Health & Welfare: Aging and Health

Information sources


The recent increase of public interest in aging processes and means of intervention has been reflected in a tremendous outpouring of articles and books. Most of these writings contain a good deal of misinformation (such as: "Avoid food preservatives at all costs") and must be read very selectively. Without prior knowledge of what to look for, it is not very likely that reading these would result in an increase in understanding.

There are, however, some excellent publications available on this subject. In this column, we review a selection of books that can prepare a careful, intelligent reader (but a college degree is not necessarily required) for planning a rational life-extension program.

Scientific information can be derived from primary sources (the original scientific papers, usually appearing in peer-reviewed journals), secondary sources (popular scientific books and publications that interpret the original scientific papers, for example, Scientific American and Science News), or lay sources (popular books). Lay sources tend to contain faddist or ideological thinking and, in our experience, may contain as much as 50 percent incorrect information.

Few people will want to read original scientific papers, for which some specialized background is usually required. For those who do, there is a search service available at many large university medical libraries across the country for the National Library of Medicine's MEDLARS computerized data base. For a low price (as little as $10), you can have the over 3,000 journals in the data base searched and receive a printout listing references to scientific papers that involve your area of interest.

Suppose you want to know what type of treatments have been tried in a particular type of rare cancer. You have a search done for treatments of this cancer and receive a printout (in the mail) of references. You can then follow up by going to a medical library and obtaining the papers of most interest.

The references to papers of recent years usually have a summary of the study's findings, which is of great help in determining which papers you should follow up on. Ask for abstracts with the citations when they are available.

There is a large number of excellent secondary sources about aging and its attendant health problems, as well as how to improve your health status regardless of your age. We recommend the following enthusiastically. (But just because a book or publication is not listed here does not mean that we disapprove of it or that it is no good.) Anyone seriously interested in intervening in his or her own aging processes should have a shelf of reliable references. We wholeheartedly recommend the purchase of all of the following books. Isn't your health too valuable to trust to hearsay and popular delusions?

Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach, by Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw (New York: Warner Books, forthcoming, spring 1982). This book, aimed at scientists, physicians, and the more intelligent lay public, offers two different types of information. First, a great deal of primary scientific information is reviewed (including hundreds of references). This provides the basis for a theoretical understanding of how aging works, with particular emphasis on free-radical pathology, and of the mechanisms underlying successful intervention in aging processes in both experimental animals and humans. The other type of information is an examination and evaluation of different interventions in human aging, including self-experiments of Sandy, Durk, and other self-selected human guinea pigs. Sandy and Durk's complete nutrient and antioxidant regimen is included.

Total Fitness in 30 Minutes a Week, by Laurence Morehouse and Leonard Gross (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975, $2.95 paper). Dr. Morehouse was the head of NASA's physiological testing program for astronauts. He wanted to find out what exercise schedule would provide the greatest benefits for the least amount of time. Peak-effort exercise done for only a short time, he found, produced the most benefits in terms of cardiovascular conditioning. He suggests 10 minutes every other day of any exercise you like, as long as you work sufficiently hard for the 10 minutes. Jogging will not do it. This book has a chart showing the heart rate you should try to achieve, depending on your age, and how quickly you should work up to it.

Physician's Desk Reference (Oradell, N.J.: Medical Economics Co., annual, $17.95). We were surprised recently to hear that this is the third best selling hardback book in the country. It is very good news because there is a great deal of vital information in it for anyone attempting a life-extension program. Here is where you will find the side effects of drugs you may be using—unfortunately, doctors rarely inform their patients of side effects. You can learn about undesirable drug interactions, what dosage ranges are typically used, and how fast you can increase (or decrease) your dose.

One thing you won't find mentioned in here are unapproved uses. For example, if you look at the entry for Diapid® nasal spray (Sandoz), you will find information only for its approved use (treatment for a condition of excessive urination), not for a recently discovered unapproved use (improving memory and learning and decreasing reaction time). The federal Food and Drug Administration forbids manufacturers from providing this data to doctors, including merely sending out copies of legitimate scientific papers.

The Life Extension Revolution, by Saul Kent (New York: Morrow, 1980, $12.95), and Secrets of Life Extension, by John A. Mann (Berkeley, Calif.: And/Or Press, 1980, $7.95 paper). Both of these books are excellent introductions to theoretical and practical aspects of current aging science. The Mann book is more oriented to practical application. It contains hundreds of references, a large percentage of which are to the primary scientific literature. Kent's bibliography contains an amazing 750 references, well worth the price of the book by themselves. He is a veteran medical writer with a long list of published articles, many of them in a geriatrics magazine for doctors. His articles are almost invariably impeccably researched, and he rarely draws conclusions that go beyond the data. Both these books have much data on free radicals.

Vitamin C, the Common Cold, and the Flu, by Linus Pauling (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1976, $3.45 paper), and Cancer and Vitamin C, by Ewan Cameron and Linus Pauling (Palo Alto, Calif.: Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, 1979, $9.95). Both these books are musts for anyone seriously interested in improving his health.

Vitamin C is an important antioxidant nutrient that does have anticancer properties, as well as performing myriad other functions in the body: stimulating healing (it is required for the synthesis of the protein collagen in connective tissue), stimulating the activity of certain white blood cells, protecting the brain and spinal cord from damaging oxidation (these structures use active transport, requiring considerable energy, to increase the vitamin C content within individual nerve cells to 100 times that in the general circulation), and others. Many of these are discussed in the two books on vitamin C, which are well documented and cover vastly more subject matter than their titles suggest.

Prolongevity, by Albert Rosenfeld (New York: Knopf, 1976, $2.50 paper), and Slowing Down the Aging Process, by Hans J. Kugler (New York: Pyramid, 1974, $1.50 paper). Both of these books were written for a wider public audience than Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach, The Life Extension Revolution, or Secrets of Life Extension. Both of them are excellent introductions to the subject of aging processes and means of intervention. Neither is a how-to book, but they do provide generally clear and accurate information concerning reasonably current thinking in gerontology. Of course, since these were published a few years ago, they lag behind, particularly in the greatly increased recognition of the importance of free-radical pathology in aging and in newer forms of antiaging therapy. Many good references are given to the primary scientific literature.

(To be concluded next month.)

Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw are consulting scientists, authors, and TV personalities.

A list of scientific literature on this topic is available. Send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to this publication and ask for December h&w references.