Subtitle: What Science is Discovering about the Body's Journey through Life
Summary of what it's about:
InWhy We Age: What Science Is Discovering about the Body's Journey through Life Steven Austad reviews historical reports of supposedly extremely old people, setting the limits of what's realistic and what's not. He then dives into the title issue: What causes the physical effects we see in ourselves as we age. He reviews various theories of aging and how they stand up to current research. Various dietary practices and anti-aging drugs are reviewed for what is known about their effectiveness and risks. The author closes with an overview of the state of knowledge concerning altering the rate at which we age.
My description of the book's contents:
The author reviews the genetic basis for aging's effects. He discusses inherited problems such as Progeria (or Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome ) which are clearly genetic in nature. He reviews the genetic tie-in to Alzheimer's disease. He links the genetic changes in Down Syndrome with lifespan.
He then discusses why evolution selects for eventual senescence and death. How it makes sense in terms of conserving an organism's limited supply of energy and resources during the critical reproductive years of its life.
The author reviews what we currently know regarding human's limited cell division capability and human aging, discussing the well-known "Hayflick limit" that seems to place a firm wall beyond which human cells turn senescent and no longer divide. He discusses the "Rate of Living" theory, which relates to the basic metabolic rate of the organism, and shows how it correlates well with human lifespans versus the maximum lifespans of various animals.
The author then looks at what we can do, now, to slow aging. He reviews hormone replacement therapies (HRT) and their benefits...and risks (cancer, etc.). He reviews applying Calorie Restriction ( CR ) to slow aging. He notes that Caloric Restriction slows the aging rate in many organisms, from yeast cells up to mammals, and including even early test results in primates. He also discusses exercise as an antiaging intervention, and concludes it helps improve health ("squaring the curve" of survival) but does nothing to extend the maximum possible lifespan of humans.
Mr. Austad then looks into what I'd call the "pill-popping" solutions. He notes that antioxidants - Vitamin A, Vitamin C, etc. should help, but no data solidly supports that they do, yet. He also discusses Melatonin, DHEA ( dehydroepiandrosterone ), and Deprenyl ( selegiline hydrochloride ). The latter treats Parkinson's disease symptoms and has been reported to improve sexual performance and learning ability in rats. He also cautions us regarding the risks of using those and other compounds, until longer-term research results are available.
In closing the author gives us his personal opinion that after centuries of mostly hot air, medical control over the effects of aging are growing more powerful every year, at an ever-increasing rate.
The main facts or viewpoints I came away with after reading this book: If you're young, do Caloric Restriction (CR) and eat a balanced diet and that's it. Wait for research to find truly effective anti-aging cures. Take the safe route. You have time.
But if you're old or ailing, it may make sense to try more "interventionist" therapies. Medical science is advancing ever more rapidly. The longer you live, the better the odds that dramatic cures for various ailments, or of the aging process itself, will be found.