Chapter 3 - What Is Aging?
What is aging? You may think this question is so simple, it doesn't deserve an answer. Everybody
who is not so stupid that he belongs in the funny farm knows what aging is. It' s--—well--ah--—getting old. Well, it s changing: men get bald and paunchy,
their legs shrink, they get wrinkled, they lose vigor. Women get paunchy, grow light mustaches, their breasts shrink, they lose vigor. They dye their hair blue.
Then later, everyone who is old, really old, starts talking about his or her childhood and what happened in the old days. They don't think too much about what's happening now or might happen. Then later on, if they live through heart attacks, cancer, and the various other middle- and old-age diseases, they talk incessantly about their body functions—did they have a good bowel movement or did they get the right amount of pills to control their blood pressure and why are they mostly depressed? Fear of death. Disgust or despair at their present predicament, and inwardly knowing that there is no basis for real hope for them. They are doomed to die, and some think it is a mercy that many die babbling, mumbling incoherencies, oblivious of pain or conscious thought. Certainly it is easier on some of them than on their relatives, who have to bear the burden of excessive monetary problems, added to the sad realization that their dear ones aren't the same people they knew before. This is a terrible problem of aging, from an obvious, external viewpoint.
But what we have said thus far is simple, a matter of fact to millions of people who don t know what they can do here and now. We have not touched on what aging really is and how it can be prevented, the reason being that in our present stage of development on what has been termed Spaceship Earth, we are just beginning to unravel the tenuous threads that interconnect all life in the universe. We know almost nothing about man or the universe, but "authorities" of every kind profess to speak with special knowledge about both. Yet almost every hypothesis and/or theory man has propounded as a universal absolute has been refuted by other hypotheses or theories. And the faster the knowledge comes in, the faster are the refutations or the transcending of existing theories.
As I write this, I received news that one of sciences most favored hypotheses has suffered a severe challenge. In fact, it upsets practically everyone s opinion about what aging really is.
Let us see what the background of the supposition was (and is) and how it came to be seriously questioned, if not outright refuted.
For thousands of years it was observed by many scientists or philosophers that all species had a certain time to live and a certain time to die. In fact it is somewhat reasonable to suppose (as if reason or supposition had anything to do with it) that all creatures must die in order to make room for their progeny; it s a seeming law of religion, common sense, and lately evolution; and even more recently, the students of the cells--—biologists, geneticists. And indeed they were, and are, right--—up to a point.
Every species has a certain time to be born, grow to maturity, reproduce if possible, and then gradually fade out of the scene. Nature itself seems to bolster this theory. For example, the life of the so-called lower species is grooved to a very narrow time period. May-flies, which as larvae spend three years under water, suddenly emerge of a summer's day, shed their skins, seek a mate, and whether or not successful in this endeavor, die the same day. The pattern is inevitable. It is built into every form of life yet studied on our planet. With man as well as other forms of life, the pattern may vary individually, but never much from the species standard.
We all have read about some few men and women who live beyond 100, and indeed, there are "pockets" in the world where oldsters exist in more numbers than elsewhere. Ecuador, Hunzaland, and Georgia in Russia are the three best-known localities. All three are remote and their elderly inhabitants are usually illiterate, simple rural folk who go to bed at the same time as their animals and rise with them to eke out a conditioned routine existence comparable to their animals.
Drs. Bernard Strehler of the University of Southern California and Leonard Hayflick of Wistar Institute in Philadelphia (now at Stanford University) are chiefly responsible for the hypothesis that aging is a built-in mechanism in the genes. Until very recently, almost every "authority" on aging (what a word—it is almost like saying someone is an expert on God or ghosts or flying saucers--—how can you be expert on something about which almost nothing is known?) knew within a factor approaching 10 to the 30th that aging was caused by whatever scientific fad the expert happened to prefer. Let us briefly review the existing hypotheses. Some are well thought out and propounded with admirable thoroughness.
Knowing the human race and particularly scientists, who are about as jealous a breed as was ever developed by emergent evolution, I should advise my readers to take all of their findings with a large ampule of placebo.
The late great, controversial Dr. Alexis Carrel initiated the idea of immortality of the cells (in the modern era) by keeping cells from a chicken heart alive for more than thirty-five years. It was assumed that cells are immortal if given the right amount of nutrients and the correct environmental atmosphere. But in 1952 George 0. Gey at Johns Hopkins discovered the awful price for immortality, at least among cells of higher forms of life: after a time they turn into cancer cells, which of course would kill the host if they were inside the body. The cells need a regulator that is found in the body. This is why we don't get cancer unless our regulator is overwhelmed by various circumstances, either outside or inside the body. Big jolt to scientific thinking at that time.
Another big jolt came in 1961 when Dr. Leonard Hayflick discovered that in the lab there is indeed a genetic biological clock governing all life, including the human being. For example, cell reproduction, which is essential to life, has a definite end. In man it is about fifty reproductions or generations. It is almost as if a screen director said "cut" at the end of about fifty generations of life and brought that particular strain to an end. Of course we are constantly replenishing our cells at differing rates; the average life of a red blood cell is around 120 days. As we and other creatures age, the division (and therefore multiplication) of cells becomes increasingly difficult, for various reasons—newly formed cells have the same life expeo. tancy as the old ones they replace. But up to September 1974, it was thought to be axiomatic that fifty— more or less—divisions (in the test tube) was it. Kapüt. Later, we shall see why this month marks a turning point for thinking about aging.
Hayflick found that freezing the cells halted their division—a sort of suspended animation—but as soon as they were thawed, they took up the same inescapable march toward death at the number they left off. In other words, frozen at twenty-five divisions, upon thawing, they had around twenty-five more divisions left in their life spans. However, Hayffick is not the prophet of Kismet one might expect because of the seeming finality of his and other researchers findings. Strehler also believes that although we have a genetic code or master plan built in, it is possible to alter the code and/or change whatever is the cause of aging, by genetic manipulation, or the skillful use of enzymes and viruses.
Other popular theses of aging are that the genetic code to the cells is preordained; that there is nothing anybody can do about it. Scientists point to the puberty cycle, maturity, reproduction cycle, the menopause in women, diminution of powers in the aging--such as loss of kidney, liver and lung functions at certain definite ages, and finally, the brain's dysfunction (second childhood or senility) and then, of course, death. They say certain functions can be improved in a minor way by environment: diet, exercise, hobbies, yoga, health foods, but brother, don't kid yourself: preordination is a fact of life and no one, but no one, can change it.
Another popular hypothesis is that of genetic error.
As we age, through whatever process, the cells become clogged with useless material (lipofuscin or ceroid matter), whether through poor diet, cosmic rays, or pollution, and are unable to function properly. Thus the process of biofeedback is interfered with. The cells can't communicate properly with the central computer (the brain) nor can the brain respond properly; therefore it sends wrong signals (through DNA/RNA), but even if it did send the right signals, the cells, being damaged severely, could not man their battle stations and execute their prescribed duties.
Another hypothesis states that because the cells are damaged in older life, they cannot distinguish friend from foe. As you know, the body is equipped with certain types of cells that fight off foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses--—in fact any sort of foreign protein. This is why it has been so hard to graft kidneys and other organs. It's called the autoimmune system. The autoimmune system works well usually, or we wouldn't be around to discuss it. But it seems that later in life, probably because of the factors previously mentioned (and very likely others we don t know about) these "cross-wired" cells start attacking their own body tissues as if they were invaders. It's much like a robot which, given definite programming, goes haywire through faulty communications and starts attacking the men who built it. No matter how the men may scream they didn't mean it to work that way, the robot simply carries out its orders, however twisted they may become. Imagine a giant scavenger white cell slowly backing away from engulfing a delectable bit of protein cell when it had imprinted orders to eat it! That would take certain countermanding orders of which our scientists, unfortunately, are not yet capable.
Which brings us to the "free radical" theory of aging, which Dr. Denham Harman of the University of Nebraska first advanced. It seems that certain molecules in our bodies get their electronic components disarranged because of radiation from the sun and cosmic rays. Several other factors have been postulated as also being responsible. However, in this minuscule explosion, an electron is freed. A free electron, being of a negative charge, has an utmost compulsion to become attached to a working system which has a positive charge. Now most normal systems of the body do not want wandering electrons. But certain abnormal systems, such as those of cancer and those which form deadly arterial deposits, will accept them. This unwonted activity compounds the injury to the cells and tissues which are trying to maintain a normal homeostasis so that we can live. In time, the "free" electrons do much damage to the body, thereby aging it. Apparently the only way to combat this action is through the use of antioxidants such as vitamin B—a subject we will explore later.
Almost everyone knows the name of Dr. Hans Selye, a physiologist at the University of Montreal. It is Dr. Selye's theory that almost all disease is caused by stress, particularly our Western world's worst killers, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, alcoholism—but you name it--it's caused by stress.
Dr. Selye makes an excellent case for stress as being the causative factor in most ailments, not just in humans but in many other species. He asserts (backed up by almost unassailable research) that stress produces the diseases of which we are so aware, as well as depression. He believes that the brain is influenced by stress; the body is constantly in such a state of stress that it is impossible for the human being to escape it. Stress is defined as bodily, such as heat, cold, deprivation of oxygen, or mental, including the various frustrations, which as we know are limitless. The stress recently acquired by modern man is tearing down his body and mind.
Thank you, Dr. Selye. How do you suggest we avoid it? A long trip back to Eden?
Dr. Selye, many years ago, found that vitamin B would obviate most of the results of old-age-and-stress-produced disorders—at least in rats—but this fact was not, reported in the popular media until I reported it in my first book, Vitamin E: Your Key to a Healthy Heart. Even then the significance of the experiment was lost until very recently, and to my knowledge, Dr. Selye has not followed up his initial findings on vitamin E.
By now you must have discerned that not only is there some disagreement in the scientific world about aging, but there is also some agreement; some overlap, naturally. There are hundreds of other hypotheses, but we have touched on the major ones. In this book, which is dedicated to a new and practical approach to aging, we don't have space to present them all.
However, there are two more aspects of aging which we must deal with. The first is monoamine oxidase, probably one of the most important clues in mankind's long search to prevent and/or alleviate old age and its related symptoms. Don t worry about the term: we will call it MAO from now on. It is a vital part of the explanation of how Dr. Ana AsIan s GH3 formulation works. We shall pursue this rationale in Chapters 12 and 16.
Now that we have examined most of the leading hypotheses and theories, up to September 1974, we must reiterate that all the theories are worthwhile and certain of their aspects are valid. They are advanced by dedicated researchers who are not just uninspired pipette suckers and bottle washers (even though these workers are extremely important). The researchers are ambitious, profound thinkers, sincere seekers after the truth.
The significance of what we shall reveal now is appreciated only by a few. Yet this work, which was announced in September 1974, blew apart most of the acceptcd theories about man and his aging and opened up a completely different approach to the problem. (Gerovital H3 has also lengthened the life span of cells, but the experiments were not published in the popular media; we shall examine these reports later.) Drs. Lester Packer and James Smith at the University of California at Berkeley proved that human lung cells when supplemented with massive doses of vitamin B were no longer subjected to Hayflick's dictum of death at roughly fifty generations. In other words, there was no inflexible law which said that fifty generations was it, period. Their findings meant that man through tampering (experimenting with his own cells with logic and insight) could really alter his life span—if the test-tube findings were corroborated. Since discoveries by other researchers had all been done in the test tube, there was every reason to assume the Packer-Smith findings were valid. Yet do you suppose the world knows about this discovery? Principally not. However, much to its credit the New York Times carried the story, pointing out the efficacy of vitamin B in maintaining the youthfulness of the cells.
As we have explained previously, researchers Packer and Smith took normal human lung cells and subjected them to massive doses of vitamin B. They had "control" (untreated) cells which promptly died at the fiftieth generation. Much to the researchers surprise, the vitamin B-treated cells continued to grow in good health past the 120th generation and were still going strong when the experiment was concluded. Most important, the vitamin B-treated cells were normal, and did not pass into the wild cancerous growths typical of cells grown in the lab.
The significance of this experiment means that man, by chemicals, can alter the heretofore unalterable. It means that we are no longer prisoners of the Grecian Sisters of Fate and no longer prisoners of the equally ominous Science and Religion duo which have held us intellectual captives since the 19th century. Whether it be vitamin B, GH3, or a combination of many factors, it is good news for most of us.
I spoke to Dr. Hayflick at the Vista Hill Foundation s (San Diego) Seminar on Aging in February 1975. His answer to my positive observations about vitamin B and GH3 was: "This work is very interesting. That s what we scientists are here for. To look for the truth in all directions." This is the mark of a real scientist.
As for the old entrenched ones, it is best they do not take either vitamin B or GH3. They won't anyway, because it is well known that men—particularly those who have spent a lifetime defending their positions, will rather die than admit they have been wrong.
It takes a very great man or scientist to admit being wrong. As you may discern by the state of the world, there are very few of either.