“Who wants to live forever?” The immortal words of Freddie Mercury blast from the speakers as blue lights swivel around the room and a smoky mist floats up from the stage in front of me. If the audience is anything to go by, the answer to his question is: the mega rich.
All conference attendees were handed a gift bag with at least two containers of supplements. In mine, I found 60 days’ worth of “purity” supplements and a small tub of the resveratrol-containing booster supplement.
Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, was one of the scientists in attendance. He finds it concerning. In the past, he says, he took the line that the sale of most supplements was “good for the economy” and not much else—essentially a harmless waste of money. But today, plenty of companies are leaning on science to develop supplements designed to target biological functions that seem to be linked to aging.
We don’t know exactly what these supplements are doing. None have been through rigorous clinical trials. “You don’t know how they are interacting with each other … I’m worried that we don’t know what they are doing.” says Barzilai.
Evelyne Bischof of the Shanghai University of Medicine, who was also at the meeting, shares some of the same concerns. Bischof is trained as a medical doctor; after specializing in oncology and internal medicine, she turned her attention to longevity medicine. Today, she offers personalized treatments that she hopes will extend the health span of her patients in the US and China.
She has treated people who have become ill after taking longevity supplements. “They came to me almost in kidney failure in their 30s, because they jumped on a very high dose of supplements and it was just not good for them,” she says.
I do like Dr. Bischoff’s approach towards personally testing new therapeutics:
That being said, Bischof herself is self-experimenting with potential longevity treatments. “It made sense for me,” she says. So is Barzilai. He says he is doing so “as a scientist”—he’ll have blood tests taken before and after trying anything new, he says. “I want to maximize my health, so I’m experimenting with some things that I don’t care to talk about,” he says. “And by the way, I’m doing it with a doctor.”
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