Longevity and the Future

W hat were the great advances in longevity this past year? Starting off with one you may have missed, researchers from the Germany and Japan analyzed the mortality rate in 18 adjacent Japanese municipalities in relation to the amount of the trace element lithium contained in tap water from the respective regions.1 “We found that the mortality rate was considerably lower in those municipalities with more lithium in the drinking water,” Professor Dr. Michael Ristow’s, the lead researcher explained.2

Longer Life from Lithium

In other words, a regular small uptake of lithium can considerably promote longevity according to the researchers and that even a low concentration of lithium leads to an increased life expectancy in humans as well as in a model organism, the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. In a second experiment, the scientists examined exactly this range of concentration in the C. elegans and were able to confirm: “The average longevity of the worms is higher after they have been treated with lithium at this dosage,” Ristow said. “From previous studies we know already that a ­­higher uptake of lithium through drinking water is associated with an improvement of psychological well-being and with decreased suicide rates,” Professor Ristow said. If you’re up for a long life, suicide is definitely a downer. Lithium is a good bet in ensure your future.

Resveratrol Produces Caloric Restriction Effect in Humans

You are now aware of the latest in resveratrol research (if you’ve read the article on page 4), showing that in obese humans this extraordinary herbal extract can produce some of the same effects of caloric restriction, including the possibility of making you appear to be a successful dieter and an athlete in training … without dieting or working out!3

Of perhaps greater long-term interest, one of the same researchers involves in the above resveratrol study, Dr. Johan Auwerx, has participated in a promising new study finding that tweaking a gene makes muscles twice as strong, opening a new passage for treating muscle degeneration in people who can’t exercise, or perhaps for those who would like the benefits of exercise without spending time in the gym.4 This opens the door to the exercise pill, which has been hinted by resveratrol research, including an earlier study presided over by Dr. Auwerx finding that the herbal extract boost strength and endurance in mice.5

PGC-1: The Gateway to Intestinal Health

One of the few reliable ways to extend an organism’s lifespan—be it that of a fruit fly, a mouse, or possibly a human—is to restrict calorie intake without diminishing nutrient intake. Now, a new study in fruit flies is helping to explain why such minimal diets are linked to longevity and offering clues to the effects of aging on stem cell behavior.6 Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found that tweaking a gene known as PGC-1—a transcriptional coactivator found in human DNA that regulates the genes involved in energy metabolism—in the intestinal stem cells of fruit flies delayed the aging of their intestine and extended their lifespan by as much as 50 percent. There’s a whole lot of tweaking going on. Nutri­genomics, the study of the effects of foods and food constituents on gene expression, is but one way to use our genes more wisely. Plus there are other ways that we can expect to hear from genomics in the not so distant future.

The Genomic Revolution

In a speech presented on September 27, 2011 at the TED conference in Boston, GenomeQuest CEO Richard Resnick wowed his audience by showing how cheap and fast genome sequencing is about to turn health care (and insurance, and a lot of other things) upside down.7 “So, the price of a base, to sequence a base has fallen 100 million times. That’s the equivalent of you filling up your car with gas in 1998, waiting until 2011 and now you can drive to Jupiter and back twice,” Resnick said. So fast is the cost of sequencing a human genome dropping, that we should be able to nip many diseases in the bud. “The prospect of using the genome as a universal diagnostic is upon us today,” continued Resnick. “Today. It’s here. And what it means for all of us is that everybody in this room could live an extra 5, 10, 20 years just because of this one thing.”

Stem Cells Regeneration

When Harvard Medical School molecular geneticist George Church was asked what he was most excited about right now, he answered without hesitation: “I’m thinking a lot about using regeneration as the key to treatments and keeping people healthy.”8 He means regeneration using stem cells, induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells, for an individual. Church went on, “I don’t think people have fully appreciated how quickly adult stem cells and sequencing and synthetic biology have progressed. They have progressed by orders of magnitude since we got IPS. Before that, they basically weren’t working.”

According to Church, its coming fast and we will have healthy applications in a few years, when a sick person receives IPS and gets well, “possibly more well than before they got sick. So you didn’t just correct the sickness, you actually did more. And they’ll give testimonials, and someone from the New York Times will interview them, and tell this appealing anecdote.” After that, people who are aging but not yet sick will inevitably try it, establishing its preventive nature. “And it will gain momentum from there.” While initially, health accelerando via IPS will be primarily for wealthy people, the price will quickly come down, and a true revolution will be underway.

Happy New Year!


  1. Zarse K, Terao T, Tian J, Iwata N, Ishii N, Ristow M.Low-dose lithium uptake promotes longevity in humans and metazoans. Eur J Nutr 2011 Aug;50(5):387-9.
  2. Anon. Fountain of youth from the tap? environmental lithium uptake promotes longevity, scientists demonstrate. Science Daily, February 18, 2011.
  3. Timmers S, Konings E, Bilet L, Houtkooper RH, van de Weijer T, Goossens GH, Hoeks J, van der Krieken S, Ryu D, Kersten S, Moonen-Kornips E, Hesselink MK, Kunz I, Schrauwen-Hinderling VB, Blaak EE, Auwerx J, Schrauwen P. Calorie Restriction-like Effects of 30 Days of Resveratrol Supplementation on Energy Metabolism and Metabolic Profile in Obese Humans. Cell Metab 2011 Nov 2;14(5):612-22.
  4. Yamamoto H, Williams EG, Mouchiroud L, Cantó C, Fan W, Downes M, Héligon C, Barish GD, Desvergne B, Evans RM, Schoonjans K, Auwerx J. NCoR1 Is a Conserved Physiological Modulator of Muscle Mass and Oxidative Function. Cell 2011 Nov 11;147(4):827-39.
  5. Lagouge M, Argmann C, Gerhart-Hines Z, Meziane H, Lerin C, Daussin F, Messadeq N, Milne J, Lambert P, Elliott P, Geny B, Laakso M, Puigserver P, Auwerx J. Resveratrol improves mitochondrial function and protects against metabolic disease by activating SIRT1 and PGC-1alpha. Cell 2006 Dec 15;127(6):1109-22
  6. Rera M, Bahadorani S, Cho J, Koehler CL, Ulgherait M, Hur JH, Ansari WS, Lo T Jr, Jones DL, Walker DW. Modulation of Longevity and Tissue Homeostasis by the Drosophila PGC-1 Homolog. Cell Metab 2011 Nov 2;14(5):623-34.
  7. Genome Quest. http://www.genomequest.com/events/ted-x-boston/ Updated September 27, 2011 Accessed November 25, 2001.
  8. Duncan DE. George Church on the Future of Stem Cells. MIT Technology Review. http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/experimentalman/27164/ Updated September 14, 2001. Accessed November 25, 2011.

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