Is Aging a Disease that Can Be Cured?

Betty White, the amazing 98-year-old actress and comedian, has had a television career spanning 80 years and has worked longer in the industry than anyone else. She offers the following advice about aging: “Get at least eight hours of beauty sleep, nine if you’re ugly.” Angela Lansbury, another famous actress who is 95, never permits her chronological age to hold her back. She has said, “I’ve never been particularly aware of my age. It’s like being on a bicycle — I just put my foot down and keep going.” This is all great advice, but what if we didn’t have to age at all?

Can Aging Be Treated?

What if aging is a like a disease that can be treated? Oxford-educated scientist and writer, Dr. Andrew Steele, seems to think that’s the case!

Dr. Steele has spent the past three years researching a book about biogerontology, the scientific study of aging, in which he argues the case for a future in which our lives go on and on. Dr. Steele considers aging “the greatest humanitarian issue of our time.”  According to Dr. Steele, “(a)ging—not cancer or heart disease—is the world’s leading cause of death and suffering. In spite of this, we accept the aging process as inevitable. We come to terms with the fact that our bodies and minds will begin to deteriorate and our risk of disease will rise as we get older. Aging is so deeply ingrained in the human experience that we never stop to ask: is it necessary?”

Is Aging a Biological Inevitability?

In his book, Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old, Dr. Steele explains how the giant tortoises which Darwin studied on the Galapagos Islands gave the first hint that “negligible senescence,” or aging without showing signs of age – and “biological immortality” were possible. He believes that if only we could understand the processes which allow these great creatures to live so long, we could mimic them ourselves, extending our lifespans greatly. One such creature, Harriet, a Galapagos tortoise collected by Darwin in 1835, lived up until the year 2006!

Dr. Steele thinks he may be to cracking the code of old age. He believes that we’re within a few generations of being able to slow and even stop the aging process and prolong lifespans.

Here are some of Dr. Steele’s findings:

According to Dr. Steele, the three hallmarks (root causes) of aging are as follows (see below). He believes that if you treat these, you can slow aging:

o Genomic instability: As we age, we accumulate genetic damage. Simply, over time, our DNA gets mangled. It is thought that if scientists can find a way to repair that damage, they will then be able impact the aging process.

o Cellular senescence: The longer we live, the more chance we have of experiencing a build-up of senescent (old) cells, which tend to hang around in the body and can contribute to the onset of age-related diseases.

o Mitochondrial dysfunction: Mitochondria are ‘organelles’ that generate the energy our cells need to power necessary biochemical reactions. It has been found that mitochondrial dysfunction can accelerate aging.

He believes that laboratory breakthroughs are now being made in genetics and medicine that will presently herald a new biological era.

He thinks that humanity could soon see average lifespans expand astonishingly – 120-plus might shortly be a not uncommon age to live to, with all your physical and mental faculties crucially intact.

He feels that in terms of our lifespans, it doesn’t matter how many years pass, what matters is the degradation of the body caused simply by being alive. Cells wear out, DNA gets ragged, and build-up of certain proteins and other things in the body causes everything from heart attacks to Alzheimer’s. He said, “If we can work out how to stop this biological collapse, we can delay, even suspend, aging. The human body really is a machine and we’re currently working out how to repair it indefinitely.”

He believes that scientists have known for decades that life can be prolonged – but with other priorities, science has had little time or money to invest in what was seen as the esoteric study of ageless aging. Now, with advances in medicine and more funding available, scientists have the time and funds to explore researching how to tame aging itself.

Dr. Steele is Optimistic About Slowing the Aging Process

If Dr. Steele is right, and we really will in the future be able to keep the human body in a state of almost constant good maintenance, both mentally and physically, then our children, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren, depending on what stage you are in in your life, may well inherit a world without cancer, stroke, heart attack and dementia; a world where diabetes and Parkinson’s are beaten; a world where the simple wear and tear on the human body and brain can be repaired with stem cells, gene therapy, and medicines being invented in the lab right now. According to Steele, “(e)very day we bring forward a cure for aging, we save 100,000 lives. We know it’s scientifically possible. It’s now up to all of us to meet the defining humanitarian challenge of our time.”

Harvard Geneticist Thinks Along the Same Lines as Dr. Steele

Dr. David Sinclair, PhD, AO is Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, and author of Lifespan: Why We Age–and Why We Don’t Have To, believes that there is no biological law that says we must age. He believes that aging is related to a breakdown of information. Specifically, he describes how, with time, our epigenome accumulates changes that have powerful downstream effects on the way our DNA functions. Dr. Sinclair has received more than 35 awards for his research on resveratrol, NAD, and reprogramming to reverse aging, which have been widely hailed as major scientific breakthroughs and are topics we discuss in our time together.

Is Prolonging Life a Bad Idea?

Many people would like to live longer, but would this be good for our society? Some people, including many other scientists, are concerned about the social impact of these types of scientific breakthroughs. Here are some reasons why from some bioethicists as published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Socioeconomic consequences: Likely not everyone will be able to afford life-extending treatments; those who can are likely to be the already rich and powerful. Living longer may help people accrue wealth and contribute to global inequality. If is widely available to many people, then society may be faced greater over population and fewer natural resources to support this ever-growing population.
Religious views and “the meaning of life”: The wisdom of many of our spiritual traditions is inspired by the fact that human beings have to cope with their mortality. Life extension is contrary to the wisdom of ages as contained in these religious and non‐religious spiritual traditions. Although all traditions agree that life is worthy and should not be taken (without good reason, or at all), there is still a notion in many world religions that human beings miss the essence of life by focusing on the preservation of their physical self .
New Ideas: Young people are often the ones who come in with new ideas, and there’s an evolutionary wisdom of letting the older generation disappear. If we dramatically extend human lifespan, we would be obliterating the generational shift that occurs over time.
Death organizes our lives: Because we have a finite end, we have a timeline for ourselves: when to settle down, when to have kids, when to let go. As humans, we make choices based on time and stages in our life. Imagine if you could live forever. Wouldn’t you be tempted to try other occupations, to hunt around for “the one,” to put off important life decisions indefinitely? By not settling down into a life, humans could essentially lose themselves.

Are extended lifespans good for society and humankind as a whole? Should we embrace our end, or should we cure aging? Are human lifespans long enough as it is? Whether you are for or against prolonging the human lifespan, these are certainly some questions to keep in mind!

In the Meantime, Make the Most of Aging by Aging

Aging is a lifelong process and physical and mental decline occurs all throughout the lifespan. With the right attitude (e.g., a healthy spirit), aging can bring about much joy and many rewards. In a recent article, I explored how Dr. David Lereah (62) harnessed the power of positive aging. Dr. Lereah founded United We Age, and released “The Power of Positive Aging,” which describes his uphill battle with cancer and how positivity saved his life. Read the article here. Also, be sure to read some more of Betty White’s secrets to longevity and happiness in another one of my articles here.

Do You Want to Live a Long, Healthy and Happy Life?

We hope you are doing everything you can to stay healthy and to be happy! Remember, as you are eating healthy, exercising, and minimizing stress to maximize your longevity, it is also a good idea to plan for your future, and our firm is dedicated to helping you do so. Call anytime to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Elder Law Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Law Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Law Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Law Attorney DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.