend?
Our essence is distilled
And all familiar taste is now drained,
And though purity is maintained
It leaves us sterile,
Living through the millions of years,
A laugh as close as any tear;
Living, if you claim that all
That entails is breathing, eating, defecating,
Screwing, drinking,
Spewing, sleeping, sinking ever down and down
And ultimately passing away time….
Which no longer has any meaning.

 So assuming we never have to lose any of our memories as we continue to live (?downloading them by having an computer type AI as a partner, or just adding additional organic brains) what might be the pscychological problems we could experience?

The preciousness of life would become huge, along with the unfairness of death. Assuming that accidents could still occur, people would become obsessed with protecting themselves against them, almost to the exclusion of living a “normal” life. If people have a legitimate expectation of living indefinitely, then accidents (and especially homicide) will seem far more unfair, and that may be difficult to live with. If one of your children succumbs to the rarity of death, then the sense of trauma and loss could be too much to bear. How would immortality tie-in with religion and the concept of an after-life- heaven if you will? Are you avoiding the next stage of your spiritual existence?

What effect would immortality have on our brains? Older people have different outlook on life and tend to become more conservative in their views. So would man develop at all in a spiritual artistic or any other sense? Or would we all become living vegetables? In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the Elves were immortal, the Hobbits were not. Who seemed the happiest of the races? Ever seen an Elf joke?

Finally, what would we do with endless time? Would we never be able to retire? Imagine the prospect of working forever. And would our tastes in leisure and enjoyment become jaded and faded as anything and everything we want becomes avaialable to us eventually? “Everything comes to he who waits”. Apart from death.

Perhaps that’s where we would be- able to select at what point in our otherwise endless lives,  would we choose suicide/euthanasia?

Everything must have a beginning a middle and an end. Take away the end, and everything is thrown out of kilter.

I am not going to see immortality available in my lifetime. And I am happy with that.

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