In case you missed it, Canada turned 150 years young this summer. And, that got us thinking. It's been said that the first human to live to 150 has already been born. That means that someone alive today could live to see Canada's 300th birthday. But is that science-fact or science-fiction?
The answer depends on whose side of the bet you’re on.
Let’s rewind to the year 2000. While the rest of the world was listening to Prince’s "1999" and panicking about the Y2K bug, (turns out the party wasn’t over, your Purpleness) Steven Austad of the University of Alabama and Jay Olshansky of the University of Chicago made a bet with each other.
Each put $150 into an account that, when the bet is settled in 2150, is expected to hand over millions of dollars to the winner. What did they bet on? Austad believes that the first person to live to the age of 150 has already been born. Olshansky does not. Both are confident they will win (but won’t be alive to find out).
As the "glass-half-full" optimists we are, we can’t help but wonder: is it possible to live to 150? Consider this – since Canada was founded 150 years ago, our life expectancy has more than doubled from around 40 years to 82 years today. But, that was helped by some pretty incredible medical advancements (like sterilization, antibiotics, vaccines, anesthetic, transplants, we could go on…).
Does that mean that these scientists have some kind of incredible medical super-miracle up their sleeves? Consider us intrigued…
Who are you calling "Humpty Dumpty"?
Scientists working in this field say that today’s approach to treating chronic disease is a bit like trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together. You can treat each disease on its own, but you haven’t addressed the underlying cause of the problem – age.
IN OTHER WORDS, A LONGER LIFESPAN IS A HAPPY COINCIDENCE – A BY-PRODUCT OF A LONGER PERIOD OF GOOD HEALTH. WHAT SCIENTISTS ARE REALLY AFTER IS INCREASING THE HUMAN "HEALTHSPAN".
At GSC, we talk a lot about the key risk factors for chronic disease (in case you’ve forgotten, that’s inactivity, poor diet, and not taking your medications correctly). But there is one you don’t often hear about because it isn’t something we think of as preventable – age. If you look at the chronic diseases affecting us here in Canada (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, etc.), aging is the #1 risk factor for all of them.
But Austad and his peers would argue that we should stop treating aging as inevitable, and instead, treat it as a preventable disease.
To be clear, Austad isn’t arguing that aging can be stopped or cured like a disease. What he is saying is that we can treat or even reverse the effects of aging so that humans stay healthier for longer. In other words, a longer lifespan is a happy coincidence – a by-product of a longer period of good health. What scientists are really after is increasing the human "healthspan".
And, since we have no skin in the game (except our lives, I guess), we’re going to go on the record and take Austad’s side on this one. Let’s take a look at the top research and technology that is going to help us live to 150 – and beyond.
Lifespan 150: Top 3 treatments
#1 - DRUGS (surprise, surprise)
In North America and around the world, drugs are big business. That’s why it’s no surprise that a lot of research is focused on finding a solution to human aging that you can pick up at your local pharmacy. Surprisingly, however, the most promising drugs on this front are ones that already exist and are used to treat other conditions:
- Metformin: Used to treat diabetes since the 60s and is currently in clinical trials for its age-defying effects.
- Rapamycin: Also in clinical trials, this newer drug is currently used to aid organ transplants and treat rare cancers. It has been shown to extend the life of mice by 25 per cent, the most achieved so far with a drug. It also protects against cancer and neurodegeneration.
There are also some drugs in development that try to mimic the body processes that cause lab animals on calorie-restricted diets to live longer. Others copy the effects of genes that occur in long-lived people.
And while some of these drugs may be quite costly, it is generally thought that preventing aging with drugs is the most cost-effective strategy. For example, Metformin has a generic equal that would be so inexpensive, some researchers think it could be added to the water supply, much like some cities add fluoride.
#2 - 3D PRINTING ORGANS
Since its invention, 3D printing seems to have found ways to be useful in every industry – even medicine. In labs around the world, researchers are printing prototype body parts: heart valves, ears, bone, joints, menisci, vascular tubes, and skin grafts.
Next up? Organs. Imagine for a second the impact 3D printing could have on organ transplants. Today, the demand for organs is much greater than the supply, and the chances of a patient finding a good match are low. 3D printing could help doctors create perfectly matched organs, printed with "ink" made of your own DNA.
And while printing organs for transplant still has a long way to go before becoming a reality, the ability to print skin cells and pieces of tissue for drug testing will likely be a reality within five years.
#3 - NANOBOTS
Futurist and computer scientist Ray Kurzweil believes that in the next 15-20 years we will all have microscopic machines called nanobots travelling through our bodies. These nanobots will repair damaged cells and organs, and effectively wipe out diseases.
Nanobots are not just tiny versions of your traditional robot, though. They are actually tiny molecules that have been created to perform automated tasks. The first generation of nanobots will perform specific tasks, such as delivering drugs to a particular area of the body or removing diseased tissue. This technology is already in clinical trials in humans and could soon become a medical reality.
Following this, Kurzweil claims that the next logical step would be to have nanobots circling around in our veins permanently. They will clean and maintain our bodies, maybe even replace our organs when they fail. Clinical trials of this technology have already started in mice.
No, this doesn’t mean you can sit on the couch and wait…
Yes, we’re right there with you. This is all very exciting. But at the risk of sounding like a Debbie Downer, we should also remember that we cannot just curl up in the fetal position and wait for the future to save us. If you’re old enough to read this article, you may already be too old to see even the earliest benefits of this technology.
Instead, we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and approach longevity the old-fashioned way – by eating well, exercising, and taking care of our bodies today.
If you want some help with that, GSC’s Change4Life® health management portal can help you out. Change4Life is available via your Online Services and offers a health assessment questionnaire along with useful tools to help you track and improve your health. You also earn points for your activity that can be used to win great rewards.
And hey, it’s possible that none of these technologies will help us in the end. But don’t despair, because even if none of them deliver on their promises, we are pretty confident that those nanobots will make for a really great sci-fi horror movie. (You heard it here first.)
Since we’re pretty nice here at GSC, we’ve decided to let you in on the best anti-aging therapy available today. Ready? It’s sleep! Sleep helps grow and repair our cells while boosting our immune system and slowing the aging process. The best part? It’s also free.
Canada is the first country to build a UFO landing pad in St. Paul, Alberta. Even the Minister of National Defense, Paul Hellyer, was there for the grand opening back in 1967. (Makes you wonder how we ever made it to 150.)
Our publications (like this one) are packed with info on industry and health trends, benefits plan tips, and a ton of other (cool) GSC news. Rather than having to skim through every publication to find what you’re looking for, we’ve saved you the trouble by sharing some of our favourite and most informative articles on our GSC Stories blog – including some from this very publication! We encourage you not only to check the page out frequently for new updates, but also to share via the nifty social icons when you happen to see something you like.