Friday, May 14, 2010

"Eternity Soup: Inside the Quest to End Aging" by Greg Critser

First off, I hope Mr. Critser sees that yes, I have read his book, the very same one that I had posted about when it was first coming out, the one that caused a bit of a kerfluffle when he read that post and said I needed to learn how to write. That book. After apologies on both sides, I promised I would read it - and I keep my promises.

The book is not what I had thought it would be when I first read the description and wrote that now infamous post. It's actually a very interesting look at the lengths some are willing to go in order to slow down or even stop the aging process. The author has a dog in the fight, so to speak, as he's had a concussion and now suffers from a "form of accelerated brain aging"; he'd like to slow the process as much as possible. And since reading the book, my husband and I have a bit of an interest as well: at the ripe "old" age of 45, we've just learned that he will most likely be having a total hip replacement within the next month. Quite shocking to us, I can tell you that.

The book begins with the author talking to his parents about the subject of aging; they inform him that they are on a hormone treatment administered by a "longevity doctor". It gets him to thinking about the new and different ways that people are trying to fight the aging process - the existing aging process, I should say. Most are looking to extend their natural life spans while keeping themselves as healthy as possible. There are new lines of thinking about aging, and it would seem that most are now wanting to treat it as a disease, rather than a natural process. There's some good scientific data to back up a few of these new theories, although they don't always prove to hold true with us mere mortals. (I loved the way Critser kept quoting one of the scientists who works in this field, one who doesn't believe everything can be equated to humans because, as he points out several times, the findings were "on mice!")

So how do you keep yourself young? Well, you can join the CR crowd (Caloric Restriction) and eat very, very little. This is supposed to keep your cells busy on repairs, too busy to age normally and break down. And it does appear to work - "on mice!" - but at what cost? As Critser points out, the CR people all tend to feel a bit cold, seem very mellow, and often complain about pain in the gluteus maximus, mostly because they have no glutes to sit on anymore. He's not overly impressed with the idea of CR, especially after meeting a very zealous group of CR fans whose leader espouses a lot of stuff that has absolutely no scientific basis.

Critser then heads to one of the afore-mentioned "longevity" doctors to discuss bio-identical hormones, made famous (or infamous) by Suzanne Somers. The idea here is to keep your body full of the hormones that you have when you are young, and the way to do this is by finding someone who can compound the bio-identicals for you. The problem here is money - you have to have it, because the typical medical insurance policy does not cover this sort of treatment. And these "treatments" are not cheap, as Critser finds out quickly. Once on his regimen, he feels a bit better, but there's not enough of an improvement to convince him that the money is worth it.

Well, what about building yourself new parts? That's another option being explored, "engineering" body parts from stem cells. Again, this has some good data behind it, and there is a real and true need for this sort of ability, as people die every day waiting for organ transplants. Sadly, I'm one of those people who has lost someone, an aunt; she needed a liver, did actually receive one, but started rejecting it within a week and passed away. My husband and I are both organ donors, but there's still the problem of rejection. By growing the new parts from stem cells, hopefully rejection would be a thing of the past. Again, the science is there, but the cost is prohibitive - for now.

Overall, I was impressed with the book, mostly because of the last chapter. In it, Critser is attending a class about longevity studies. The professor asks the students what the most difficult thing will be for people that will now be able to live over 100 years. Of course the students all throw out medical-type answers. The professor finally interrupts and tells them that the most difficult obstacle will be loneliness; that as one ages so successfully, you'll leave behind those near and dear that are not able to keep up. Indeed, Critser talks about one such soul, a man who lived well over 100 years; the theory as to why (he wasn't a total fitness fanatic by any means) is that this man and his wife always had people around them, young people living with them in their house, relatives stopping by, neighbors coming over for dinner, etc. They had a community to support them emotionally. This makes perfect sense as it's one of the keystones to what are called "blue zones"; people who have a strong sense of community and family. In other words, people who aren't loners. (Might explain why women typically live longer than men, too - we tend to form close bonds with family and friends). There's a lot of interesting information to digest in "Eternity Soup", and I'm glad to have read it. I would now definitely recommend it as well. Thanks to Mr. Critser for jumping my case - I deserved it!

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