Forget your inheritance. It’s never going to happen. If new scientific discoveries prove correct, we may end up living longer than we’d ever dreamed. Okay, maybe not forever. We’ll all eventually shuffle off this mortal coil; however, recently scientists have discovered the remarkable longevity benefits of a commonly used diabetes medication called ‘metformin’.
Along with allowing us to live longer, metformin may have an impact on cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Trials are anticipated to start as early as this year, and studies have also taken place with animals, showing a distinctive life extension. Scientists believe that it is possible to stop people growing old, which would mean that lifespans could commonly extend to the age of 110 or 120.
According to Scottish ageing expert Professor Gordon Lithgow of the Buck Institute for Research on Ageing in California, if you can slow down ageing, you slow down some age-associated diseases and pathologies as well. He says that the thought of even running clinical trials in humans using medicines like metformin anti-ageing drug, would have been inconceivable 20 years ago. However, in the last two decades, much has been learned about the biology of ageing, removing much of the mystery.
Here’s an interesting fact: ageing is not inevitable and some marine creatures do not age at all. All cells contain a DNA blueprint that could, in theory, keep us going forever.
So, what happens then?
Over our lifetime, billions of cell divisions have to occur to keep our bodies functioning correctly. The more this process occurs, the more tiny errors occur. Eventually, these little problems get bigger and the body cannot repair the damage caused.
With cancer, our cells can no longer handle the mutations and tumours start to grow. With Alzheimer’s, the presence of sticky plaques and tangles in the brain increase and the body cannot clear it out. This is when dementia develops.
Enter: Metformin, an anti-ageing drug
Metformin is nothing new. Commonly used for the treatment of diabetes, it’s also extremely affordable. Metformin increases the number of oxygen molecules released into a cell. It is believed this action boosts “robustness and longevity”. Consequently, it also slows down cardiovascular disease, and may have an impact on slowing the growth of cancer. In particular, it has had a noted impact on slowing the development of breast, lung, liver and prostate cancers.
“If we can slow ageing in humans, even by just a little bit it would be monumental. People could be older, and feel young… It’s been done for other species and there is every reason to believe it could be done in us. This would be the most important medical intervention in the modern era, an ability to slow ageing.”
Dr Jay Olshansky, University of Illinois at Chicago
If proven successful, these findings will drive a new era of ‘geroscience’, where instead of focusing on individual diseases, attention is spent focusing on the underlying mechanism of ageing and anti-aging medicine.
Already, Belgian researchers have tested metformin as an anti-ageing product on tiny roundworms, with results that were frankly a little amusing. Not only did they age slower and remain healthier for longer, but they also didn’t develop wrinkles. Suffice to say, one can safely assume there will be fewer requirements for Botox amongst the roundworm population.
Mice treated with the metformin anti-ageing drug were noted to live longer by nearly 40% and their bones were significantly stronger than the control mice. Human patients tested on the anti-ageing drug last year at Cardiff University were found to have lived approximately eight years longer than the average prediction.
Scientists are exceedingly positive about the possibilities offered by anti-ageing drugs in the future, saying that if results seen in animals are reflected in humans, people could expect to be living longer by up to 50%.
Increased health span – not eternal youth
Scientists are keen to clarify that the focus here is not on eternal youth, but an increase to health and happiness, that is health span. Previously, there’s been some negativity against trial approvals and funding due to the many spurious anti-ageing products and therapies on the market.
The objective here, however, is to slow ageing by increasing health span, by using anti-ageing drugs like metformin, which, potentially, could be a ‘public health revolution’.
Sage Institute of Aged Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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