Can a Pill Really Help You Live Longer?

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A new supplement claims to use complex systems science to help increase the human life span

Can a Pill Really Help You Live Longer?
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Neurohacker Collective has just released a product called Eternus, a 38 ingredient supplement that aims to address all key factors of aging at the cellular level. I am taking this product seriously because I personally know the folks at Neurohacker and find them to be very thoughtful about what they put into their products.

A few years back, I contacted Neurohacker because I was curious about their product Qualia, which incorporates a large number of different nootropicsQualia is designed to target the whole system and bring about “radical cognitive enhancement.”Of course I was skeptical. But I was also curious, and my interest piqued even more when I saw that a psychologist I respected was quoted on their website with a favorable review.

So I tried it. When I took it, I felt as though I could focus for a longer stretch of time, hold more in my working memory, and connect lots of dots at once. Also, my thoughts felt as though they were flowing faster, there was a lifting of my brain fog, and my anxiety was basically non-existent for the entire day. I don’t know which ingredients in particular were having the most effect, however, and I am a bit concerned about taking so many nootropics at once. Nevertheless, I like how much the scientists at Neurohacker researched the interactions between the ingredients, and tried their best to take a complex systems science approach to the formulation of all of their products. Also, they are continually updating their products, attempting to really hone in on the most essential and important interactions.*

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Now, the Neurohacker Collective have entered the longevity space. Aging is a funny thing. Our susceptibility to most health ailments increase because of it. Billions are spent on cosmetics trying to mask it. Its symptoms- lower energy, poorer sleep quality, sagging skin, cognitive decline, weaker muscles- all take their toll on our lifestyle options and our self-image. We can’t live forever, but we can live long, and we can live well. How long and how well depend on whether we’re trying to merely manage these symptoms, or whether we’re addressing aging where it begins- at the cellular level. The Neurohacker Collective claims that their new product Eternus is “the most comprehensive cellular energy and aging formula ever designed.” That’s a big claim.

Can this comprehensive approach really revolutionize how we delay the onset of negative aging symptoms? I sat down with part of the Eternusformulation team, Dr. Greg Kelly, for a deeper dive into aging: what it is, what occurs on the cellular level that progresses the cascade of its symptoms, and how a product like Eternus could revolutionize our approach to aging by solving for age-related decline at the most foundational level.

1. What is a complex systems approach and why do you utilize that approach to promote a longer healthspan and healthier aging process overall?

A complex systems approach is a way of thinking about scientific information. It focuses on what’s done and how a system responds over time to what was done. We believe, it’s this latter element– learning and adaptation– that’s most important to health; it’s also what tends to be largely overlooked.

A complex systems approach also recognizes that the whole can be something more than the sum of its isolated parts. The interactions and relationships between things matter. We have mitochondrial and cellular networks. These networks help us adapt to our diet, lifestyle and environments in ways that either help us stay healthy or age poorly. While it’s important to understand how things work in isolation; it’s much more important to understand relationships and how whole systems respond.

Neurohacker Collective uses a complex systems approach because we believe it is the best way to understand scientific information and apply it to real world problems, like healthy aging or brain performance.

2. What is the “healthy aging puzzle”?

Neurohacker Collective uses the idea of a “healthy aging puzzle” as a way to fit together what are often treated as isolated pieces of cellular and mitochondrial function into a bigger picture of how these things work together. Mitochondrial networks produce about our body weight of cellular energy (i.e., ATP) every day. Cells use this energy to do the work they need to clean up damage and do many other important jobs. A molecule called NAD+ is used to make ATP; it’s also used to activate sirtuins (a cellular stress sensing pathway) and to promote DNA repair. The food we eat is converted into ATP by several linked pathways. Hormones tell groups of cells how to respond together. Our body clock influences what cellular and mitochondrial processes are given preference at different times of the day and night. Health doesn’t happen because of any of these pieces in isolation; it’s a result of all of them happening together.

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3. When adjusting for the large decrease in infant mortality and the impact of infectious diseases, human life expectancy in the industrialized world has improved quite minimally in the last century, despite so many medical breakthroughs. Why has average human life expectancy remained so difficult to meaningfully extend?

When thinking about the topic of life expectancy, it’s important to consider what it is at birth … and what it is at different points of age. Infant mortality, infectious diseases and poverty, as examples, have outsized impacts. When these types of things are accounted for, the life expectancy hasn’t changed as much as we’d expect over time. As an example, a male English noble from the 1500’s who reached the age of 21 had a life expectancy of 71, which is shorter than today, but not nearly what we’d intuitively expect.

After about age 30, chances of dying roughly double every eight years. This is fairly standard for human populations, no matter where you’re from or where you live. One reason we’ve seen relatively little progress in this number is that longevity hasn’t been a major area of medical interest or research until recently. Height and weight might be a useful analogy for why this has been the case. We might be dissatisfied with both, but wouldn’t put efforts into changing height, yet do a lot to try and improve weight. This has to do with how changeable we think they are. Until recently medicine has thought about how long we live as being more like height. This has been shifting; it’s now being thought about as being more like weight … something we can influence.

Another reason has to do with when we start to do things to try and impact it. Healthy behaviors have been one of the main ways to move the life expectancy needle. Even more important is the impact they have on the number of healthy life years (i.e., health expectancy), which was about 63 as of 2015, so quite a bit lower than life expectancy. But using behaviors to impact these is a long-term game … one that pays dividends decades after the investment in the behaviors. Many of us change our behaviors only after they’ve led to problems. This is the wrong approach if we want to live longer, healthier lives.

4. There are animals like the mayfly which barely live 24 hours, while there are shark species that live hundreds of years, and plant species like the bristlecone pine that live thousands of years. Since “aging” varies so much creature to creature, time seems to have only a very loose relationship with the “cause” of aging. What is an intelligent way for someone to actually understand what aging is?

We have a chronological age–the number of years we’ve been alive. Time is the only thing that matters for this. We also have a biological age, which is a way of describing how old someone seems to be when certain biological markers of aging are measured. Our biological age can be older, the same as, or younger than our chronological age. And it seems to be a much better predictor of healthy aging and lifespan. Biological age is important because aging is an ongoing process that starts with our cells. As cells age, they develop hallmarks of aging. These are characteristics that are related to cells looking and acting old. By this I mean they are the cellular equivalent of gray hair, sagging skin, etc. A good way to think about aging is to focus less on time, and more on these hallmarks of aging. This is also the path to impacting aging, because there’s nothing we can do about time, but scientists are discovering things that can impact the hallmarks of aging.

5. If aging begins at the cellular level, what are discoveries and breakthroughs of late which you think indicate we are at the dawn of achieving longer, healthier lives?

One of the hallmarks of aging is called cellular senescence. As we age there’s an increase in the number of senescent cells … these are sometimes called zombie cells because they haven’t been repaired into functional cells but haven’t been eliminated either. One of the recent breakthroughs was identifying the combination of a drug called dasatinib and a flavonoid nutraceutical ingredient called quercetin as a way to potentially eliminate senescent cells. My guess is that the category of compounds called senolytics will continue to be one of the near-term areas of breakthroughs, because it’s getting attention from a drug development perspective. Two other drugs–metformin and rapamycin–have shown promise in animal research. Boosting a molecule called NAD+, which can be done with nutrients that have vitamin B3 activity, is also getting a lot of attention, because the amount of this molecule decreases as we age, and increasing it has positively impacted aspects of several hallmarks of aging in animals.

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