Aging, longevity, eternal life and eternal youth have been concepts that have deeply worried society since ancient times.
Today, in the XXI century this way of thinking and proceeding has led to increased curiosity. We have more knowledge than ever before about what can benefit us and what can harm us; we can diagnose diseases in preclinical stages, which for many diseases is years before they manifest; we can personalize diets and even lifestyles through genetic testing…
Dr. Francisco Martínez Peñalver – Neolife Medical Team
The medicine of the future will increase longevity to ages never seen before. And this will bring another kind of ethical and philosophical dilemma to the fore.
Throughout time aging, longevity, eternal life, eternal youth, etc., have been concepts that have deeply worried society as a whole. We live in times where we are talking about how best to lengthen telomeres to stop aging and avoid diseases. We are attempting to control the p21 gene and discover the cure for cancer whilst attempting to print human organs using 3D printers, or even transplant stem cells which would ensure that our bodies never deteriorate. Even former President Clinton once said that for future generations the word “cancer” will only be a reference to the star constellation.
But this search for such answers is not something new: the Bible includes reference to man as being created as immortal, and that by biting the fruit of the forbidden tree man committed a moral transgression which deprived us of that precious gift.
In fact, according to the Bible, Adam lived for 930 years, his descendant Shem lived for 600, and so the longevity decreased to Abraham, who “only” lived for 175 years. This was believed as literally true even amongst well known scientists until the seventeenth century when the feeling that man increasingly was living less and less and that there was something in civilization that was causing man to live for shorter periods of time. At that moment, for the first time scientists began to describe healthy and unhealthy lifestyle habits.
Historically there have been two theories to explain the aging process. The first theory was that aging was nothing more than a progressive loss of body heat. Growing up was the equivalent of getting cold (getting old is getting cold), having less vitality, being less ‘fiery’ at heart; what made you vital was a kind of “internal flame” that faded over time until the flame was completely consumed at the time of death. The second theory is related to liquid: aging was the gradual loss of fluid (“with age we are drying up”). The most common example would be the comparison of the wet and smooth skin of a baby with the cracked and dry skin of an old man. From Ancient Greece to the 19th century, aging was considered to be a process of cooling, drying or a combination of both. Advancements in these theories may serve to explain why, since ancient times, the most repeated advice for healthy aging was to limit the caloric intake. It is necessary to eat to maintain the internal flame, but an excessive consumption of calories can exhaust the flame prematurely; therefore, one must eat only what is necessary and avoid larger excessive consumption of calories. And this is a dogma that we have been preaching from ancient Greek times with Pythagoras and his diet based on vegetables and seeds where he avoided wine or meat to the last report published by the Committee on medical aspects on food and nutrition in the U.S. If you consider that it was previously thought that consuming roast meat was harmful, because “it fuelled the vital flame too much”, or because “it caused an imbalance in the liquid (bodily fluids) of the body”… we now know that consuming roast beef in excess quantities increases the levels of cholesterol that make up the atherosclerosis plaque and has carcinogenic properties. In the seventeenth century, Francis Bacon, like the current gerontologists had considered that if we overcame the present limitations of medicine, the human being could live much longer than he had previously. Since then, there have been many attempts, some of them very peculiar nevertheless, to accelerate this process toincrease our longevity. In the seventeenth century, another great philosopher, Descartes, devoted much of his life to uncovering the secret that would stop aging; that is why his death was a shock at the young age of 54. One of Descartes disciples, Michel de Montaigne, wrote about longevity explaining that to achieve true longevity one had to abandon wine, red meat, avoid cold environments, sleep on the right side and take Rhubarb tablets three times a day. Today, in the XXI century this way of thinking and proceeding has led to increased curiosity. We have more knowledge than ever before about what can benefit us and what can harm us; we can diagnose diseases in preclinical stages, which for many diseases is years before they manifest; we can personalize diets and even lifestyles through genetic testing…and yet, we continue to search for that elusive eternal youth and yearn for longevity. It is expected that medical research in the year 2029 will be able to increase life expectancy by one year for each year that passes in research. With the increase in longevity, new diseases will naturally appear including new challenges and new situations that have never been witnessed before. This will bring another type of ethical and philosophical dilemma to the fore, but it is still fascinating to think that these are the challenges that the future of medicine will have to face.