From Jane Austen to the curious case of Benjamin Button
“Elizabeth! Very well. Time will explain”, is a quote from Jane Austen’s last novel Persuasion, and the phrase was a reference to the future by Anne Elliot, a young English woman of 27 years, that felt she could determine nothing at present.
Austen wrote Persuasion while she was very ill and ignoring the warning signs of her illness that was bringing her everyday closer to her end. As her illness progressed, she experienced difficulty while walking and lacked energy; she died on 18 July 1817 at the age of 41. Life expectancy in the 1800s was ranging between 38.3 and 44.0 years.
We now know that the length of life began to increase past the age of 30, approximately only 30,000 years ago. This implies that it would have been possible, 30,000 years ago, for three generations of humans to exist simultaneously. The lifespan in classical Greece and Rome was approximately 35 years, and the main cause limiting these lifespans were infectious diseases (and infected wounds), and generally unhygienic living conditions. Later during industrialization, a further significant increase of the human lifespan (Ageing Throughout History: The Evolution of Human Lifespan) was achieved.
Nowadays people live longer than ever before in history, but considerable variation in duration of life persists as a fundamental attribute of human longevity. The extremes of this variation are witnessed by the healthy vital 100-year-olds on one end and the 60-year-olds suffering from multiple morbid conditions on the other end of the spectrum.
In particular, in the last 115 years there has been more survival time manufactured by public health and medical technology, than in all of human history combined. It has been well established that almost 80% of the rise in longevity in the first half of the 20th century, in the US and other developed nations, was because of declining early age mortality—mostly from reductions in death rates from communicable diseases. And since 1950, 80% of the gain in longevity was because of declining death rates at middle and older ages owing to progress made against chronic fatal diseases such as cardiovascular diseases.
Today 85% of all babies born in developed nations will survive to at least age 65, and most deaths are concentrated in the 30-yr time period between ages 65 and 95 (Human Mortality Database, www.mortality.org).
To cut a long story short, Bank of America has forecasted that the market of anti-aging (longevity) will balloon to $610 billion by 2025.
And while the improvement in human longevity has been one of humanity’s crowning achievements — with now 1 billion people in retirement globally compared to the rise of the 7th Continent—news of a minor de-aging clinical study in California travelled around the earth last year at the speed of light!
In particular, the results of this minor de-aging clinical study published in the journal Aging Cell suggested that for the first time ever may be possible to reverse the body’s biological epigenetic clock.
For this study, nine healthy participants were given a mixture of three common drugs for a year: a recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH), an endogenous steroid hormone precursor dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and the anti-diabetic drug metformin. The results showed that on average, it was found that their biological ages had been reversed of 2.5 years. Additionally, their immune systems showed signs of rejuvenation.
The trial was created in order to test whether GH could be safely used to restore the thymus gland that serves as a crucial function for the immune system (white blood cells mature inside the thymus, where they turn into T cells that help fight an infection). This gland begins to gradually shrink after puberty and evidence from previous animal trials have suggested that the GH can indeed regenerate the thymus. However, GH can also produce diabetes. This is why the trial added two drugs, in the reversal aging cocktail, to limit the “diabetogenic” effect of GH.
Of course further studies must be conducted, but a meaningful amelioration of human aging appears to be remarkably promising in the horizon. Nevertheless this study had several shortcomings, most notably there was no control group included help assessing direct causality. But many other aging focused mini trials are now ongoing with a probably better study design and likely to yield more robust results.
Two hundred years have passed since Jane Austen died. The majority of biographers list Jane’s cause of death as Addison’s disease but Austen herself made light of her condition, describing it as “bile” and rheumatism. Over the years, some scholars have also speculated that she died of cancer or tuberculosis.
Nowadays, women at Jane’s age are considered young, some even have babies in their 40s while others fight cancer or build companies. Yes is true, they take food supplements, anti-aging vitamins and anti-aging drugs (very soon), while public health and medical technology is of great help. But all of these are just longevity “tools” that work probably only if you change your mindset and accept a lifespan of 100–150 years as the new normal. And as Anne Elliot said: “Time will explain”, Jane Austen, Persuasion.
Thanks for reading
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