Longevity Outliers: People To Watch

HaastBill Haast died at about 100 1/2 years of age. He was old enough that it doesn’t seem like dumb luck or genes. He wasn’t even ill until the last few years of his life.

His life long career was running a snake venom bank. He was bitten by snakes 172 times. One of his fingers was withered away from the snake bites. He survived bites that were not supposed to be survivable. His blood was a medical treasure that was used successfully as an anti-venom on numerous occasions. He saved dozens of lives just by being maxed out with anti-bodies. Even better: he injected himself with snake venom for decades until his death.
More than a few, including Haast himself, supposed his unexpected longevity was because of, rather than in spite of his constant exposure to venom. The idea: venom was like a set of dumbells for his immune system that kept him resilient against all kinds of stressors well into old age. Where most of us might atrophy in the absence of significant challenges, Mr. Haast’s body seems to have kept up the fight long past his genetic expiration date.

As with with many complex systems, the workings of the human body might seem counter-intuitive and contradictory at first. But everything has a way of making sense once we understand the key principles.
If we are to understand these principles that determine our health and longevity we do well to keep our eye on outliers.
These people are likely candidates to become major movers and trend creators. Finding them is how one discovers undervalued ‘stocks’ in the world of ideas.

Alan KurzweilRay Kurzweil:
He’s a successful entrepeneur in speech recognition software. (He custom made some of his stuff for Stevie Wonder.) He takes a couple hundred supplements every day and undergoes vitamin injections at a longevity clinic. His plan: delay death and allow technology to give him progressively better life extensions until finally he can be uploaded into a machine with plenty of backups of himself should anything ever happen to the master copy.
He’s a guru in his own right and makes millions from giving talks every year. He’s in his sixties and going strong.

Ron Teeguarden:
A white American practitioner and merchant of Chinese herbalism in his sixties. This man has access to both detailed knowledge and the best herbs from the most exclusive sources.
If indeed this tradition is even a fraction as effective as it is purported to be, its effects must surely manifest in him.
This man stands out because his specialty is tonic herbs. He focuses on making healthy people healthier. He talks extensively about slowing aging and guarding against age related illness.

Kurzweil with his no-nonsense pills and anti-oxidant injections seems like a natural nemesis. I’m very interested to see how they(and their followers) will compare to one another in ‘performance.’ Time will surely tell.

Jack LaLanne:
Fitness guru who died at age 96.
He serves as a barometer to demonstrate the limits of exercise as a longevity strategy. His case demonstrates that there is a critical point where we hit the wall no matter how diligent we might be.
On the other hand, he nearly made it to the century mark without any history of centenarian family members and enjoyed a life more or less free of illness up to the day he died.

Winston Churchill:
Lived into his 90s despite disavowing physical fitness, smoking, drinking, and having an extremely high stress job as prime minister(the second time while in his 80s).
Demonstrates: Maybe genes are just that powerful, maybe a determined attitude towards life makes a huge difference.
OR the smoking and drinking in some sort of moderation served a similar role as snake venom by keeping his immune system constantly on its toes.
Also, maybe toxic substances in the blood stream within range of tolerance keeps otherwise lethal infections and parasites away? This would be especially important when we’re nearing that final wall established by genetics and could explain numerous nona and centenarian smokers/drinkers.(George Burns, Jeanne Calment)

The Bau Clan:
There’s a historically isolated town called Stoccareddo in Northern Italy where a few families of red haired Germans were intermarrying for centuries. The result is a town where everyone lives to be a centenarian.
Implications: Many possible eugenics programs have already been pursued. Just not intentionally. One could learn a lot about human genetic potential by searching out isolated communities.
Lesson: Inbreeding in a population is not necessarily bad. As with animal husbandry it potentially allows the distillation of desirable traits. Though any distillation might also magnify undesirable traits, OR the distillation of a desirable trait might have certain undesirable side effects.(Tay-Sachs?)
As with all traits, there are tradeoffs.

Calorie Restriction Adherents:
Though they follow the results of scientific experiments, they don’t necessarily grasp the principle they are relying on: extending the body’s resilience by keeping it on the defensive.
They’re the logical result of a mass society with its philosophy of micro-specialization. However, their strict focus makes them ideal outliers. Their philosophy is young and to my knowledge not many of them have yet reached advanced age.

I would invite commenters to contribute additional longevity outliers.

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13 responses to “Longevity Outliers: People To Watch

  1. Makes a lof sense. I also believe that since everything on a sub-atomic level is pure energy we should ONLY eat foods that are filled with as much transformed sunlight (chlorophil) possible.
    Sunlight is the life force for everything that grows and nealry everything that grows can be eaten to some level of rawness and thus providing us what we need to live according to our genetic max. With some snake venom we may make that a bit longer indeed.
    Lets keep studying this. Nothing has ever been exactly what it seems but this has a lot of merit.

    • Vegetarians have a mixed record at best when it comes to longevity.
      If anything, super abstainer, raw foodist, fruitarian, no carb, all vegan, low fat gurus tend to die surprisingly young. They haven’t turned in the level of performance that I’m looking for.
      Their philosophies tend to be emotionally driven overcompensatory reactions to modern diets. They don’t understand their principles and never move beyond being fads that appeal to incurious people desperate for smaller waistlines.

      I’ve removed your link. This is not a promotional area for your supplements business.

      • What about Anne Wigmore? One of the greatest raw food pioneers of all time, she, at the age of 84 could do headstands and was amazingly youthful in appearance, up untill she was killed in a fire.

  2. The decreasing cost of biotech (see: http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/cat_biotech_advance_rates.html ) is a huge boon to the anti-aging market. We don’t really have the technology to peel back the clock yet, but the more life extension technologies we create the better our chance is of surviving until a full replacement comes along. After a certain point we will gain more time from technological advances than we lose from aging, so it won’t matter anymore. We’re already experimenting with creating replacement organs by using the patients own DNA combined with 3d bio-fabricators to print out the organ. It will likely be easier to fix mechanical problems like heart disease, than to fix brain and spinal cord issues that arise from aging or genetic defects (enhanced by large number of premature births, ex. neural tube defects caused by obese mothers), as they are much more complex.

    Given that this is essentially the future of all mankind, you would think more government attention and money would go into it as a public right, instead of gay marriage (health/tax benefits for >4% of the population), abortion and all the other usual shit. The cost of R&D is even going down over time, unlike costs for every other type of entitlement program. An ounce of prevention of worth a pound of cure, it’s cheaper to get vaccines that to treat diseases if you get them.

    It’s not even a problem of not being able to sell it. For instance, once you have proven skin + bone + fat (female beauty in a nutshell) regenerative treatments, you could swallow the entire female vote whole with a public entitlement program that will also do research in other areas. You could craft entire political platforms off of preventing cancers, anyone who has had it or had family with it will be VERY swayed by that message. Alzheimer’s, huge AARP block vote there. Ah, a tiresome lack of vision.

    Though it can be questioned whether this kind of model would be beneficial for innovation versus private sector firms. In many cases research can be costly and requires a long lead up time that is more suited to government rather than private sector approaches. Ideally we shouldn’t negate either approach. NASA serves as an example (though some of the research money was just put into cold war achievement porn): http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/

    (An eternally young population will not be “risk averse” or unambitious. A society full of young regular to high testosterone males with the ability to repair injuries like never before will be anything but that.)

    ///

    It might be possible to run caloric restriction in short bursts. The diet concepts vary, between cutting 50-80% every other day, to “protein cycling”, cutting off protein to >5% calories at least once a week. However the results on mice may not carry over:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/18/science/18aging.html

    “Two experts on aging, Jan Vijg of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Judith Campisi of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, argued recently in Nature that the whole phenomenon of caloric restriction may be a misleading result unwittingly produced in laboratory mice. The mice are selected for quick breeding and fed on rich diets. A low-calorie diet could be much closer to the diet that mice are adapted to in the wild, and therefore it could extend life simply because it is much healthier for them.

    “Life extension in model organisms may be an artifact to some extent,” they wrote. To the extent caloric restriction works at all, it may have a bigger impact in short-lived organisms that do not have to worry about cancer than in humans. Thus the hope of mimicking caloric restriction with drugs “may be an illusion,” they write.”

    ///

    Doctor Nakamats has been aiming for age 144 (some people call him a quack, some just think he’s “eccentric”):
    http://yro.slashdot.org/story/10/03/05/1822224/dr-nakamats-is-the-worlds-most-prolific-inventor

    “in 2005 he was awarded the Ig Nobel prize for Nutrition, for photographing and retrospectively analyzing every meal he has consumed during a period of 34 years (and counting). By the time he dies at the age of 144 (a goal he maintains with an elaborate daily ritual that rejuvenates his body and triggers his creative process), he intends to patent 6,000 inventions.”

    ///
    Eventually we run into the problem of replacement parts. Like you said, we all hit the wall no matter how much we optimize performance.
    The closest estimate I’ve heard for the wall is 114:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2011/07/the_worlds_deadliest_distinction.html

    Young calls this the “rectangularization of the mortality curve.” To illustrate it, he points to Japan, which in 1990 had 3,000 people aged 100 and over, with the oldest being 114. Twenty years later, Japan has an estimated 44,000 people over the age of 100—and the oldest is still 114. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Young says, the odds of a person dying in any given year between the ages of 110 and 113 appear to be about one in two. But by age 114, the chances jump to more like two in three.

    ///

    Keeping in mind that because of pension fraud the life expectancy number is quite inflated in Japan (they just collect the money and don’t report the death):

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11258071

    ///

    There is a wild card in all of this, Kundalini Yoga and Qi Gong. The documented effects of it vary, many of it’s greatest practitioners still died from regular causes of death, in some cases prematurely from the strain that the work causes on the body (many styles emphasize power over health). It takes literially years to develop the nerves to make it work. Plus once you get experienced it’s easy to get sidetracked and forget your own well-being. But if we could find a way of magnifying the effects then we could be on to something. Projects like this have been undertaken but the results have generally been kept out of public knowledge, difficult to source or reproduce.

    • Believe me, Eric, there’s possible holes in the calorie restrictionist argument that have occurred to me.

      For instance, I’m sure those lab animals, whether mice or rhesus macaques are given whatever mass market feed is cheapest.

      In which case, it’s no wonder the animals that eat less of those trash pellets live longer.

      However, this means it might very well carry over to people after all:
      Most of the food available to us is manufactured monotonous junk, just like the lab animals get.

  3. You could write an entire article speculating, without looking at requisite evidence, as to the reasons why a few different individuals lived a long time. What I see, rather, is that if you attempt to extract principles from these speculations and put them into practice without validating them, that, in the case of calorie restriction, could result in the gaunt, near-anemic pale look in the last photo.

    • What evidence is requisite? Absolute scientific corroboration of every supposition?
      Just when is someone going to validate or invalidate all this for me? They won’t unless it makes the corporations who fund their labs rich.
      Just take a look at the pharmaceuticals industry and you might understand why I’m not exactly holding my breath.

      It’s all about pattern-recognition. You can see a pattern or understand a principle long before you understand the smaller details.
      There’s thousands upon thousands of elements working chaotically behind every event in innumerable possible combinations. But there’s a key question: Which of these elements are the decisive ones? Which elements form a bottleneck? Where are the most likely points of failure?

      It should be pretty clear from the article that I have certain misgivings about the Calorie Restriction crowd.
      The guy in the picture(Mike Linksvayer) is also a vegan. Ironically, eschewing animal products may be counter-productive to his aims.
      You’re right that he has a classically Yin look to him. The man indeed has a boyish youthful appearance, but he also seems weak and stooped over. He looks like a single bad case of the flu would finish him off in short order. If I cut my calories like he has, I would definitely focus on warming foods and stay away from salads.
      I don’t know that much about CR routines, but I figure it’s most likely that Mr. Linksvayer has a few small meals every day.
      In his situation, I would run a slow metabolism by eating once a day at most. In fact, running a fast metabolism with frequent meals seems to somewhat defeat the purpose of calorie restriction.

      Would I devote my whole life to an unvalidated longevity strategy? Probably not.
      But if there’s people who are already doing precisely this, why not keep an eye on them?
      There are good reasons to believe calorie restrictionists are pursuing a valid principle even if their method of application might be excessive or flawed.

  4. I read some old thing from the civil war about a general who had been shot, I think smoke and drank and lived to be 90. They didn’t say it was genetics, they said he had a strong constitution…

    calorie restriction, eh? Donchya know all the tough guys in the manosphere are on the paleo… They’ll kick you out for being a heretic ;)

    • Hello, Horny Hemp-head,

      Paleo definitely has its merits. It’s a lot better than the standard American diet, but it’s dogmatic and simplistic.

      The whole obsession with avoiding carbs is a little silly.
      Hunter gatherers certainly use grass seeds and tubers in their diets. In fact, I was passing through a Paiute reservation once not too far from the Grand Canyon and I learned that the desert used to be covered with fields of wild grasses that provided the staple of the tribe’s diet. The tribe was forced to adopt more Western ways of living after herds of cattle stripped the desert bare in short order.
      Somehow it doesn’t occur to paleo adherents that there must have been a whole spectrum of shades of grey in between eating some grass seeds every now and then and having a grain-growing city state.

      I think the proliferation of no carb diets is just an over-reaction to the typical Western food supply.
      Throwing out the baby with the bathwater means they miss out on some of the worst foods and they feel better for it, but they also deprive themselves of some of the best foods.

      Yes, most processed wheat products are bad for you, but there’s nothing wrong with wheat itself.
      Yes, milk from factory farms is toxic but it doesn’t mean dairy is inherently bad for you.
      Yes, corn syrup and table sugar are bad for you but it doesn’t mean all sweeteners are bad.

      I’d also point out tolerance for wheat and milk is going to also be hugely dependent on the ancestry of each individual.
      East Asians stay lean and healthy on high carb diets. They have enlarged pancreases that can easily deal with the sugar load. Someone of hunter gatherer lineage, however, might end up obese and diabetic on the very same diet.
      Europeans can comfortably live off of huge quantities of dairy that would make the average Asian ill.

      A rigid prescription for everyone doesn’t make sense.

  5. Pingback: ….more interesting articles…. « stonerwithaboner

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