Could we age backwards like jellyfish?
Nicklas Brendborg | Biotechnology researcher
BY PETER BOWES | MONDAY FEBRUARY 20, 2023
The search for the Fountain of Youth has intrigued and challenged scientists for centuries. Now, longevity is a buzzword – a multi-billion dollar industry with myriad interventions that could help us live longer and better. But are we any closer to fully understanding what it takes to extend healthy lifespan or healthspan? Nicklas Brendborg is a biotechnology researcher and the author of Jellyfish Age Backwards: Nature’s Secrets to Longevity. The Copenhagen-based PhD student explores, with a critical eye, some of the fundamental questions related to aging science and mankind’s quest to push the boundaries of healthy living. In this LLAMA podcast, with Peter Bowes, Nicklas explains how some animals have already achieved immortality and why the mechanisms behind aging continue to challenge researchers.
Connect with Nicklas Brendborg: Book: Jellyfish Age Backwards: Nature’s Secrets to Longevity | Website | Twitter | Facebook
Read a transcript
In this interview we cover:
- Defining the Fountain of Youth and what we mean by the aging process.
- A critical analysis of aging research and the science of longevity
- Do jellyfish really age backwards?
- The small animal advantage when it comes to living a long life
- The intriguing of people with Laron syndrome – why they appear able to avoid the killer diseases of old age
- The whole body factor and why mental health also plays a role in living a long life
- Calorie restriction and life extension in mice
- Time-restricted eating
- An appreciation of the pioneering researcher, Dr. Roy Walford
- Self-experimentation and understanding our own bodies
- The key lifestyle interventions to promote longevity
- A career in longevity research and writing
- 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.
“If you stress this jellyfish, then you can actually get it to go from its adult stage back to something called the polyp stage. It’s practically an example of, you know, the holy grail of aging research. That’s an animal that’s actually biologically immortal.”Nicklas Brendborg
▸ DISCLOSURE: This site includes affiliate links from which we derive a small commission. It helps support the podcast and allows us to continue sharing conversations about human longevity. LLAMA is available, free of charge, via multiple podcasting platforms. Our mission is to explore the science and lifestyle interventions that could help us live longer and better. Thank you for the support!
Discounts are available from the following companies when you use code LLAMA at checkout.
▸ Recharge Health is offering LLAMA podcast listeners a $30.00 discount on the purchase of FlexBeam, a wearable and targeted red light therapy device which targets key parts of the body needing healing and recovery. Scientific studies suggest light at specific red and near-infrared wavelengths can stimulate the body’s natural process of healing. Listen to our episode with FlexBeam co-founder Bjørn Ekeberg. Use the code LLAMA at checkout here
▸ Time-line is offering LLAMA podcast listeners a 5% discount on its Mitopure (a highly pure form of Urolithin A) products – Mitopure Powder, Softgels and Mitopure + Protein. Urolithin A is a molecule that stimulates a crucial recycling and cleansing process in the body – ultimately protecting cells from age-associated decline. Listen to our episode with Dr. Anurag Singh, Chief Medical Officer with Amazentis Use the code LLAMA at checkout here
▸ EnergyBits is offering LLAMA podcast listeners a 20% discount on its range of algae products. The microscopic form of life is consumed as part of a balanced diet is in some parts of the world, but it is also being hailed as a superfood that could help us age better. Listen to our episode with EnergyBits founder Catharine Arnston Use the code LLAMA at checkout here
▸ Neurohacker Collective is offering LLAMA podcast listeners 15% off any its Qualia formulations. They are designed to help the body more effectively regulate its own biochemistry and restore homeostatic balance. Listen to our interview with Neurohacker Collective’s Nick Bitz. Use the code LLAMA at checkout here
▸ NutriSense is offering LLAMA podcast listeners $25 off the first month of a subscription to its continuous glucose monitoring product. Analyze in real-time how your blood glucose levels respond to food, exercise, stress, and sleep. Listen to our episode with Carlee Hayes, lead dietician at NutriSense. Use the code LLAMA at checkout here
This interview with Nicklas Brendborg was recorded on January 26, 2023 and transcribed using Sonix AI. Please check against audio recording for absolute accuracy.
Peter Bowes: Nicklas Brendborg welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast.
Nicklas Brendborg: Thank you very much for having me.
Peter Bowes: You’re joining us from beautiful Copenhagen.
Nicklas Brendborg: Yes, indeed.
Peter Bowes: Which is where you’ve been studying. And we’ll get to the details of your book in a moment, which you wrote while you were conducting your studies there. But I think it might be useful just to start off by talking about this phrase, the fountain of youth. It means different things to different people. When you hear that expression, what do you think of? Is it a quest to live forever or is it just a quest to live for as well as we can for as long as we can?
Nicklas Brendborg: Well, of course, there’s there’s always the, you know, the dreamer in you that wants to see just how far we can take this stuff. But I would say, at least from engaging a little with the science and stuff, we’re probably still at the point where we should be thankful for progress in general. And then let’s see what we can we can get from it. Obviously, I hope I have a long career where I can contribute in this field, so who knows if we dream, what can happen. But right now there’s still some, I would say, fundamental stuff that we need to get settled.
Peter Bowes: And aging itself. There are so many different definitions of what aging is. And of course, we hear an anti-aging anti-aging all the time. And I think we’re bombarded with commercials these days from various different places to encourage us to do things that will turn the clock back for ourselves. But for a lot of people, aging is just a chronological process. It is something that moves forward with the days and the months and the years. So I’m curious to know where you stand on aging. What does that word mean to you?
Nicklas Brendborg: Well, to me it means the physical decline that tends to happen in organisms, biological organisms over time. That doesn’t necessarily have to happen, but that we see in organisms from mice to whales, basically. So there’s physical deterioration where your body stops functioning like it did at its peak and which eventually increases your risk of diseases and also just increases your risk of not really having a lot of wellbeing.
Peter Bowes: So let’s go back to the beginning for you. I mentioned that you wrote this book while you were studying. What in the first place got you interested in aging?
Nicklas Brendborg: Well, I really like of course, when you study biomedical stuff, you you have to find some niche. You have to find something that you’re going to study is some thing you’re going to specialize in. And what I like about aging research in general, is just this fact that, yes, we can try to cure cancer practically. We could cure any type of every type of cancer or dementia or heart disease. But at the end of the day, even if we could, these diseases, first of all, we’ll still have an old body. So if we cure one disease, the risk of getting the other one. But then still, even if we could somehow magically make every disease disappear, we wouldn’t. You would still not be as well at this point in your life as you’ve been previously. So I like that the number one risk factor for all these diseases by far is aging. So it just makes this like deeper form of sense that you go to the root of the problem to begin with, because you know someone my age who’s 27, I don’t suddenly get dementia, I don’t get a heart attack. I have a very low risk of most types of cancers. So clearly, at some point the body is naturally able to protect itself against this stuff. So yeah, it was basically this observation that I think we should go all the way to the root of this problem and attack it there. And that would also allow me to to have a career where I could maybe contribute to to do the most good.
Peter Bowes: And tell me about your studies. What are you specializing in?
Nicklas Brendborg: Yeah, so I did what’s called the program that’s called Molecular biomedicine at the University of Copenhagen and a program called Biotechnology, which is mostly different in name. There’s a lot of the same courses and so stuff is involved. And then once this I was supposed to start this, my PhD actually back in time a year ago, but then when my book came out and it just went absolutely crazy, you know, with translations into 26 different languages and all this stuff. Then I talked to my advisor and she was like, okay, take it, take a year, see what you can get from this, and then you’re free to come back after that and start your studies there. So that’s what I what I’ve just done.
Peter Bowes: And what was the impetus? What was the reason for writing a book while you’re studying at least the starting the process while you’re studying, it’s something that someone in your line of work in longevity research might do 20 or 30 years into their career. You’ve done it right at the beginning.
Nicklas Brendborg: Yes. I mean, first what I wanted to do was to just take a course in aging science at the University of Copenhagen. But, you know, we don’t have that. Not actually an opportunity or an option. So I started just reading a little by myself, you know, reading some reviews and stuff. But quickly, that seems kind of futile. You just sit there and you read and then watch. So I started, you know, taking some notes and yeah, one thing led to the other and I was like, I think there’s a lot of good information here that normal people don’t really know, and it’s a very, very important problem. So then I decided, okay, all of this, I can turn it into a book and I really, really like writing and really enjoy it, like as a hobby as well. So if I could then combine the fact that I wanted to get up to speed on everything longevity science wise, and then I also enjoyed writing, then I thought writing a book would be, yeah, a fun thing to do. And then while I was writing, we also hit the pandemic. So even though I did courses, you know, you sit at home a lot of the time and doesn’t really take up all of your day, to be honest. So then yeah, I had even more time to finish this project.
Peter Bowes: And it is a book and I mentioned this in the introduction, it is a book that’s written with a critical eye. You cover a lot of different bases in terms of longevity, science. There’s some history in there. There’s this current science as well. But you are quite skeptical in many respects in terms of which developments might actually have a meaningful practical impact on human beings if we were to apply the science to ourselves, and especially the the comparison with research that’s done on on rodents and mice and rats in the laboratory, which I know a lot of people are skeptical about, saying, well, mice are not human beings. Did you deliberately want to set out to really pull apart the research and offer a very sort of practical, realistic approach to longevity?
Nicklas Brendborg: Yeah, I mean, I started out completely with a blank slate, right? And of course, at that point I’d already been reading a lot about this stuff, so I had a lot of expectations and stuff. But then I basically just tried to read as much as possible and try to look at as much data as possible and then make up my own mind about what I thought about this stuff. And it turns out that just like in every field of science, some of the stuff is maybe not that robust when you dive into it and some of the stuff maybe turns out to be better than you thought initially when you then dive into it. But I don’t really I don’t really have like I don’t really have like a feeling that I should, you know, I just want to learn the truth. So I don’t have I don’t feel like if something is not the truth about aging, it doesn’t really help me get any closer to my goal. So I just wanted to actually see that. And of course, I think it’s a good thing when you want to go into science. I think it’s a good thing to look at stuff skeptically, especially also once you’ve tried doing a few experiments yourself and stuff like that. I mean, it’s really, really, really hard to learn things in general in biology because it’s so complicated. So of course not everything that’s being done is perfect. And then the problem is also that, you know, the body is so complex that it’s way easier to accidentally harm yourself than it is to find something that will actually benefit you. So if you’re not critical, you will end up while trying to actually live longer. You might end up shortening your own lifespan. And that seems it seems like not the best use of time if you really, really start nerding out about this stuff and then it actually only ends up producing a shorter lifespan for you.
Peter Bowes: I think that’s a really interesting point. What is it that doctors say do no harm first when you’re trying to treat a condition? And I know from my experience looking at all the many of the different interventions, one thing that I’ve over a period of time come to believe is that and it sounds quite boring, but that moderation in everything is actually probably one of the best longevity interventions that we can apply to ourselves because there are so many. Different interventions, whether it’s supplementation or diet or extreme exercise. Any of these elements in extreme or excess can and probably are most likely to cause harm than good, at least in the short term.
Nicklas Brendborg: I mean, at least with the stuff we have now, I completely agree that that’s a lot of a lot of stuff where if your goal is actually to live as long as possible, you don’t want to double down on some random drug right now that doesn’t really have safety data behind it and then just cross your fingers and hope that, you know, the papers are what they say they are. So I would definitely also, if you actually have this practical mindset of wanting to live as long as possible, it makes perfect sense to not just jump on to every single new discovery before it has had its time to get tested in multiple places and really thoroughly vetted. So you don’t end up. Yeah, kind of on the wrong side of of this thing.
Peter Bowes: So let’s look at the title of the book Jellyfish Age Backwards. You’ve got an intriguing first section of the book where you talk about the animal kingdom and what we can learn from different species. Let’s focus in on the jellyfish story first. Do some jellyfish literally age backwards?
Nicklas Brendborg: Yeah. So the jellyfish I’m referring to in this in this title is a special species that’s called Turritopsis dohrnii, which is this tiny jellyfish the size of a fingernail. And if you just look at this jellyfish, it’s, you know, it’s not the most exciting animal ever. It’s just a little jellyfish that swims around eating plankton. But then if you stress this jellyfish by, for instance, changing the temperature of the water, or you can do it by mechanical damage, then you can actually get it to go from its adult stage back to something called the polyp stage. So it would be a little bit akin to taking a butterfly and turning it into a caterpillar again, for instance. Then from there, the jellyfish can grow up in you and you can practically repeat this rejuvenation step. And I don’t remember exactly what’s the maximum amount of time it’s been done, but it’s been done at least ten times where it works. So if there isn’t a limit to this, it’s practically an example of, you know, the holy grail of aging research. So that’s an animal that’s actually biologically immortal.
Peter Bowes: That’s it’s interesting. And there are other animals you write about a lot, and those especially that are used in laboratories for longevity research I mentioned already, rats and mice are probably the most common. There’s something called a mole rat as well that longevity researchers are very interested in. What’s the reason for that?
Nicklas Brendborg: So the thing is, in the beginning of the book, I tried to look out and see like, well, is aging something that’s set in stone? Because, of course, then it would be foolish to even try to to do anything about it. But you pretty quickly learned that, yes, for instance, you see many of the same changes in old mouse as you see in an old person. It just happens that vastly different speeds. Then you also learn that there are animals that can live way longer than us. So where we are kind of the mouse and you know, at the point where they’re still young and fit, we start to show all these classic signs of aging. For instance, it could be the bowhead whale. They can live more than 200 years. It could be the Greenland shark, which could potentially live all the way up to 400 years. So then that’s all good and well means we should be able to learn some stuff from these animals, right? If we want to live a long life, the problem is then, you know, quite practical one. If you really want to learn, for instance, from a bowhead whale how to live a long life, you’re not really going to be able to put it in the lab, Right. So that’s that’s not an option. And it just turns out that there is this general rule where larger animals tend to live longer. So all the longer, or at least a lot of the longest lived animals are really, really big. And that, of course, makes it a little hard if you want to do your normal day to day laboratory research. So instead, scientists then take took a look and said like, can we find a species that is small but that lives a lot longer than we would expect from its size. And that turns out the naked mole rat is just a perfect example because it’s about the size of a mouth of a mouse. So 30 to 35 grams, but a mouse in a laboratory will age and die in 2 to 3 years. And mole rat can live above 35 years. Has these really cool adaptations like it seems to be very, very resistant to getting cancer. I think it’s in the tens of thousands of mole rats that have been studied now and something like six tumors ever found. Whereas if you look at laboratory mice, it’s something like 70 to 80% of mice have some kind of tumor. At the time that the die. So the die with the cancer from the cancer. And then it’s also convenient because, you know, these animals are actually related. So we have a short lived animal or short lived animals in mice and rats that we already know a lot about. And then we have one of the and we have an animal that is related to them, one of the relatives, and just that just lived way, way longer. Then you can do all these sort of comparative studies and try to find out, well, what are these adaptations that the mole that has that makes it live so much longer?
Peter Bowes: This is the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. Our guest is Nicklas Brendborg, the author of Jellyfish Age Backwards Nature’s Secrets to Longevity. Now, you mentioned that smaller animals tend to live longer. It’s not an absolute golden rule there, but it’s certainly interesting. And it leads me to a section of your book where you write about people with Laron syndrome, and this is a very small group of people. There’s a community in Ecuador. There are other communities across Europe, but globally a very, very small number of people. And well, I’ll let you tell the story. It’s interesting to me because I’ve been to Ecuador, I’ve met these people. I’ve met the researchers who are looking into their lives. And the key thing is that people with Laron syndrome tend to be and this isn’t fully understood yet, but they tend to be much less likely, almost exclusively less likely to get the killer diseases of old age like cancer, like diabetes, like heart conditions.
Nicklas Brendborg: So the really interesting thing about this whole size longevity thing is that once you then establish that large animals tend to live longer than than small animals, at least as a rule of thumb, then it actually turns out that within each species, this rule is flipped on its head. So small dogs live longer than big dogs. Ponies live longer than horses. The longest lived mouse ever is something called an Ames dwarf mouse, which is like half the size of a normal mouse. Yeah. And then naturally, also people start to wonder, well, is it the same thing for people? Should I be very, very sad that I’m tall or very happy that I’m small? And it does seem that we can have some of the same pattern as we see in other animals. And for instance, if you go to to take a look at some of the oldest lived people ever, for instance, Jeanne Calment, the longest lived person ever at the time. At the moment, she was a very small lady. Actually. Every every single person in the top ten or something is a very small like five something five zero, typically 5-1 – 5-11 at the time, like before they started shrinking due to old age. And then as I say, there’s this, this is my mouse, the Ames straw of mouse, which is which has dysfunction in this growth hormone signaling. And we actually know also people that have dysfunctions in growth hormone signaling, the people with Laron syndrome, where the growth hormone receptor is is nonfunctional. So that means these people typically have normal or even high levels of growth hormone in the blood. But it just can’t it just can’t really interact with the cells. So you don’t really get a response to this growth growth hormone. And as a result, you get these people that are that are very, very short, but they don’t display like the typical characteristics that you would see in people with what we would call like normal dwarfism, where they they have this these special proportions with a larger head and limbs that are quite short. So these people are more like a miniature version of you and I. But then, as you say, the really interesting thing is that somehow this lack of growth signaling seems to protect them against all these different things cancer, heart disease, diabetes, even acne, it seems that they’re protected against. And that’s also despite, you know, as I read in your account, some of them being quite overweight, that they still seem protected. They don’t get high blood pressure anyways and stuff like that. So it does really it just really suggest that there is something central about growth signaling that is just crucial in determining both your aging and then also, of course, as a byproduct of that, your risk of age related diseases.
Peter Bowes: Now the hormone that you’re talking about is IGF-1 insulin like growth factor one, and people with Laron syndrome have plenty of IGF-1. It is the receptor that is the area of the problem, that the receptor is simply not working to allow those individuals to use the IGF-1. And just to explain, IGF-1 is crucially important, especially when you’re growing up as. As a child to achieve a normal height. And I think you can elaborate on this as you’re an adult, IGF-1 probably becomes less important because you’re not continuing to grow. And that’s the interesting area that there are interventions. And fasting is one that allows us to reduce our levels of IGF-1. And there seems to be some correlation between IGF-1 levels and the likelihood of getting cancer or these killer diseases of old age. And and that’s why for a wider community, this area of science is so interesting.
Nicklas Brendborg: Yeah. So normally growth hormone goes to the liver and promotes the production of IGF-1. So when the receptor doesn’t work, then you just don’t really get that response. And as you say, that’s that’s the reason for the symptoms. That’s also why I mean, we can treat it by giving people IGF-1 and they will then don’t get this phenotype of being very, very small. But, you know, from at least from a cancer perspective, this makes perfect sense because cancer is fundamental fundamentally about growth. So that if you have higher growth signaling, we would also expect all things equal that it could put you at a higher risk of cancer. Now, from a more fundamental standpoint, why it has an effect on aging, that is something that I think is absolutely fascinating because of course, yeah, we need growth signaling to grow up to attain our final height and size. But from that point, you know, it is not as needed. You still you still use it to maintain your muscle mass. And you know, you can’t just completely zap some of these hormones and then feel feel well, but it could this could suggest at least that it would be beneficial to to at least modulate these pathways in old age. The problem is, though, that even for for a lot of years, taking growth hormone actually has been seen as some kind of anti-aging intervention that you could do where you could, because apparently I haven’t tried it, but it should feel quite nice to take growth hormone. You feel you feel a lot of vitality and you gain muscle mass. And in general, you could feel like this stuff is helping you staying and staying young. But from the stuff that we can learn from laboratory animals and also the stuff that we can see with patients, this is probably not the best thing you could do for yourself in old age. And so there is this connection. But at this point, I think at least it’s a little hard to say exactly why and how this stuff works.
Peter Bowes: And the other kicker in this story is that people with Laron syndrome tend not to live excessively long lives. They tend to die at about the same age as as their peers, as are the people in their families and their local community. And the reasons for that are not fully understood. They they are small people. They suffer more road accidents than most people in their community. That might be obvious because if they’re crossing a road and it’s dark, they can’t be seen. It could be as simple as that. They also tend to have a higher level of alcoholism than others in their community and and depression as well. And that depression may well be caused because they are short and because they’re small and they don’t want to be they want to be normal. They want to be the normal height of of everyone else. So I don’t know what this tells us. Perhaps it tells us that there’s clearly more than one factor that goes into longevity. It is about the whole body. And clearly for Laron syndrome people, one of the issues is to get IGF one, especially for their children, to encourage growth in the early part of their lives. And IGF one is expensive and it’s not always possible to to get supplies in the places that it’s needed. So this is a complicated area, isn’t it?
Nicklas Brendborg: I’m absolutely certain that there is also a mental health aspect of this. We we do know that, you know, your physical health and your mental health is, of course, in so intertwined, it’s not something that you can separate. So even if you have all these you could call them physical advantages for for longevity. If you don’t feel well, that might negate some of it. And of course, it’s of course, completely understandable that these people, you know, maybe even if people don’t like maybe even if people are not trying to do so, you will just get looked at maybe a little differently from sticking out so much. But by being like a curiously small. So then you could completely understand why some of these people would then. Not feel. Not feel well. And. And for that reason, maybe. Maybe from the loneliness or the stress coming from this stuff then. And the alcoholism not live as long as they could have. Because, of course, if you do a similar experiment with mice, there’s not this whole social factor, or at least the social factor is a lot a lot less complicated than it is in humans. So we do have all this extra stuff that just makes that just makes the biology of aging even more complicated when you’re talking about humans compared to when you’re just talking about an animal like a mouse.
Peter Bowes: Nevertheless, the science is is fascinating. And it brings me on to the section. In your book, you talk about fasting and the work of Dr. Valter Longo here in Los Angeles at USC, who of course, is very closely related to the research that’s going on with the Laron syndrome communities in Ecuador. And there’s a very definite link between the kind of research that he’s doing here and what we’ve seen in those communities. And the research here is focused around the fasting mimicking diet. And one of I’ve already mentioned one of the the side effects of fasting is that your IGF one levels come down. Lots of other effects as well. I’m curious to know what you think about fasting. Again, it’s one of those buzzwords these days, isn’t it? Everyone seems to be fasting, whether it’s an intermittent fast or a periodic fast or time. Restricted eating is another one that a lot of people are doing. Do you think there’s much in this in terms of the science?
Nicklas Brendborg: Yeah. So for one, like the whole calorie restriction field, if you could call it that, like calorie restriction is the most reliable way to prolong the life of laboratory rodents at least. But that’s just, you know, not entirely practical to transfer to humans, like don’t eat and then you might live a few years longer, like just by starving yourself your whole life. That’s just even if it’s true, I doubt that we will ever find out in humans if it is true. But even if it is not, a lot of people would make the choice. So instead, the interesting thing about fasting in mice is that it’s a way to replicate some of this because it does seem that at least some of the benefits seen in calorie restriction studies actually comes from the fasting, not just from the low amount of calories. And of course, it’s much more doable to fast. They can even feel good. So, I mean, it’s something that I do myself occasionally. I’m not someone that fast every day, for instance, but I do like to do it twice a week. And the research that at least I’ve seen seems to suggest that if you skip a meal, it should be the dinner. So you should get more of your calories early in the day as opposed to loading your calories late in the day. So I confirmed that a little bit, a little kind of like a self experiment. I can just see, at least on my ordering, that if I eat within like 3 hours of going to bed, I tend to sleep. Sleep worse. And just in general, it seems it seems logical this thing about then having like cutting out dinner instead of cutting out breakfast.
Peter Bowes: Yeah, I do a very similar sort of regime, and that’s probably one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned. I stop eating at five or six when it is practical to do so and generally have a much better night’s sleep. You write about Roy Walford as well, which is something else I wanted to ask you about. I was lucky enough to meet Roy Walford a couple of decades ago and it was towards the end of his career and he’s a fascinating character, isn’t he? Because he is one of the original researchers really, that kickstarted the whole interest in longevity and especially caloric restriction. But I think the message that comes through from a lot of his work is that he went to an extreme and an extreme that a tiny number of people could actually tolerate in their real lives.
Nicklas Brendborg: Yeah. So, I mean, absolutely fascinating character in my opinion. I do sometimes, you know, when you look back at least a few decades, it does seem like you had more of these, you know, I guess you could call them crazy scientist where, you know, experimenting on yourself, having all these crazy ideas going on expeditions and so on. And there’s just something I don’t know, there’s something pure about that that I just really, really like. And yeah, it’s true. You know, he, he was very much into longevity and he didn’t he didn’t get to live that long himself. But at least, you know, he was he was kickstarting this, all of this stuff for other people to then follow up. And I’m actually thinking that, you know, the same thing with us today. There’s a lot of people I know that are talking about. Soon we’ll be able to control aging. I don’t think I entirely by that. I mean, I would certainly be happy about that. But we don’t know if that’s going to be our own role as well. Like the people studying this stuff today, if we are actually going to be able to reap the fruit of some of this stuff or if we are one of the last generations, just like someone like Roy Walford, who won’t actually, you know, see the full potential realized, but at least we’ll have contributed some of the, the foundation that, you know, other people will then benefit from.
Peter Bowes: You mentioned your own experiments with fasting and time restricted eating and how it affects you and how it affects your sleep. I’m curious more generally in terms of your research, has it affected the way that you live your life?
Nicklas Brendborg: Well, I try to apply all of this stuff to myself, first of all, because, I mean, academic science is a lot of fun as a career, but it’s also just fun, you know, sometimes kind of being a little egoistic and just focusing on yourself, studying what, you know. I think it’s one of the weirdest things about the modern age that we know so little actually about what’s going on in our own bodies at any given time. So I think it’s really interesting both to try to optimize things, but also just to see, you know, what is my actual genetics like, what is my microbiome like, how is my sleep, how is my heart rate throughout the day and so on and so on. So I really, really like these things in general. And then of course, also one of the initial things once I started getting into this whole field, it’s also, of course, for my own benefit for trying to see what can I do. I’m really interested in, you know, being as well as I can be, especially when you start out with this stuff as a young person. I mean, I’m very happy about how I feel in my own body today. So if I could keep feeling this way and not have this decline that you tend to see in other people, that would just be absolutely amazing. So yeah, I tend to do a lot of experiments on myself, not as in taking random drugs, but in trying to see how I can optimize the few parameters that I’m absolutely certain should be optimized very tightly to to get a longer life.
Peter Bowes: And I think as someone in their twenties, this makes you quite unusual because generally I find that people who are not longevity researchers really don’t think about their their health or their potential longevity to any great depth. You’re young, you’re focused on your life and your career, and you’re going to live forever. Maybe not literally, but it’s not something to think about. It’s not something to think about the diseases that you might see in your grandparents or even your great grandparents if you’re that young. My frustration sometimes is that if only people at a younger age would think about their longevity and perhaps some of the interventions that could be applied, that it could improve generally their health span and potentially their lifespan.
Nicklas Brendborg: Absolutely. I mean, there is the one I don’t know if you’re familiar with the ITP, the Interventions Testing Program, I would say one of the the very optimistic or very positive news we have gotten from there is that a lot of gero protective agents. So a lot of these molecules that are tested for the anti-ageing abilities seem to at least have some effect. Even if you start them late, some of them might even have the same effect, whether you start them kind of late in life at mid-life or whether you start them from a young age. So I would say there’s great hope. But of course it is always better to not damage yourself and do not accumulate this damage and then try to fix it. You know, it’s a lot better to just not get the damage from the beginning and and start when you’re young, try to to keep all the stuff that you have. Of course.
Peter Bowes: One of the things about longevity research is that especially if you’re involving human beings, it’s actually very difficult to do. Certainly experiments involving a lot of people where they’re dependent on results that might occur decades in the future. And clearly that’s why laboratory animals are used, that’s why fruit flies are used because their lifespan is is quite short. And I think that’s coming back to the experiments that you conduct on yourself as in any one, just like I do looking at my sleep and comparing it with the diet or the exercise I’ve had the day before, that makes that kind of experimentation, even though, more broadly speaking, in the scientific world, it may not have any great value because you just one person. I think for ourselves it is a value because we can really figure out what is good for us as long as we base it on some semblance of research that is based on science and then try to apply it to ourselves. I think there’s a value there.
Nicklas Brendborg: I mean, definitely. And, you know, the problem also is sometimes in a study, if you read that this or this, this, that agent improves some score by 20%, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has a 20% increase in what you’re looking at. It means that there’s, you know, the average increase. Maybe some people even, you know, had a huge benefit and other people didn’t get any benefit at all or even were harmed by this stuff. So, of course, we want to learn general stuff. We want to get a medicine that can be used to improve. But I think if you’re really, really serious about this stuff, you don’t get around doing stuff where you test what helps and doesn’t help yourself in particular. I mean, that is not, of course, for everyone to optimize everything like this. But if you really, really want to to take this to the next level, you have to know a lot about what’s going on in your own body for sure.
Peter Bowes: And of all of the potential interventions. And they come into three or four broad categories. There’s diet, there’s exercise, there’s sleep, and there’s mental health, which you mentioned earlier. Is there a pecking order? There is the one thing that’s more important to the other, or is it really a case of we are a whole body and it’s all important?
Nicklas Brendborg: Yes. So of course, there’s the whole don’t smoke, which would be the number one, because it’s like the probably the worst thing you could do for yourself for longevity. But I mean, if you’re generally a healthy person, I would say that you have to you have to start out by by doing all that you can do in these you know, even some people think it’s a little boring, you know, like focusing on my diet, focusing on my exercise, my sleep. I want some pill that I can take. I want to do some crazy experiment of, you know, driving into cold water or being a blood donor or whatever, all this stuff that you can try. And that’s all good and well. But I wouldn’t say you could rank these, but maybe 80% healthy on the diet, getting a little bit of exercise, especially aerobic exercise, making sure you sleep well, and then only then you can start to actually look at the other stuff. You know, making sure you have a healthy weight as well would be another thing.
Peter Bowes: And do you have a vision of your own longevity? Clearly, this is the subject, the number one subject for you to think about in terms of your academic research. But at a very personal level, do you think about yourself and maybe what you can do now to have an impact on your life in your fifties, your seventies, your nineties, and who knows as a centenarian?
Nicklas Brendborg: Well, I don’t have the best starting point being a man, first of all. So that would already take a few years out. And then for some weird reason, and it’s not something that’s included in the English book, but in the Danish book, Denmark just tends to have a really weirdly low life expectancy, so much lower than the other Scandinavian countries. Some of the list we are aligned with something like Slovenia, which, you know, all due respect to Slovenia, but a country that is way, way poorer than us, where people have higher average BMIs, where they smoke more and all this stuff. But still, you know, it’s not it doesn’t seem to be the best starting point to be a Danish man if you want to live a long life. That being said, of course, you know, I don’t have a specific number, so depending on how it goes, maybe maybe 100 would be would be incredible. Maybe that would be nothing when we get to that point. And my goal should really be 200 or 300, who knows? So I don’t have a specific number, but of course, I’m doing this also because I hope it’s going to give me something in my life.
Peter Bowes: And once you complete your studies, what are your immediate ambitions?
Nicklas Brendborg: Well, I’m doing my PhD right now. Then I have my book that is out in 26 different countries. And, you know, I get to speak to people from all over the world. And yeah, right now, I mean, you never know. I don’t know where the best place to have an impact would be if it is to continue in academia, if it is to go to industry. So I haven’t decided that, but it seems I feel pretty fortunate with what I have right now with my book and also my research and being able to combine that. So honestly, if I could just continue like this, I have another book coming out in Danish here in September and have a lot of other ideas I want to write about. So that would be an amazing career in my eyes. And then, of course, I want to I want to contribute a lot of original research as well. So that’s what I’m also focusing on, of course, on my PhD and I actually think bring us closer to understanding what aging even is, because I think that’s still a big open question that we need to answer.
Peter Bowes: I think it’s a great question and a potentially very exciting career. Nicklas, thank you so much. It’s a great book. Thoroughly recommend it. Really good to talk to you.
Nicklas Brendborg: Thank you for having me.
Peter Bowes: And as I say, I thoroughly recommend Jellyfish Age Backwoods: Nature’s secrets to longevity. And I’ll put a link to the book into the show notes for this episode. You’ll find them at our website LLAMApodcast.com LLAMA being Live Long and Master Aging. You’ll also find a transcript of this interview there and more information in the notes at our YouTube channel or your podcasting app of choice. 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.