Is Aging a Disease You Can Reverse? A Look at the Science Behind the Longevity Movement
DAVE ASPREY, founder of the supplement company Bulletproof and one of the many Silicon Valley tech titans obsessed with lengthening their life spans, famously declared he wants to live beyond 180 years. That sounds, frankly, exhausting. Yet who wouldn’t want to take a languorous sip from the gerontological cup, assuming reasonable health and fitness?
Therein lies the catch: A long life is something that’s desired and dreaded in equal measure. My uncle was a rocket scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. When I visited him in his final years, I did not recognize this once dynamic, brilliant man. He was confused, frail, vague. In 2014, Ezekiel Emanuel, a noted oncologist and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote a blunt essay for The Atlantic titled “Why I Hope to Die at 75.” He argued that the “manic desperation to endlessly extend” life siphons resources and “robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world.” Emanuel stands by it. “You don’t want to wait until the end of your life and live it unconsciously,” he told me recently.
But what if we could change not just the expiration date but the time leading up to it? Research shows that most people are ill with disease for five to eight years before they die. Must they be? A wave of scientists are saying no. They maintain that aging is a disease—one that can be targeted, treated, and perhaps even reversed. Longevity—a quest as old as humanity itself—is the wellness world’s latest buzzword, appearing everywhere from specialty gyms such as Longevity Lab NYC to NutriDrip’s $600 “Nutriyouth” IV formula (which promises to “turn on ‘good genes’ ”) to the Victoria Beckham–sanctioned supplements Basis NAD+. Meanwhile, big-name investors (Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel) are backing companies that are designing drugs to stave off the impairments associated with growing old: Thiel’s Breakout Labs is intent on the modest goal of “reprogramming nature.” The longevity sector, according to some industry analysis, is on track to be a multi-trillion-dollar industry.