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Eternal life or living for today?
Peter Ward: Journalist
BY PETER BOWES | WEDNESDAY JULY 13, 2022
Do you want to live forever? Or do you prefer to focus on living for as long as possible while enjoying the best of health? Lifetime aspirations come in many forms and are often merged together – or confused – under the banner of human longevity. Some are more realistic than others. In his new book, The Price of Immortality: The Race to Live Forever, the British journalist, Peter Ward, teases apart the many interventions being touted as possible ‘cures’ for aging or tools to help us live on and on. He explores the work of “tech visionaries, scam artists, pseudo scientists and religious fanatics”.
In this LLAMA podcast interview, Peter offers a dispassionate view on what we are to believe and whether any of it should be taken seriously.
Connect with Peter Ward: Book: The Price of Immortality: The Race to Live Forever | Twitter | Website | LinkedIn
Read a transcript | Photo credit: Seren Hughes
- This episode is brought to you in association with Clinique La Prairie, the award-winning spa-clinic – and pioneering health and wellness destination – nestled on the shores of Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland. Combining preventative medicine with bespoke lifestyle and nutrition plans, Clinique La Prairie offers a holistic approach to living fuller, healthier and longer lives.
“The good news … is that a lot of the paths towards so called immortality, if that was ever possible, the research does send you down the same route as increasing healthspan.”Peter Ward
Topics covered in this interview include:
- The broad spectrum of longevity aspirations – from living longer healthier lives to living forever
- The frustrations of gerontologists over claims that we could be immortal
- How efforts to discover the path towards eternal life are also helping us life better, now.
- Is it realistic to think of aging itself as a disease?
- The flaws of crusades focussed on anti-aging
- Cryonics and the theory that if you freeze a body at the point of death, the person could be rejuvenated at some point in the future
- Why is Silicon Valley seemingly obsessed with the race to live forever?
- Could fasting offer the best hope of extending life?
- Digital immortality vs biological immortality – is either option realistic?
- Moderation in everything – why it could be the best longevity intervention
This interview with Peter Ward was recorded on June 27, 2022 and transcribed using Sonix AI. Please check against audio recording for absolute accuracy.
Peter Ward: [00:00:01] Anti-aging brings to mind this sort of crusade against death, which a lot of the immortalists, that’s what they see they’re doing. And they’re going to cure everyone of dying, aging healthier, aging better. That is something that we’ve always tried to do because that’s what medicine does, essentially.
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Affiliation disclosure: This podcast receives a small commission when you use the code LLAMA for purchases at DoNotAge.org – it helps to cover production costs and ensures that our interviews remain free for all to listen.
Peter Bowes: [00:00:21] Hello again and welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. I’m Peter Bowes. This is where we explore the science and stories behind human longevity.
SPONSOR MESSAGE: [00:00:30] This episode is brought to you in association with Clinique La Prairie, the award winning spa clinic and pioneering health and wellness destination nestled on the shores of Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland. Combining preventative medicine with bespoke lifestyle and nutrition plans, Clinique La Prairie offers a holistic approach to living fuller, healthier and longer lives.
Peter Bowes: [00:00:18] Peter Ward is the author of The Price of Immortality: The Race to Live Forever. The Search for eternal life is as old as humanity itself. But could Silicon Valley be on to something? Hello again. Welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. I’m Peter Bowes. This is where we explore the science and stories behind human longevity.
Peter Bowes: [00:01:03] Peter Ward’s book dives into the quest to make humans immortal the efforts of tech visionaries, scam artists, pseudo scientists and religious fanatics. What are we to believe and should we take any of it seriously? Peter, welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast.
Peter Ward: [00:01:22] Thanks, Peter. It’s great to be on the show.
Peter Bowes: [00:01:23] And the title of our podcast, Live Long and Master Aging hopefully sets us aside a little bit from those who are pursuing endless life. Fascinating though I find it, and clearly you find it interesting as well. What I aspire to is simply living as long as possible with the best of health. But this sphere of longevity, of aging, is so broad now that it encompasses so many different disciplines. I think it can be confusing to people, can’t it?
Peter Ward: [00:01:49] Yeah, absolutely. So like you said, there’s people that like yourself which have extremely sort of logical pursuits of trying to make us live healthier lives for longer. And then and then it just covers this broad spectrum. And at the far end of it is the people that think they’re going to live forever. And I think one of the one of the issues with having that broad spectrum and having people at both ends of it is that sometimes and we’ve all seen this with headlines in newspapers and on websites where everything is a way to live forever. It’s a cure for death or a way to make us live until we’re 500. And what I found firstly was was a lot of the gerontologists that I spoke to were extremely frustrated by the claims that we could be immortal, and they found it actually quite detrimental to their work. And then on the other side of it either puts people off because they think it’s crazy and so they miss out on real things that can help them live healthier lives. And then there’s also the funding question as well, that some things don’t get funding, the funding that they should get, because they’re sort of lumped into this this group of things which which people say will make you immortal.
Peter Bowes: [00:03:08] I think it’s a huge source of frustration, especially working in health and the medical sphere that so much is spent on trying to live forever, as opposed to perhaps tackling some of the critical diseases of today.
Peter Ward: [00:03:22] Yeah, I think the good news with that is that a lot of the paths towards so called immortality, if that was ever possible, the research does send you down the same route as increasing healthspan. So when people say, you know, I’m going to live forever, I’m going to spend X amount of money to do it inevitably because there is no way of living forever that we know of and possibly never will be. They’re always sort of funneled down this path and they always end up with the gerontologist and the people trying to reverse aging. So a good deal of money from even from people who claim, you know, that we’re going to live, that we can’t live forever, people like Aubrey de Grey, the money that he raises does actually end up with scientists who are treating aging as a disease and who are looking to reverse and to and to ease some of the symptoms of aging. So right now, it is good that a lot of money goes away, but of course, a lot of money also goes into bizarre things. You know, that are long shots. So there’s a huge amount of money, for example, goes into cryonics, which does not help anybody in terms of aging. And there’s no proof that will ever actually work. So all that money, you could say, if you were a sort of anti-aging advocate, you’d say that’s kind of going down a black hole. But I would say the majority of it actually, and a lot of the Silicon Valley money is going into sort of worthy causes. It’s just whether they have the same goal. If you look at say Calico, the Google Company, a lot of the research and studies coming out of there is actually addressing cancer, not living forever. So it’s doing good work. It’s just not doing the work that it said it would do essentially.
Peter Bowes: [00:04:54] Just before we delve further into some of those issues that you just raised, that what spearheaded your interest in this area? Was there something in your life that happened that made you interested in longevity or even eternal life?
Peter Ward: [00:05:08] So I wrote a book. My first book was about space. It was about the privatization of space. And for that book I interviewed a lot of people who are space fanatics who want to see us go out into the universe and and live on on different planets and populate the rest of the solar system. And a big question that they always come up against is, you know, you can’t go anywhere because you’ll die on the way. Essentially, it’s too far to find another habitable planet. So there’s this huge crossover between sort of people who want to live forever and people want to go into space. It’s always a question. It’s always the way that they answer the question. What about overpopulation? It’s that we’ll go to the planets. So that’s what sort of got me into this crowd. And I started to think this is a really interesting topic. And then I heard about the Church of Perpetual Life in Florida. So I thought, okay, I have to go down there and meet these people and see my my first thought was, is this for real or is this some kind of tax avoidance scheme, which I think to be fair, a lot of people ask the same question, but there absolutely are genuine and they want to do this. And so, yeah, that’s how I got into it. And actually, I mean, to be fair, I met a lot of really lovely and nice people along the way in the immortality crowd that just wanted to to live a bit longer.
Peter Bowes: [00:06:20] And you referred to just now as some people seeing aging itself as a disease. I know there’s a huge amount of controversy over that very simple statement. Based on your studies of this, do you get that? Do you see aging as a disease?
Peter Ward: [00:06:36] I can, certainly, yeah. I think on balance, I came around to that. I thought that was a completely evidence based statement. I think if we start looking at aging as a sort of condition, as something that makes the conditions inside the body, that makes them perfect for diseases to flourish. So, I mean, the old the old study, I think it’s a really old study now, that said, if we cure cancer and if we cure heart disease, then we’ll still only raise life expectancy by I think it was five or ten years or something.
Peter Bowes: [00:07:07] Right.
Peter Ward: [00:07:08] No one’s followed up that study for a very long time, so I’m not sure how relevant it still is. But I do think if we started looking at aging, I think we have to look at aging as a disease because of the demographic shift that the population that many countries are seeing. We’re going to have so many issues with people too old to work and essentially too expensive to look after. And so the more that we look at aging as an overall problem, rather than just try and sort of cure people’s individual symptoms of aging, then I think that’s probably a better way to look at it. The problem is whenever someone tries to get sort of funding for anything towards aging that they’re hit with, Oh, you’re crazy, you’re trying to make us live forever. So it’s a complicated one.
Peter Bowes: [00:07:49] That’s my problem with aging as a disease. And what I try to do in this podcast is explain some of the issues in very simple terms, or at least simple enough for most people to to get it without coming away with the impression that it’s all just crazy. And when you start talking about aging as a disease, I think that is the tipping point for some people into that sort of craziness area, that aging for a lot of people is simply getting older. It’s the passage of time, it’s the number of years, it’s chronological age that frankly, none of us can do anything about.
Peter Ward: [00:08:22] Yeah, absolutely. And if you think about what aging does, it’s hundreds of things and thousands of things, maybe hundreds of thousand things happening inside your body. At the same time, things are not working as they should be. There’s so many different parts. The hallmarks of aging, which I went into in the book, are extremely complex. And so in one way you’re saying, you know, aging is a disease, is a is a good thing. And another it does oversimplify the problem of aging, because declaring a disease suggests that there will be a cure for that disease or maybe one cure. But there’s no way you could cure aging with one. There’s never going to be a sort of one silver bullet solution. It’s thousands of things going wrong in your body because we’re genetically coded to deteriorate and eventually die. They sort of call it the whack-a-mole issue is that you could solve 99 things associated with aging and then but there’ll be 100th one and that’s the one that will kill you. I can see why people sort of go away from that, because I think it does oversimplify it, but and it also does take you into the realms of almost fantasy, I guess.
Peter Bowes: [00:09:23] And while we’re on the subject or broadly on the subject, anti-aging or anti-aging is people here in this country say that’s another term that I think ultimately isn’t very helpful.
Peter Ward: [00:09:34] Yeah. So there’s a lot of terms thrown around and I sort of try to not use them interchangeably in my book. I’m not sure if they’re successful.
Peter Bowes: [00:09:43] And I think you were successful.
Peter Ward: [00:09:44] Yeah, okay, that’s good. But yeah, anti-aging brings to mind this sort of crusade against death, which a lot of the immortalists, that’s what they see they’re doing. It’s a really is like this is the thing that they’re doing is a battle. They’re waging war against death and they’re going to cure everyone of dying. And I think anti-aging, it doesn’t bring about the best of connotations. It’s, you know, we are aging. That’s fine. That’s the most natural thing in the world for an organism to do is age. And there’s huge evolutionary reasons why we should age and eventually die. So to say sort of anti-aging is sort of going against nature. It’s going against science, aging, healthier, aging better. That is something that we’ve always tried to do because that’s what medicine does essentially, the majority of medicine has always been about helping us stay healthier for longer.
Peter Bowes: [00:10:29] You mentioned cryonics just now and dismissed it in the same breath, and that’s essentially what you do in the book. Maybe we could just go back for those who aren’t fully au fait with what cryonics is, what is it or what does is it aspire to be, and why do you dismiss it?
Peter Ward: [00:10:46] Cryonics is basically the theory that if you freeze a body at the point of death, then and you keep it cryogenically frozen, you keep it in certain conditions. Then at some point in the future, a technology will emerge where they can rejuvenate that body, they can bring it back to life, and then you’ll get a sort of second life as it were. And so I spent a lot of time with the cryonics people and spoke to a lot of them. And I mean, they all readily admit themselves. There is no scientific evidence that suggests this will work. And a lot of them even says there’s not a very good chance this will work. There’s a 1% chance there’s a 0.1% chance this will work, and they’ll admit that themselves quite, quite freely. Their argument is, well, I’m dead anyway, so why wouldn’t I take the 0.1% chance rather than the 0% chance and be cremated or buried? The reason why why I dismiss it ultimately and, you know, I could be proved wrong. Obviously, there’s no you can never say 100% that something won’t work. But the reason why I dismissed it after sort of talking to them, after going into a lot, is that I think they have reached the point where they put too much emphasis on that future technology. So they they think that future scientists will figure out a way to bring this back to life. And they’re putting too much faith. And ultimately it becomes a question of faith. And that’s too far away from science for my liking personally, when you have to take that leap of faith to believe in it. I don’t think it will work. But then it’s the easiest thing in the world to say something won’t work. So I still wish them luck. And I think it would be a great thing if we did find a way to at least freeze people while we can’t address a disease and bring them back to life when we can.
Peter Bowes: [00:12:21] And you make the interesting point that cryogenics is unfair to the relatives of those people who want to be cryopreserved, which I hadn’t thought about. But I think you’re absolutely right, because it creates huge dilemmas and perhaps false hope as well.
Peter Ward: [00:12:38] Yeah, absolutely. It causes a lot it can cause a lot of friction within families because a lot of the times people take out a sort of second life insurance policy, which when they die, it pays out to the cyonics company to look after them. So if you’re a sort of family member and you see this $300,000 payout, which goes to other company, and perhaps you didn’t get as much as you wanted or need, or if one member of the family didn’t get their inheritance, then that can cause a lot of friction. Another argument is that it takes away the sort of tools that we’ve grown accustomed to in dealing with death. So you don’t really have, you can’t really, I guess, accept that the relative is gone in the same way as if you buried them or cremated them. It’s quite an invasive procedure that happens. And then obviously, you know, you don’t have that funeral. I mean, I guess you could still have a funeral, but the person would still think that they’d be coming back to life. It definitely complicates death and that’s hard enough to deal with already, I think. So it can be tough on relatives and especially ones that just don’t know why they did it. And a lot of people don’t know about cryonics at all until the moment where they realize that a relative has signed up to it.
Peter Bowes: [00:13:48] This is the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. My guest is Peter Ward. Peter is the author of a fascinating new book Exploring the Race to Live Forever. Peter, you’ve already mentioned some of the Silicon Valley companies that are involved in this sphere with pretty high hopes and expectations as to what they could possibly discover. There haven’t, to my knowledge, been any significantly huge breakthroughs yet. But first of all, why Silicon Valley? Is it just that the money is there for this kind of thing?
Peter Ward: [00:14:19] Yeah, I think that’s a lot of it. But I think it’s it’s the right people with with the right amount of money. It’s the people that are future focused. They all grew up watching Star Trek. They’re all sort of nerdy, geeky guys, which, you know, I’m not saying is a bad thing. I’d class myself as a nerdy, geeky guy myself, but I think it’s the kind of people that, you know, the Silicon Valley sort of mantra is, you know, basically nothing is impossible. And they have lots of them move fast and break things and things like that. So it’s the perfect sort of timing for this money and also which the technology sector is the most powerful in the world right now, I think. I don’t think you can really deny that. So it’s people with a lot of money and on the whole sort of libertarian leanings, which helps. And then also just this fascination with all things sort of science fiction and wanting to change the world and what would be the the biggest way to change the world. And that, I guess, would be to stop people dying. It’s definitely ego massaging in some cases and others like, what do you do when you’ve got all the money in the world and you can do anything? What’s the one thing that you can’t buy is is more time. But I guess Silicon Valley turned around and said, well, why? Why should that be the case? Maybe we can buy ourselves more time. So, yeah, it’s and it’s interesting because the old immortality crowd used to be quite sort of hippie ish. It used to be all sort of of this new age spirituality. And now you have this Silicon Valley money coming in and it’s really a clash of cultures, those two going up against each other. It’s a fascinating time.
Peter Bowes: [00:15:48] And I think it was you mentioned this in the book, Aubrey de Gray, who said that some of these companies are simply finding things out for the sake of finding things out. Is there much of a distinction between what they’re doing and what the more established traditional? University research departments are doing?
Peter Ward: [00:16:04] I don’t think there is a huge difference because they are hiring en masse, the academics. So it’s the same people and they’re giving loads of money. They’re just hitting the same problems that we always do. When you try and cure death, the results are never going to be as spectacular as you think. They’re never going to, you know, it’s not going to be one day. We’ve invented the you know, everyone drink this solution and then we’ll live a bit longer. It’s a strange one because obviously Google and Calico, they came out and said some very bold statements. But if you asked and I’ve spoken to people who knew people who work there, the scientists just were thinking, okay, this is a great way for me to to work on this specific project. They’re not thinking in terms of we’re going to end death. They’re just thinking, okay, well, I want to work on this specific project. Maybe it’s something to do with regeneration within the body. Maybe it’s a stem cell thing, maybe it’s a gene therapy. So a lot of the time when this money comes in from Silicon Valley, it’s just sort of it’s allocated to age researchers who don’t necessarily believe in the ultimate vision of the people putting the money in. They don’t believe that they can make people live forever, but they are happy to use the money to make people age better.
Peter Bowes: [00:17:17] Which I think is the key, isn’t it? At least that’s how I see it that you’ve referred to this already, that a lot of this research there might be the somewhere in the future, distant future, this hope of living forever. But a lot of this research is today focused. It is perhaps the next decade for people like you and I and diseases that we could potentially get. I’m curious. I mean, I know this is a big question, but in terms of all of your research, is there one area of research that might have that ultimate immortality kind of goal, but it is actually reaping rewards today or potentially reaping rewards in terms of helping us live better today and tomorrow.
Peter Ward: [00:17:55] I don’t think there is anything that bridges those two things. And I think that’s part of the problem. And that’s part of why the scam artists and everything they work so well because there’s great promise and then there’s no actual there’s nothing palpable. So they can easily prey on people because they they’ve got that promise, but they don’t they can offer something that doesn’t do what they say. There are some really areas of research which I found fascinating. There’s things like the intermittent fasting and what that does to your cells and how it makes them, you know, puts them into a state where they think they need to regenerate. I found that sort of really interesting. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone because I wouldn’t recommend anyone to fast without seriously consulting their doctor beforehand. But if there was a way to sort of mimic fasting within the body, then obviously that could do great things for our health because it’s clear that it does do good things for the body. There’s some amazing work being done in senolytics, treating either getting rid of senolytic cells, which you find might not be a great idea if you do get rid of senolytic cells, that sort of zombie like cells that accumulate as cells die, and when they do become in that zombie state, they secrete proteins which damage pretty much everything around them. So one of the areas of research is to find a way to stop them secreting those proteins, which are damaging to the tissue, to anything inside the body. And that could actually be done without sort of big pharma potentially. There could be ways of doing that on the sort of supplement side rather than an even natural ways, rather than going through Big Pharma, which is another sort of concern of of if we did find a cure for aging, then would we all be able to afford it anyway?
Peter Bowes: [00:19:30] Right. Just going back to fasting and I’ll express an interest here as someone who has been a subject in clinical trials looking at different fasting regimes and especially fasting mimicking regimes. The University of Southern California, Dr. Valter Longo, has done a lot of work on this, and we’ve had him as a guest and and others and talked in some detail about this. One thing. And you referred to intermittent fasting. One thing that sort of niggles me often is the use of that term and how vague it is and how it can mean to different people, lots of different kinds of regimes that really have very little to do with each other. It could be an intermittent two days a week fasting regime. It could be a 16:8, which is more like time restricted eating. It could be a 23:1 you fast for 23 hours, you eat for 1 hour. You see what I’m getting at? It covers a vast area of interventions, which ultimately, I think is quite confusing to people.
Peter Ward: [00:20:27] Yeah, definitely. And I think intermittent fasting has become this sort of – it’s a it’s a sort of buzzy word. It’s a it’s a buzz word. And a lot of people presumably think they’re doing it and they’re not. And I think it’s it’s because it’s not – it’s an intervention, but it’s not a medical intervention. It’s a diet. So and diets have always been hard to sort of regulate. You can tell anyone to do anything if you say you’re a dietician, but there’s just huge amounts of potential. That’s one of the areas where the gerontologist said, you know, if I’m absolutely posh for something that’s going to make you live a little bit longer aside from eat healthily or exercise. They say. Try that look and look into that. But it is difficult, like you say, because a lot of people don’t know where to start and it can be dangerous. Obviously, if you have sort of previous eating disorder, then it could be just absolute chaos.
Peter Bowes: [00:21:17] I’ll just reinforce what you just said. I wouldn’t recommend fasting to anyone without speaking to your doctor. It can be hugely dangerous and it’s not something you want to go into blind. You need to see if you are right for it and have your health checked out. So just that little caveat there. Don’t try fasting unless you speak to your doctor.
Peter Ward: [00:21:34] Yeah, absolutely. And but you can see here, just in practice, sort of maybe anybody listening at home, they probably hear me saying, you know, maybe that’s the one thing that make us live a bit longer and something goes off in the back of your head that thinks I’m going to try it. And that is sort of the appeal of immortality and the appeal of these things in practice. You can see how people really get roped into these things so quickly. Like when I was doing the research, I thought, okay, maybe I’ll start trying intermittent fasting, but a) I didn’t know anything about where to start and b) I get far too grouchy when I don’t eat. So I don’t think anyone could live with me. I think, yeah, it’s important that with anything and that’s anything that people say is going to make you live longer, that you really do consult a doctor beforehand. Ideally, someone that knows about gerontology because particularly not not so much with intermittent fasting, but with other things like other supposed longevity interventions, there’s always a side effect to it. And I don’t just mean you get a headache, like you can do something that’ll trigger the cells to live a little bit longer, but that could also increase the chances of cancer at the same time. And a lot of the time you just see the headlines of this this particular supplement or this particular drug is the potentially miracle drug that could make you live longer. But then you don’t know the long term effects of that drug and you don’t know what else it could trigger within the body. There is a weird link between cancer and immortality, and again, one without the other could be quite difficult.
Peter Bowes: [00:23:06] You write in the book that most immortal lists subscribe to the theory of biological immortality, and that is living as long as they choose in their current bodies. And that surprised me that most immortalists will subscribe to that theory, because as you’ve just implied, there are so many things that can – you only have to age, all of us feel the effects of aging. There are so many things that go wrong with our bodies with time.
Peter Ward: [00:23:32] Yeah, that is really the ultimate form of belief. So I would say it’s more likely that we would have some kind of digital immortality than a biological immortality. You could see a path towards that, at least some form of digital immortality. So to say that we live forever in these current bodies is a sort of astonishing claim, especially since we don’t know how long the earth is going to last, how long the earth will be habitable for. And then obviously there’s just so much that can go wrong. You could you could cure aging and then get hit by a bus the next day. And so, I mean, they would say, oh, well, we’ll they’ll just freeze me and maybe they’ll bring me back later. But yeah, it’s that is the ultimate sort of, I think hardcore immortality that says biological immortality. There’s sort of different variants, but those are the very hardcore people.
Peter Bowes: [00:24:18] And when you say digital immortality, is that what Abba are doing?
Peter Ward: [00:24:25] Yeah. So yeah, I mean, I guess.
Peter Bowes: [00:24:27] Around the fringes maybe.
Peter Ward: [00:24:29] Yeah, it’s I guess digital immortality is yeah, it’s mind uploading. It’s a, it’s a weird sort of offshoot of, of immortality. It’s not scientifically proven it could happen. But there’s been several movies, TV shows. If you’ve watched any science fiction, it’s about sort of being uploaded to a computer. Then you get the idea. Essentially, most of the ideas have been taken from that.
Peter Bowes: [00:24:51] Right. And I do kind of joke about Abba. I suppose what they’re doing is it’s that digital physical immortality. But there’s no question that those those four people on that stage in London from a few weeks ago have any kind of brain activity or brain resemblance of the real people.
Peter Ward: [00:25:08] Yeah, exactly. We all know that that’s not sort of digital immortality. But even if you took it even further, even if you took all the memories of the memories of ABBA and put them into if you took every essence of ABBA, if you took all their social media posts, everything they’d ever written, and somehow took all the memories out of their brain, there’s still a sort of deep philosophical question whether that’s just a copy of them or if it’s them living longer. So yeah, it’s you go down some really sort of deep philosophical rabbit holes if you get into digital immortality and what makes us human.
Peter Bowes: [00:25:39] You hear a lot these days about epigenetic clocks and biological aging versus chronological aging. What do you make of this quest to essentially be biologically to be physically younger than the calendar suggests a lot of people are paying for these services. A lot of people are trying to figure out whether they are really 42 when they’re really physically 47 or whatever it is. Is there any point in that?
Peter Ward: [00:26:06] I don’t think so. Personally, I think all that’s going to send you down is a route to sort of obsession with those particular biomarkers, which we can’t even be sure, because they take certain biomarkers and say how old you are within those parameters. We can’t even be sure those are the definitive ones, because ultimately I think always the way what they’re going to tell you is, oh, you know, you’re slightly older than your chronological age, so you better eat more healthy and exercise and you’ll get it down. I don’t think any of us need to be told that eating healthy and exercising will improve our biological age. We can all figure that out. We can all do that a little bit more. Personally, I wouldn’t use them and I have seen some people write quite damning papers on the epigenetic clocks that are out there just saying they’re absolute nonsense. Some of them use some biomarkers, some of them use others. I think if anyone’s charging you a huge amount of money for that, you have to really, really look into them. First of all, are they selling other stuff is a good question to ask. Are they then going to say, you know, you’re not aging well, so why don’t you buy this and you’ll age better? That’s a big red flag if they’re going to sell you a supposed cure for whatever problem they find. And then also, I don’t yeah, I just don’t think the information you get is going to be as illuminating as you think it is. What does it even mean that we’re sort of five years older than our chronological age? We don’t know somewhere in this is some kind of genetic code that suggests when we’re going to die. But these epigenetic clocks. I don’t think it’s telling us that. And they can’t account for things that are completely out of our control as well.
Peter Bowes: [00:27:41] Another aspect of longevity, I talk about this a lot and it’s a source of frustration that there is so much out there, some you can believe respected scientists, I mean, you can be skeptical about and some you can dismiss very quickly. People are very, very confused about interventions to not only live better now, but potentially extend the lifespan or indeed healthspan the number of years that we enjoy the best of health. And it’s the confusion, I think, that puts so many people off. They say, well, I’m just not going to bother. I’m going to live and let live. Do you sense that? And is there anyone pushing back against that in the sphere of longevity and research?
Peter Ward: [00:28:23] Yeah, absolutely. I think that there is definitely I got a sense of that. I think when you sort of talk about living longer or or living forever in any respect, and myself included this, you kind of get attacked from all sides. You get the people that say, oh, this is nonsense, you’re never going to live a bit longer, so why don’t you just stop telling me what to do? And then you also get the people that think they’re going to live forever saying, Why are you so skeptical? Why are you saying this won’t work? And so you really just I mean, I try and put myself in the middle. I admit I am a skeptic and I maybe I’m too skeptical sometimes, but I think we have to do a better job of educating people on how to go through these things and determine what is good and what is not. It’s really easy to take a look at a medical paper and think, That looks amazing. It’s going to make me live forever. But look, I mean, I guess one one of the golden rules is look at what it’s been. If it’s been done using mice or other animals, then there’s still a huge way to go for that to be translated to humans. So that’s probably not going to be something you can do anytime soon. And I think gerontologists get exactly the same as well. They get told that that they’re going against sort of nature by trying to make us age a little bit better. And then they also get told, Oh, why aren’t you already making us live forever by the people who want to live forever? So it’s a really confusing it doesn’t help that we have a sort of a media which is generally and I hate generalizing the media because some people do this amazingly, but I think it takes sort of newspapers and sort of general interest websites and magazines. They’re not as, I guess, scientifically literate as you’d want. They do take papers and they spin them completely out of control, which is why we get these sort of headlines saying don’t eat carrots, they’re going to kill you or eat as many characters as you can because you only way to live a bit longer. And then I think muddying the water even, even more is the lobbyists as well. And just the way that the pharmaceutical industry is set up as a for profit industry, that also muddies the water completely. I mean, we were told that fat was really bad for us and sugar was great for us for so long and hopefully nothing on that scale is happening now. But how would we know? Because, you know, you have to look at who’s funding the research. And and so it’s really hard to get into it’s really hard to get into without falling down A) conspiracy theories of some kind or, B) just utter despair. And I’m never going to get on top of this. And so why bother? So yeah, I definitely I definitely get that sense as well and I feel it completely. You pick up something to eat and you think, Should I eat this? Like, what was the latest paper?
Peter Bowes: [00:31:00] Well, I think. Through all of my looking into these different issues, I always come back to and it’s incredibly boring. But I come back to the headline that moderation in everything is probably best. And that’s why you don’t see that headline, because it isn’t particularly exciting for a tabloid to say this is the next big new thing, that if you have a moderate diet and don’t eat too many nuts or too many eggs or whatever the food is or don’t have, don’t do exercise to an extreme, but do some exercise and get a decent night’s sleep most nights of the week you’re probably going to do pretty well. The science is fascinating. The dietary science, the fasting diets, I think is interesting. And I think there is some common agreement that of any of these interventions, maybe not fasting to an extreme, but just eating less is probably the one that is going to maybe add a few extra years to your life. And again, that isn’t hugely exciting.
Peter Ward: [00:31:58] Yeah, yeah, that’s yeah. I think that’s exactly the problem. I think you’ve you’ve hit the nail on the head there. It’s the non sensationalist solutions are actually the most effective. Yeah. I mean if you think about our bodies, if you think about in terms of evolution, our bodies are sort of designed to withstand lack of resources. A lack of resources has triggers something within our bodies survival. So that does make sense, especially when you see sort of heart disease killing so many people. You know, diabetes is is a pandemic in itself that maybe that is one of our issues that resources in certain countries. So it’s just so there’s just too much there’s too much food and a lot of it is too bad for us. And so it’s one of the then you say that to other countries where they don’t have enough resources. And it’s it’s one of the great sort of issues of our time, the inequality, I guess that one half of the population is killing itself by eating too much and then the other half doesn’t have enough.
Peter Bowes: [00:32:52] Exactly. It is sometimes a difficult conversation to have when, as you say, there are millions around the world that are quite literally starving. And it just doesn’t sometimes feel right to talk about these issues of immortality living forever. Yet I suppose for a lot of people in the Western world, they are bombarded with these messages and it just makes us think and I think I think not everything that you talk about in your book and some of the things that I discuss on this podcast are to be dismissed. But there’s a huge dollop of common sense that has to be thrown in there.
Peter Ward: [00:33:26] Yeah, absolutely. And I think there is an issue of people not realizing that their health effects others, I think as well. We should feel that we have that we need to look after each other. We don’t live individually. What we do affects the rest of society. Just as you know, people are asked to wear masks in a pandemic. You should also try and look after yourself in the spirit of community and society, because especially when we go through difficult times, you know, you don’t want to be that sort of drain on society if you’re constantly getting sick because maybe you didn’t look after yourself. Just do the bare minimum, I guess. So we should feel that sort of burden to improve our health, especially as we get older. And obviously the other thing is that you’re never too young to start. We start to age the minute we’re born and we start to deteriorate. I think someone told me sort of 20 ish. So basically all of us are in this sort of state of deterioration and we should do anything we can to slow that down, not just for us, but for our loved ones and society as a whole.
Peter Bowes: [00:34:27] I agree. You’re never too young or indeed too old to start some sort of common sense intervention that might make life and and your health better. I’m curious, Peter, after this huge body of research that you’ve done, is there anything about your lifestyle that you’ve changed with your own longevity in mind? And also what are your longevity if you have them? Longevity aspirations?
Peter Ward: [00:34:50] So I don’t – I haven’t changed anything, to be perfectly honest. I think finishing the book probably added on years to my life. I think while I was writing it, maybe I could feel myself aging faster. But no, I think.
Peter Bowes: [00:35:04] Almost every author will probably say that.
Peter Ward: [00:35:05] Yeah, I think it’s the same thing. There are certain things that I know I can do better in terms of my longevity. I think one of the things I’m vegetarian personally, and that has been brought up a lot as a potential thing that could help you be healthier for longer. I haven’t gone so full plant based. I might try that at some point to see how it makes me feel. But basically, I mean, I’m vegetarian because I just felt healthier. It wasn’t anything to do with my longevity goals. It was more in the sort of immediate that day I felt better and I just carried it on. Yeah, I don’t really have I don’t set myself a goal. I think we’re all sort of the really tricky thing is I think somewhere inside us is this predetermined date that providing we don’t have an accident or anything happen to us, that we will die and obviously we want.
Peter Bowes: [00:35:54] You think that it’s predetermined?
Peter Ward: [00:35:56] I think I think there’s something in our genetic code. I think that’s why you see those people that sort of live until they’re 120, 130 and they say, Oh, well, I smoked five cigarettes a day and I drank a beer at the end of each day. They’re doing things that shouldn’t let them live forever. But some people, they’re just genetically coded to withstand certain diseases like cancer and heart disease. And so I guess the goal is just to beat that. Whatever the problem is, we don’t know what it is. So there are some people who could do amazingly well. They could be living ten years beyond that thing by doing certain things, but we just don’t know. It’s really hard to put any data to it. It’s hard to do a study to do with longevity at all because you’d have to wait 100 years to get the results because you’d probably have to do it for the whole person’s lifespan. So that’s a that’s a very long winded way of saying, no, I don’t have any longevity goals and I do try and keep myself healthy. I do try and exercise and eat healthy as much as possible. But the book didn’t sort of turn me into a fanatic or anything. I still make the same mistakes everyone else does, I guess.
Peter Bowes: [00:36:56] Yeah, we’ll probably all continue to make those mistakes. Peter, this has been an intriguing insight. Thank you very much indeed.
Peter Ward: [00:37:03] Thanks so much for having me. It’s been great.
Peter Bowes: [00:37:05] Real pleasure. And if you’d like to check out Peter’s book, The Price of Immortality: The Race to Live Forever. There’s a link in the show notes for this episode where you’ll also find a transcript of this conversation. The LLAMA Podcast is a Healthspan Media production. We will be back very soon with another episode. In the meantime, thank you so much for listening.
The Live Long and Master Aging podcast, a HealthSpan Media LLC production, shares ideas but does not offer medical advice. If you have health concerns of any kind, or you are considering adopting a new diet or exercise regime, you should consult your doctor.