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Science of Longevity

Link to the Episode

Anshu Bahanda: This is Anshu Bahanda on Wellness Curated, thanks for joining me on this podcast. My mission is to empower you with health and wellness so that you can then go and empower others.

Welcome everyone. Lovely to have you here on this talk with the lovely Ayse Kocak. 

Ayse Kocak: Thank you.

AB: And just to give you a little bit of a background, Ayse has been in the healthcare business for the last 25 years. She runs an organization in London called Paar London. It’s a clinic, right, Ayse?

AK: Actually, yes, it is an in-person clinic, and we also have a remote clinic. 

AB: Yes. So, at that clinic, she does personalized testing for longevity and rejuvenation. And I (had) attended a fabulous weekend that Ayse had organized in the countryside on longevity. And there was a wealth of information. She has access to amazing therapists, and she has access to amazing tests, as well. And I just thought we should try and crunch it all into 20 minutes. So, without further ado, I’m going to start now on this topic because there’s so much information and every day there are so many new developments in the field of longevity, and it’s all quite confusing for us laymen. So Ayse, I want you to tell us what is longevity? What is the science of longevity?

AK: Okay, so in my perspective, the science of longevity is understanding the ageing process and finding out ways to interfere, to slow down, stop or reverse (our) ageing, so we can stay younger for many more years. So interestingly ageing is a complex thing and we all age in so many different ways. And I think another interesting factor is there’s no ageing gene.

AB: There’s no ageing? 

AK: Gene. We don’t have it.

AB: Oh, that’s interesting.

So, then what is happening there? Why are we still getting older if we don’t have the ageing genes?

AK: So, what’s happening is, we age because of the damage we cause to our genes. And what causes damage to our genes is stress, pollution, processed food, heavy metal toxins, animal proteins, bacteria, viruses, food intolerances, radiation, and even sunburn, acidity in our body, and even the natural process of our DNA replicating causes DNA damage.

AB: Okay

AK: But then one would say, okay, then, is this unavoidable because (it’s happening on) our own? But it is avoidable. Because on top of our genes, there’s a team of epigenetics which fixes all the DNA damage and the cell (damage). So as long as they’re sitting on top of the cell, they make the cell function properly. So if the epigenetic team didn’t leave the cell, we probably would live forever. Because what happens is when they leave the cell to go and fix DNA damage, that’s when the cell becomes inconsistent, and there’s chaos. And eventually, if there’s a lot of DNA damage, as I talked about before, then the epigenetic fixings can never return to the cell. And when they do return to the cell, the cell becomes senescent or zombie cells.

AB: It becomes senescent cells? Yeah, explain that, because that’s a word that floats around a lot.

AK: Okay, so a senescent cell is a zombie cell, and it’s not functioning, it’s not dividing, it’s not mutating, but it’s still alive. And what it does is it creates cytokines, which create inflammation. So that’s what really ages us. So these cells, which are zombie cells, senescent cells, they should be dead, but they aren’t, and they continue to harm us by releasing the cytokines that cause inflammation. So DNA damage has our epigenetic fixed teams to go and fix other things. But the cell, (if) it doesn’t have a fixed team, it becomes a senescent cell, and then that cell causes inflammation, and that inflammation actually ages us. And it’s all different. How we age is different because we have certain genes and we have certain exposure to different things, so each of us are impacted differently by these different factors because of our bio-individuality, I would say. So a diet that’s perfect for me could be ageing for you, and we change over time. So it’s a very complex yet interesting process. But we don’t have an ageing gene. 

AB: So it’s very closely connected to genetics, even though we don’t have an ageing gene. Correct?

AK: Connected to genetics? Yes, exactly. But in the form of also epigenetics, which we can actually change through our lifestyle. So our epigenes tells us our biological age, which is our real age, not the chronological age, but biologically, how fast are we ageing?  Because (depending on) where our epigenes are, and how they’re functioning, we can tell that. So, therefore, that’s what’s really important.

AB: Okay, so on the basis of what you’ve just explained to us, can you tell us how long do you think our generation is expected to live with all the medical advances that have happened?

AK: Okay, I think eight to ten years ago, the estimated average age for a civilized nation like the US, was about 79 years old, which is a long time, but still not close to the oldest human record, which is a French woman— Jeanne Calment, and she lived until 122 years.

AB: Oh, my goodness. 

AK: Yes. She died in August 1997. So therefore, as far as we know, the longest-living human being is a woman who lived till 122. That’s our limit. Other scientists conclude that there’s a natural limit to the human lifespan of 115 years of age. And there’s another school of thought which says that there is no limit to human longevity. So it’s still an interesting topic that’s being debated, I would say. But as a fact, we know that someone lived till 122.

AB: But for our generation, do you think 79 is still what is expected?

AK: No, I do think that 79 was about ten years ago. So that has expanded. And then also, I would say it differs from individual to individual. It differs from how genetically, predisposed we are to certain diseases and how we live our lives. And whether we address what’s ageing us or not, which is a very important factor. Because it’s not a general concept like ‘eat broccoli and you’ll stay younger’.

AB: No, that’s not true.

AK: So, I think there are many different factors. So, addressing those would help. I mean, for the next generation, their lifespan, actually, Aubrey de Gray, a scientist was actually going to come and give us a speech. Unfortunately, that was cancelled. But he predicts that the average age of a human being born at the end of this century will be about 5000 years.

AB: 500?

AK: 5000 years!

AB: What? Oh, my God. End of this century?

AK: Yes, correct. That’s what he predicts that it will be. 

AB: Wow. Because I remember that talk we attended, which you had organized from Andrew Scott, where he said that our generation should live about 90. And I think he said, ten years after, the people born ten years after us, might live to be 100. Is that right? 

AK: That’s all right. But then in about 80, or 70 years, it can increase exponentially to 5000, which is interesting.

AB: Wow. So what do you think are the latest or what have you heard are the latest innovations that have been made in this field of longevity? And why is it that you’re saying that it’s exponentially growing, our age?

AK: Okay, so I see this as a three-step approach. The first step I see is the advances around optimizing our own biology. What we have today. Even what we do at Paar, as you have summarized, through different latest technology and methods, we’re able to assess bio-individuality. So therefore, things that we didn’t know (about) before, we can now know at the individual level.

AB: Can you explain bio-individuality before you carry on?

AK: Sure. Bio-individuality is that all of us are made different. We have a metabolism that works differently. We have genes that are different. We live in environments that are different from each other. We think differently, we relax differently, and we accumulate different toxins. So, therefore, ageing for all of us is an individual process. It’s not the same. So how we live our life, our genes, and everything I’ve described, defines the speed of our ageing. So, that’s why it’s important to look at every individual’s bio-individuality and assess what’s ageing you and what’s ageing me. And we have this technology and different methods to look at that. Now the Human Genome Project has opened broad horizons for looking at the genome of the individual, the microbiome on the metabolic side and many different things.

AB: Will you explain Genome? Will you explain microbiome, please? 

AK: Sure. The human genome is our genes. The proteins that tell our body to be structured are made a certain way. This would be a very simplistic explanation of it. And then the microbiome is actually our gut and the floor of our gut, and it’s actually three to five kilos of bacteria that reside there, and their gene, their genome also impacts us. So it’s a complex yet beautifully functioning mechanism. It’s important to understand that and it’s important to understand what are the key things that we should prioritize as an individual because there are so many things to do. As you said, we’re reading and steering all sorts of things. There are hundreds of experts, and everybody says this is the way to approach it. But I think the most important thing is understanding yourself and then designing certain things for your lifestyle which are really going to help you. So I would say that there is a lot of innovation in that field and once we understand our bio-individuality, then we can figure out what to eat, what vitamins, and what supplements we may be needing, because if we’re missing them it’s an important thing. What toxins we’ve accumulated, we need to get rid of then, how sleep is affecting us, how we should be sleeping, how we should be relaxing, our exercise, our energy, overall management of our energy and finally I would say, also our purpose in life. That’s also very important. So once we start understanding the individual, then (we can start) designing certain things in these personalized ways, (which) I think is a new innovative way of approaching longevity. Once we address that, we need to fix our microbiome. If it’s not balanced or we have parasites or we have accumulated so many toxins or if we have some key vitamins and minerals missing, then I don’t see the point of going to the next level. But if they’re addressed, then I think it would be the best thing to go to the next level, which is the innovation. Metformin, it’s a very well-known medicine, it’s used for increased diabetes.

AB: Isn’t it used for diabetes?

AK: Yes, it is, it increases cell sensitivity for insulin, which is a hormone that takes up sugar flow blood and it’s well studied and millions of people use it. Now we’re seeing that people who use it have fewer incidences of cancer, and cardiovascular disease. So it’s being studied now, and we will see more results on its longevity. There is Resveratrol also pointed out in your message.

AB: Which is better than red wine?

AK: Yeah, the red wine thing, data hasn’t really supported everything about it. But then along with it, rapamycin is also another similar molecule to it. And these two actually make the body mimic calorie restriction and have the beneficial effects of calorie restriction on the body, which is proven to extend life.

AB: So you’re saying for metformin?

AK: No Resveratrol and rapamycin are the two molecules that are being studied and they seem to mimic the beneficial effects of calorie restriction in our body and calorie restriction is proven to extend life. So we also have NAD (Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) infusions, a different way. It helps repair the damage, and repair ourselves and it takes care of the oxidation in our bodies. There’s data, so there’s research going on. There’s part of the parabiosis, which is you’re getting young blood, so that’s also being studied. Stanford studies it extensively in animals and now they’re studying it in humans, as well. And it seems to also be interesting. And then the senolytics, which is about the senescent cells, getting rid of the zombie cells that I described. And there are a couple of molecules, the second one, after optimizing our biology, it’s reprogramming biology. There’s a lot of research going on here and with many positive results. This is reprogramming the information and the processes of our body. One way of doing this is through stem cell therapies.

AB: So, a stem cell, what is a stem cell?

AK: It’s a universal cell, which means it can turn to any organ, any tissue that needs repair. So, if we could take out our skin and one year later there’s no scar, that means our stem cells have rebuilt that tissue. So, in stem cell therapies, there are two things, one is the stem cells go to where they need to go, to repair, and they also do the job of repairing when they go there. But there is successful research happening and now they’re rebuilding heart muscle, they’re rebuilding bones and expanding healthy life. So, there is a lot of, I think on the reprogramming side, a lot is going on. Also, RNA (Ribonucleic Acid) interference, which is turning off genes. So, there are some harmful genes that we have, and they have been identified, so there’s a lot of research going on how we can turn off those genes, so they don’t express themselves. Even if we have DNA damage, we don’t get them fixed.

AB: So you mean we have a cancer gene in us that you can turn off or we have a predisposition to diabetes?

AK: Exactly, predisposition to many diseases, we do have that, and they can be turned off, you know. It’s called RNA interference, and there are about 1000 different (ones). So, it would be interesting and this would be about reprogramming our biology. And, the last one I would say is replacing our biology with better technology. So this is the nanotechnology revolution, where we will go beyond the limits of our biology and live very long. So sub-microscopic nanotech circulates through our bloodstream. It’s very small, I mean you can’t see it with your eye, (and it’s) performing a function of natural tissues, only with more precision and reliability. So, for example, nanorobots in our bloodstream keep exactly the right amount of nutrients, hormones, and other substances, and at the same time, they get rid of the toxins or bacteria, and cancer cells and keep everyone healthy. There are some conceptual nana robots that replace blood cells— white blood cells and red cells and do the job 1000 times more effectively than our own blood cells.

AB: Is this all in the research stage or is this actually being used practically?

AK: No, this is in the research stage. They still have another, I think probably 10-15 years or 15-20 years to come, I would say. But a team, at Harvard actually, already developed nanosensors that can test, going into the body to test body fluid, to detect infection, cancer, defects, etc. There is a lot happening in the field. That’s why it’s important to optimize our biology so that we benefit from all this (the developments).

AB: But tell me today, what can we do to keep ourselves younger for longer? All this is in the research stage. We don’t know when it will come to us or when it will be affordable for the average person to access. So what would you recommend today?

AK: Sure, this is all, like you said, exciting technology. But the fact remains that our first step is to get the basics right with ourselves. So again, say (with ) bio-individuality, I would say that knowing what stage you’re at and addressing that. Then the general things that I do, that I would say, the more personal things that I would do is I would say eat less, skip a meal a day, eat plant-based (food), and minimize animal protein because that also causes DNA damage. So you know (even) sugar causes DNA damage. (I suggest) Eating fresh, local, seasonal, organic vegetables and fruits, because this is helping us (while) also causing less DNA damage. Also, ensuring that our body has the right minerals and vitamins that it needs. So that’s also important. Detoxing the heavy metals that you’ve accumulated is important. Even minimizing electromagnetic pollution, the use of the cellular phone. After this program, we should stop the use of it for a while. So certainly that’s important. Exercising at least (twice a day/ 30 minutes a day) . And another interesting thing is staying on the cool side. Keeping the rooms that we sleep in cooler, not warm, that’s also keeping our genes young, relaxing the mind, taking care of our energy— thinking about it and taking care of it. Sleeping six to eight hours a day, no matter what, I still think that that’s critical. Knowing your purpose and living joyfully, enjoying life, definitely, (are what) I would say are the key things to staying younger for longer.

AB: Now I have another question for you. So some of us have had crazy lives, right? We’ve been on planes every week. What was happening in this world was we were all going crazy. How can we reverse that? Because I know you deal with rejuvenation as well.

AK: Yes, absolutely. So I think again, the same concept, the same principles will hold (here). Understanding where you are, you know, understanding where you are genetically, metabolically, where you’re epigenetically. So (understanding) all of that and then addressing them. It doesn’t have to be in one day or all of it at the same time. You know, it’s slowly introducing (the changes) that would work for you and will make a big difference. It’s like a ship, you change a little bit (your direction) and then after 24 hours, you end up in a very different place. So no matter what damage you have caused your body, I think it’s so difficult to reverse it, to stop it, slow down and reverse it. But with this, I think it’s possible. And there are a lot of things coming as well in addition to that.

AB: Okay, fantastic. Thank you. Ayse that was a very informative talk. I’m going to move to questions now and I’m going to ask you some of the questions that people have been asking. So someone said, in the US the current generation of children has a lower life expectancy than their parents. Why is that? Do you have any idea? Is it genetics? Is it food?

AK: Well, it has to be a combination of all of it. The reason why a child would have a lower life expectancy than a parent has to do with how they live their life, what they eat, the way they think, and the lack of being out in nature. So all these are why they would be having a less life expectancy 

AB: So someone’s asking if genetic testing is still in its experimental stage and what is the best place to get it done? Individual genetic testing. I thought you do that as well, don’t you?

AK: Sure. I would say that at Paar, what we do is, we personalize and work with the top companies that do it. So certainly this is something that depends on what you want to test. Do you want to get your full genome, or do you want to look at your epigenetics? Or do you want to look at your predisposition to different diseases? Or do you want to look at your nutritional traits and other traits that are important for your health? So there are many different things. I think it would be important to understand what the objective is, and then guiding would be easier after that.

AB: Okay, so if people are worried about a particular illness or a disease which maybe has been there in the family or they have had it, (they are worried) of it coming back, their children getting it, what test would you suggest just then?

AK: Then I would suggest doing a genetic predisposition to the diseases test. That test will tell them what diseases they are predisposed to, what inherited genetic conditions they may have, as well as some important genetic traits, as well as if they were to get sick how they would respond to certain drugs.

AB: Okay, lovely. And someone else asked about metformin because we mentioned it and like I said, it’s so controversial at the moment, they said it is banned in certain countries. Do you want to just talk about that quickly?

AK: I have never heard that it was banned in certain countries. Metformin has been used, has been in the market and being used or approved by the FDA since 1994 and it’s available in many different countries. So I have not heard it was banned. But it is, as I said, increases the insulin sensitivity of the cell, which helps the body detect sugar from the blood. It is helpful in that sense. It has been used by millions of people, and scientists have been able to see the patterns of people using it and then maybe the people using it have less cancer detected in them, less cardiovascular disease and significant improvement in their diabetes, and different biomarkers.

AB: Why aren’t more people prescribed that?

AK: I think a lot of people are being prescribed that. Even the WHO has classified it as a very essential drug for multiple people. That’s why everything needs to be personalized. I don’t think metformin or any other drug is good for everybody, so it depends from individual to individual. So if there’s a problem with the kidney, if there’s something else going on, it may not be good for you. I’m just referring to some of the studies that were done and some of the results. There are studies showing benefits. So I’m talking about the general population and the data out there. 

AB: Yeah. Okay. And what do you think about Collagen? Someone else is asking about collagen health.

AK: I mean, it seems to do well for the skin, but I haven’t read any specific research on the impact of collagen on longevity for any other thing than the skin. I’m not aware of anything.

AB: Okay, and tell us a little more, just before you go Ayse, do you want to tell us a little more about the blood procedures you were talking about?

AK: You mean the assessment?

AB: No, you were talking about some way that they put back blood, something that they’re doing. 

AK: Oh, Parabiosis. Actually, they’ve done studies on animals, and it shows that basically taking young blood from young mice and when put into older mice, regenerates. And now they’re doing human studies. But I do know that some people have tried it, so they’re trying it. The animal model seems to also help with rejuvenation.

AB: I think you answered all the questions. Thank you so much. I know it’s a lot to take, and I know it’s a huge field of information, I’ve been looking at it for a while. So thank you so much for clarifying things for us today. 

AK: Of course. With pleasure. It was very nice to see you. Thank you. 

AB: Lovely. Very nice to have you here. And thank you, everyone, for being here. Take care. 

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