Aging Is a Disease and It's Time to Cure It

After all, none of us is getting any younger.


Nicola Marfisi/Splash News/Newscom

Emma Morano turned 117 on Tuesday. The Italian woman is, as far as we know, the oldest person in the world and the only living person who was born in the 1800s. The secret for her longevity? Eating three raw eggs a day and being single since 1938. The person known to have lived the longest ever was Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at 122 years of age.

In October, Nature published an article, "Evidence for a limit to human lifespan," by three researchers associated with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. Noting that the longest known lifespan has not increased since the 1990s, they argue that there is a fundamental limit to human longevity. The occasional outlier aside, they think that limit is about 115 years.

Maybe, maybe not. In the 21st century, almost everything that kills people, except for accidents and other unintentional causes of death, has been classified as a disease. Aging kills, so it's past time to declare it a disease too and seek cures for it.

In 2015, a group of European gerontologists persuasively argued for doing just that. They rejected the common fatalistic notion that aging "constitutes a natural and universal process, while diseases are seen as deviations from the normal state." A century ago osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, and senility were considered part of normal aging, but now they are classified as diseases and treated. "There is no disputing the fact that aging is a 'harmful abnormality of bodily structure and function,'" they note. "What is becoming increasingly clear is that aging also has specific causes, each of which can be reduced to a cellular and molecular level, and recognizable signs and symptoms."

So why do people age and die? Basically, because of bad chemistry. People get cancer when chemical signals go haywire enabling tumors to grow. Heart attacks and strokes occur when chemical garbage accumulates in arteries and chemical glitches no longer prevent blood cells from agglomerating into dangerous clumps. The proliferation of chemical errors inside our bodies' cells eventually causes them to shut down and emit inflammatory chemicals that damage still healthy cells. Infectious diseases are essentially invasions of bad chemicals that arouse the chemicals comprising our immune systems to try and (too often) fail to destroy them.

Also in 2015, another group of European researchers pointed out that we've been identifying a lot of biomarkers for detecting the bad chemical changes in tissues and cells before they produce symptoms associated with aging. Such biomarkers enable pharmaceutical companies and physicians to discover and deploy treatments that correct cellular and molecular malfunctions and nudge our bodies' chemistry back toward optimal functioning. As a benchmark, the researchers propose the adoption of an "ideal norm" of health against which to measure anti-aging therapies. "One approach to address this challenge is to assume an 'ideal' disease-free physiological state at a certain age, for example, 25 years of age, and develop a set of interventions to keep the patients as close to that state as possible," they suggest.

Most people's body chemistry is at its best when they are in their mid-twenties. In fact, Americans between ages 15 and 24 are nearly 500 times less likely to die of heart disease, 100 times less likely to die of cancer, and 230 times less likely die of influenza and pneumonia than people over the age of 65 years. For lots of us who are no longer in our twenties, television talk show host Dick Cavett summed it up well: "I don't feel old. I feel like a young man that has something wrong with him."

Meanwhile, lots of progress has been made toward ameliorating many of the diseases whose prevalence increases with aging. For example, the five-year survival rate for cancer patients in 1975 was 50 percent; today it is about 68 percent. The annual rates of heart disease and strokes in the U.S. have fallen from 500 and 130 per 100,000 respectively in 1970 to about 175 and 35 per 100,000 today. Since 1999, the influenza and pneumonia death rates have dropped from 24 to 16 per 100,000. Additionally, the flu and pneumonia death rate has been almost cut in half for Americans over age 65 since the 1980s.

Needless to say, if people's bodies remained young, the toll from those maladies would be far less. The good news is that researchers are identifying more and more of the chemical glitches that contribute to aging and are working on treatments to slow, stop, and even reverse it. One of the more promising areas of research focuses on repairing and replacing mitochondria, the thousands of tiny energy-producing organelles inside each of our cells.

Mitochondria mutate over time, becoming less efficient and flooding our cells with damaging chemicals. In November, researchers at Caltech and UCLA genetically boosted the activity two genes that detect and destroy mutated mitochondria in the muscles of fruit flies. The technique reduced mutated mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from 75 percent to 5 percent.

"We know that increased rates of mtDNA mutation cause premature aging," explained the Caltech biologist Bruce Hay in a press release. "This, coupled with the fact that mutant mtDNA accumulates in key tissues such as neurons and muscle that lose function as we age, suggests that if we could reduce the amount of mutant mtDNA, we could slow or reverse important aspects of aging."

As we age, the number of stem cells in our bodies decline. (Stem cells are the reservoirs that produce new healthy cells to replace those that die or become senescent.) Recent research boosting the amount the coenzyme nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) rejuvenates stem cells. Supplementation using a NAD+ precursor, nicotinamide riboside, promoted muscle healing and the generation of new brain cells in aged mice. Consequently, a February2016 review of NAD+ research in Science observed that studies of the coenzyme "have ignited considerable interest in manipulating NAD+ concentrations in therapeutic efforts aimed at disease prevention and life-span extension." In October, a clinical trial found that people suffered no ill effects from taking nicotinamide riboside and that it did boost their NAD+ levels.

As we age, our immune systems wear out and become less able to protect us from invasive microbes and to destroy cancerous cells. Research in 2014 using the experimental drug rapamycin found that it significantly boosted the immune response in people over age 65. "It sets the stage for using this drug to target aging, to improve everything about aging," said Nir Barzilai, head of the Institute for Aging Research at New York City's Albert Einstein College of Medicine, at the time.

"Classifying aging as a disease," write the biogerontologists Alex Zhavoronkov and Bhupinder Bhullar, "will result in new approaches and business models for addressing aging as a treatable condition, which will lead to both economic and healthcare benefits for all stakeholders." It is well past time to get on with it—none of us are getting any younger.

NEXT: So This Is (Your Annual War on) Christmas

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  1. Then what’s going to cull the herd? Or are half of us going to move our young, beautiful selves to Mars?

      1. That’s “ahsses”

    1. I’m going to live on Titan where you freeze to death, and every human settlement is a giant oxygen bubble next to a bunch of hydrocarbons. Old age will never catch up to me there!

      1. I plan to spend much of the next thousand years roaming around the Oort cloud in a spidership sung from the alinen. After that, who knows.

        1. Just watch out for Rorschach

    2. Why should we have to move? It’s everybody else that sucks.

      1. “You know what, you can just call me Mars.”

    3. Given that more than half the planet has pretty much already stopped having babies that isn’t as much of a concern as it used to be.

    4. If you guys wanna read a hilarious leftist theory of aging, read Cracking the Aging Code. The authors claim that aging evolved through natural selection to benefit the species at the expense of the individual. There is even a nice rant against Republicans in the introduction. Nevermind that “group selection” has been debunked ad-naseaum, no matter what mathematical model you come up with.

      Aging exists because there is no way to select against it. Aging usually happens after reproduction. Thus, any genetic improvements against diseases of old age are not selected for in the population. The only thing you can hope for is that reproduction is delayed to a later age and that this has fitness benefits.

      With that said, the anti-aging advice of the author of Cracking the Aging Code is on the money: vitamin D, an anti-inflammatory, melatonin, fish oil, magnesium, and telomere lengtheners.

      Finally I fully support research to battle aging. However, rather than focusing on some grand goal of defeating aging, we should first focus on the early killers: cancer and heart disease.

      1. Aging exists because there is no way to select against it. Aging usually happens after reproduction. Thus, any genetic improvements against diseases of old age are not selected for in the population.

        Not quite right actually. Living longer might have a positive effect on your progeny (i.e. longer life genes) if you are able to give them that all-so-slight advantage in producing offspring of their own. Evolution is not about being the biggest, fastest, strongest, most long lived or anything else other than who has more offspring.

        1. +1 Methuselah’s Children

  2. Time to Declare Aging a Disease and Get On with Curing It: New at Reason

    You mean like smoking, addiction, obesity/syndrome X????

    Fuck You, Cut Spending.

  3. “Especially if he feels like a 25 year-old.”

    Hey, it’s Christmas shopping season, good luck!

    Avoid the 25-year olds who offer gummy worms.

    1. That’s what Amazon is for.

  4. No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.

    -Steve Jobs

    1. I bet he he’ll have that engraved over his hospital bed during his last illness.

      Or maybe he’ll transfer his brain to a cyborg like a normal nerd.

    2. Now that luddite is dead, good.

      1. Oops, forgot he was already dead.

  5. You can’t just call aging a disease, Ron. You have to come up with a new, snazzier name for it, and declare that to be the disease. I suggest:


    Now we just need to come up with a good abbreviation, and we’re all set…

    1. Ron is exactly right, it’s a disease.

    2. And we can call the treatment Usurpation of Process.

      So you need your TITS UP treatment so you don’t go tits up

    3. Hmmm… The article suggests that NAD+s are key to fighting this condition. Does this mean that anti-aging is a tool of the patriarchy?

  6. So, libertarian question: If my kids are too young to agree to the blood transfusions I want from them to keep me young, can I just take them anyways and contribute to their college funds?

    1. Can’t you just drink the blood of your orphans like a normal libertarian?

      1. You don’t know where that’s been.

        1. Mostly just spilled in your factory from the age of four, if you are libertarianing correctly.

      2. I just lick my monocle from time to time, since it is polished with the blood of orphans. Yes, I have a long tongue, ladies.

    2. I’m not a lawyer, but for a small fee, I’ll draw up a contract to you. If your child still can’t write his name to sign it, we’ll have to use his hand print.

    3. If my kids orphans are too young to agree to the blood transfusions I want from them to keep me young, can I just take them anyways and contribute to their college funds laugh?


    4. Yes, as they are only potential persons up to age 26 now.

      1. I can’t believe America elected a president opposed to 78th trimester abortion!!!!

    5. Yes, and the good news for them is that they can now stay in your basement until they’re 2600.

    6. No, because the public commons exists and the only possible solution is vaccines.

    7. Your own kids? That’s what clones are for.

  7. Related: It’s also time to develop a painless foolproof suicide OTC pill.

    1. *that should be ‘OTC suicide pill’

      1. oh, painless. I was going to suggest Tylenol.

      2. Hot lead is cheap. Though the delivery system can be pricey.

        1. And it’s hardly foolproof. Many people have ended up worse than dead after trying to punch out that way.

          1. Put your head too far back and you just end up blowing your face off. It really sucks to have to work your jaw manually.

  8. I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I’m putting my money on the singularity.

    1. Ray Kurzweil agrees with this message.

  9. Never trust a man who wants to live forever. And if Ron’s obsessive writing on this subject is any indication of what he wants…

    1. I want to live forever. I want to see how this whole universe thing shakes out.

    2. You know the end result of immortality is being stuck under something you can’t move.

      1. The question is, do you want to move? Giggity.

    3. Never trust a man who wants to live forever.

      Why not?

      Also, there’s a difference between “wanting to live forever” and “wanting to live until you’re ready to die”.

    4. Never trust people who love death more than they love life.

  10. Eating three raw eggs a day and being single since 1938.

    The three raw eggs thing is probably not the main driver of her longevity. The above, on the other hand, is singularly responsible for it.

  11. I agree 100%. Shut up, luddites!

  12. Crusty would.

    1. “This new ‘personal assistant’ of mine visits me more than my own children do…time to rewrite my will.”

    2. You know, she has nearly 8 decades on the dating scene. I’m sure she’s learned a thing or two over that time.

      Serious question – if she bangs a 90 year old guy at the retirement home, do people give her shit for robbing the cradle?

      1. “I’ll teach you stuff. Stuff you can use.”

      2. Maybe they give him shit for robbing the grave.

      3. That is a very serious question!

  13. Vorlons arriveand vaporize Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

    “You are not ready for immortality”

    Entropy is a bitch thst2 always wins in the long run.

  14. Look, anyone who says they WANT to die is a fucking liar, period. Sure, someone who is 25 or 30 right now may say ‘Oh, who wants to live forever, not me’. But that’s because when you’re that age, you already feel immortal and 50 years from now seems like an eternity. Also, there are lots of greedy vultures sitting around waiting for their parents to die so they can get their stuff. I’d like to remind these hypocrites that 1. You don’t want to fucking die, liar. 2. Not only will you die, but you will probably suffer horribly for a long time before you die. You might want to rethink that, and you WILL when you get older 3. Shut up!

    1. And let me add that for anyone who really wants to die, go ahead. Don’t even wait, jump off the fucking Empire State building right now, you’ll suffer less, and more room for the rest of us.

    2. I often wonder what people who can type mean when they say they just type without thinking about which keys they are hitting. Now I’m starting to understand.

      1. Awww, Hugh, you’re so cute, just like a fuzzy little kitten.

    3. Look, anyone who says they WANT to die is a fucking liar, period.

      Makes suicide kind of hard to explain.

      And a lot of old people are pretty ready to die, even if they don’t necessarily want to die right this minute.

      1. I knew you were going to say that! Of course, I did not mean what I said to apply in those situations. And just because the older people are ready to die is only because of their suffering, not because they WANT to die even if they didn’t have to suffer and die.

        1. “I didn’t mean what I said. I said what I think I meant to say regarding only those situations as are applicable.”

      2. People that actually follow through with suicide aren’t laying about saying how much they want to die. They just go do it.

    4. If you live forever you don’t have to worry about money. You’ll be a gajillionaire just from the compound interest, after the first few centuries.

      1. Inflation bites you because everyone has compound interest.

  15. Youth is wasted on the young. Time for a fix.

  16. Here is one thing Ron, until we can come up with an effective cure for the psychological damage most people accrue just trying to survive and get through each day all the longevity treatments in the world aren’t going to help much because while no one wants to die huge numbers of people don’t really want to live either.

    1. MDMA for PTSD, psilocybin for the more complex stuff.

    2. 1. Make government smaller and leave us the fuck alone.

      2. Better living through chemistry?

    3. A lot of psychological problems go away over time as you mature.
      I used to worry about a lot of stuff in my 20’s that I just laugh off in my 40’s.

      1. That works fine for a while, but I do notice that after a while, older folks tend to worry more. Maybe a function of all the stuff going physically wrong with their bodies, or maybe an overload of a basic human need for a degree of sanity and control over one’s surroundings?

  17. Stopping aging sounds like an okay way to be immortal, I guess. But I’d rather be able to download my thoughts into a perfect virtual world or a robotic body.

    1. They’re working on this as well.

    2. Agreed. That way, you can fit in among the robots after the inevitable uprising.

    3. If we’re just making wishes, I’d like to be immortal and omnipotent so I can just be whatever I feel like being at any particular moment.

      1. You’d just try to grab lots of pussies at one time! This is why you must be stopped!

      2. Make sure you enunciate that wish or you’re going to end up immortal and impotent

        1. But being immortal would make you impo’tant, right?

    4. Will this robotic body have the strength of 10 gorillas?

  18. I’m not sure how this can be logical. As long as mutation occurs, then statistically speaking, the percentage of mutated cells present in tissue must be seen to increase over time, no?

    Baby steps: declare wrinkly skin to be a disease, and get back to me once you’ve cured that.

    1. Take an inventory of the status of every cell when you’re 27. Repair any mutations or other damage with nano-bots.

  19. 100? Why not 1000? Why not 10,000 years?

  20. Interesting outlook, but in the long run, entropy always seems to win.

    Besides, do you really want to live 500 years, or even 200?

    1. Yes

    2. If I get to stop the aging process now, while I’m in my 30’s, then yes.

      If 500 years means 400 years of looking like Harry Reid, then fuck no.

    3. The alternative question is: Do you really want everyone else living for 200 or 500 years?

      Who wants five centuries of Hillary Clinton running for office? I mean, things went so well with her in the limelight for two decades.

  21. Ron Bailey continues to project his fear of death onto his work, desperately attempting to hold off the Abyss with whatever hope he can.

    You’re really bad at being an atheist Ron.

  22. Maybe Congress would finally raise the retirement age.

  23. After all, none of us is getting any younger.

    I am! Lost almost 50 lbs this year. Went from borderline diabetic to best blood work in my life, with most values at or near Life Extension Foundation optimal ranges.

  24. And someday when the descendants of humanity have spread from star to star,
    they won’t tell the children about the history of Ancient Earth until they’re old
    enough to bear it; and when they learn they’ll weep to hear that such a thing as
    Death had ever once existed!

    Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Eliezer Yudkowsky

  25. One problem with aging research – and all medical research – is the FDA’s regulatory powers. I costs on the order of a billion to get through FDA-mandated testing to bring a new drug to the market – good luck if you have a relatively uncommon disease. The FDA is a bottleneck on research. Fortunately, states are passing right-to-try laws that allow patients with terminal illnesses to try medications that have passed basic safety (Phase I) regulations but are not on the shelves yet. But you shouldn’t have to wait until you’re terminally ill.

    All medications should be over-the-counter and the government’s role in health care should go no further than prosecuting fraudulent claims.

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  28. How can aging be considered a disease when the cause of death is just plainly life? If you aren’t born, then you need not die. Maybe we should just learn how to live and stop concentrating on how not to die. Amor fati! – Friedrich Nietzsche

  29. I like the idea of working on ways to cure aging. But now the question comes in: will this be something that the government will invest huge amount of money in, or done almost entirely by the private sector. If the government does this, this would generate a huge backlash by people who don’t think “its natural” and don’t want their tax dollars funding it. If the private sector does it, somewhere down the line, a lot of people are going to argue that the aging cure is a public right and so on.

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