Lifespan: Why We Age―and Why We Don’t Have To (Review)

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According to Business Insider, the global anti-aging industry is expected to earn a revenue of $344.89 billion by 2027 (2009). Through anti-wrinkle creams, antioxidant supplements, and serums, cosmetic companies are cashing in on an inevitable part of our lives — aging.

Harvard Medical geneticist, David A. Sinclair, however, isn’t concerned with the cosmetics industry. Dr. Sinclair proposes a more radical picture of aging for the readers of his latest book, Lifespan: Why We Age―and Why We Don’t Have To (Atria Books): what if the wrinkles, aches, and frailty we’ve come to recognize as signs of aging weren’t so much our birthright but symptoms of what would be the most pervasive disease to impact humankind? Assisted by journalist and Utah State professor, Matthew LaPlante, Sinclair asserts that the phenomenon of aging that we’ve dismissed as inevitable actually results from DNA damage that is both identifiable and curable.

While Sinclair’s cure for aging relies on the latest advancements in genetic engineering, the source for his “Information Theory of Aging” originated billions of years ago. Through the hypothetical bacteria that gave rise to all life on Earth, M.superstes, Sinclair introduces the “survival circuit,” — a set of genes that pauses reproduction during rough times to repair damaged DNA.

When the enzymes responsible for repairing DNA damage are overwhelmed, we begin to see the hallmark “symptoms” of aging. Sinclair cites his own research into sirtuins (the main enzymes responsible for DNA repair and cellular reproduction) and various molecules that affect their functioning as the sole cause of aging.

“If you are taken aback by the notion that there is a singular cause of aging, you are not alone,” writes Sinclair. “Even gerontologists, doctors who specialize in aging, often don’t ask why we age–they simply seek to address the consequences.”

Backed by 30 years of research, Lifespan sheds light on the difficulties of reconciling the breakthroughs occurring in the lab with the agenda of the medical community at large. He points out that “[aging] fulfills every category of what we call a disease except one: it impacts more than half the population.”

Since aging fails to satisfy this key component of the medical community’s definition of a malady, Sinclair argues that it doesn’t “fit nicely into the system we’ve built for funding medical research, drug development, and the reimbursement of medical costs by insurance companies.” This argument becomes a launching pad for discussing the use of certain chemicals and lifestyle interventions to improve sirtuin functioning. Sinclair examines everything from the more traditional suggestions of calorie restriction and adequate exercise to more experimental tactics such as “vitality molecule” supplements.

Sinclair synthesizes medical research, historical analysis, and personal experience in an attempt to revolutionize our approaches to healthcare and perceptions of aging.

Sinclair, however, never pushes his recommendations on the reader.

“Let me say that I never recommend supplements,” he warns after listing his own lifestyle choices. “I don’t test or study products, nor do I endorse them. If you see a product implying that I do, it’s certainly a scam.”

Lifespan doesn’t read like a fad diet cookbook or a “6-Weeks-To-A-Brand-New-You” scam; rather, Sinclair’s book comes across as a sincere plea for reform. Sinclair synthesizes medical research, historical analysis, and personal experience in an attempt to revolutionize our approaches to healthcare and perceptions of aging.

The book doesn’t just concern itself with relaying Sinclair’s lab-tested methods for increasing longevity. Chapters devoted to realtime bio-tracking, environmentalism, and compromised privacy at the expense of technological advances place Sinclair’s “Information Theory of Aging” within the context of a global community capable, but unwilling to innovate.

Sinclair’s dedication to understanding aging on both a microscopic and global scale is bound to shatter centuries of paradigms.

Sinclair’s brief retelling of a recent dental visit alone (that found him trying to convince a dentist to treat his teeth despite dismissing his case as “normal wear and tear”) is enough to convince readers of how we plan our lives around an 80-year lifespan. When he turns his gaze toward our society’s “burgeoning addiction to calories and opiates” or a prospective dystopia in which aging cures could create increased class divisions, Sinclair’s dedication to understanding aging on both a microscopic and global scale is bound to shatter centuries of paradigms.

Thanks to the advent of direct-to-consumer genetic testing kits and genetically-modified foods, the public is more willing to incorporate genetics into their daily lives than ever before. Genomic medicine, in particular, has become a controversial frontier that promises to revolutionize treatments for some of humankind’s most pervasive diseases.

While Lifespan, at times, makes truly eyebrow-raising statements (“Aging is going to be remarkably easy to tackle. Easier than cancer.”), David Sinclair never comes across as flashy. After 400 pages of Sinclair’s solid research and blunt social commentaries, most readers may feel that Lifespan is promising us the equivalent of Ponce de Leon’s “Fountain of Youth.” Sinclair’s message, however, is startling simple: “There is no biological law that says we must age… it takes radical thinking to even begin to approach what this will mean for our species.”

Purchase a copy of Lifespan: Why we age– and why we don’t have to

For more information about David Sinclair follow him on Twitter @davidasinclair

For more information about Atria Books follow them on Twitter @atriabooks

WORDS: Aaron Tremper

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