I’m writing the Forever young columns for transhumanists who want to live longer than the longest-lived human to date. Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment was born in 1875 and died in 1997 at the “old age” of 122 years and 164 days.
Despite the apparent odds against outliving the oldest documented person, most transhumanists I now expect to live to 150. Just last night, Eric Gradman, a computer scientist who does circus acts and fire-twirling, told me, “I will live to 100, worst case, but intend to live until 250.” Prof. Gregory Benford, chairman and co-founder of longevity supplement company Genescient (featured in my Forever Young column in h+ issue #3), stands firm on his claim that he can tell me, at age 47, how to live until 150. I’ve known Greg for over 10 years, and he’s never been wrong, so I choose to believe him.
However, if 150, instead of 75, is the new span of life, then we need to get through the toughest rite of passage. The Massai boys of Kenya had to face a lion to become men, and the Spartan boys had to face a wolf. We who would double our life-spans have to survive a similar trial — facing down our own cells, preventing them from becoming excessively feral and fertile through what I will call “new adolescence.” We face this passage during that period from the mid-40s to the mid-60s when we are most likely to get cancer. There’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that cancer accounts for 23-25% of all deaths in the US (vs. about 26% for heart disease, the #1 cause) and will kill 292,540 men and 269,800 women in 2009, according to the American Cancer Society. The good news is that if you can survive “new adolescence” without dying of cancer, you are less likely to die of cancer with each year that you add. A study of centenarians revealed that fewer than 4% died of cancer.
The other good news is that if you are reading this magazine, which probably requires a higher education and IQ level than just about any other magazine in Barnes & Noble, you have the ultimate cancer fighters: curiosity and ability to process complex and weird information. Cancer is basically what happens when your cells are copied with errors before they can get repaired — and then they grow out of control. As a smart person, you can employ useful information to reprogram yourself. I’m not a doctor, and I’m not giving health advice, so follow these eight New Rules at your own risk. On the other hand, most people are aware that they need to look out for themselves.
1. Cancer is a result of many things, the most easily treatable of which is information deficiency.
It’s important to read widely about cancer. Cure magazine (see resources) focuses on cancer treatment. As I write this the Cure website has a feature article about sex toys, so it’s not as grim as you might think. The cancer related sections in Aubrey de Grey’s Ending Aging (pgs. 274-308) and Ray Kurzweil’s Transcend are the minimum an h+ reader should read and grok.
2. Your success in staying cancer-free could be worth a fortune.
According to the Milken Institute, curing cancer is worth $50 trillion. If you come up with a program that works, you will be part of the solution and might even be able to save lives of friends as well as strangers… and make money from both. Plus, 60% of US bankruptcies are from health care bills, so stay healthy.
Insulin turns out to be the perfect nutrient… for cancer farming!
3. Get thin, as if your life depends on it, because it does!
Essential body fat is 3-5% for men and 9-11% for women. The average American man has 17-19% body fat and the average American woman has 22-25% body fat. Greater fat correlates with greater insulin resistance (morbid obesity = much greater likelihood of getting diabetes). The more insulin resistance you have, the more insulin your body has to produce, and the longer the insulin floats around in your blood stream. Insulin turns out to be the perfect nutrient… for cancer farming! This could be part of the reason that the more obese someone is, the more likelihood he or she will get cancer, particularly cancers of internal organs. It’s my own unscientific hunch that if humans got closer to essential body fat numbers, we would see a drop in internal cancers, though it’s important to keep in mind that that vitamins A, D, E, and K are lipid (fat) soluble, so you need sufficient fat to absorb these vitamins.
4. The sun on your body is your friend for up to 10 minutes a day. After that, it’s trying to kill you.
Get direct sunshine because it’s the most natural source of vitamin D. However, direct sunlight can cause up to 50,000 DNA strand breaks per minute, and if the cells divide before the damage is repaired, you could be setting skin cancer in motion, so 10 minutes is all you want. Approximately 68,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year, and 7,000 prove to be fatal.
5. If you want a friend, get a dog… a cancer-sniffing dog.
Part of the reason skin cancers can prove fatal is that only 80% are diagnosed at the “local” stage. There are dogs that, if they see or smell cancer, will snarl, bark, and try to bite off the cancerous skin. Strange as it sounds, you actually want to get one of these dogs, and you want your friends to get one too. You want to let the dog sniff you and see you slowly twirl around in all your naked glory at least once a week. Even more importantly, you want a dog that can sniff your urine and bark if you have cancer. I’m serious as cancer about this. And every time you buy a cancer-sniffing dog, you increase the likelihood that this trait will be bred for and trained for.
6. It takes a village (without an idiot) to keep you cancer free.
Friends, even Facebook friends, can potentially give you information about diet, exercise, supplements, natural cures, good doctors, bad hospitals, and so forth that may end up saving your life. Become friends with the smartest people who are also interested (in fact, obsessed is good) in longevity — and in getting you through the twenty years of increased cancer risk.
7. Don’t like taxes? Well, cancer is a tax.
Cancer is a tax on fat people, lazy people, smokers, and people who consume processed meats and coat their bodies with lots of chemicals. You don’t have to pay this tax, but it does mean changing or eliminating what you eat, drink, smoke, or rub on your skin.
8. You’ve got to keep moving.
Cardiovascular exercise does over 100 helpful things to the human body. If you tried to duplicate all these good chemical interactions in your body with prescription drugs, it would cost a fortune, and you’d probably get sick from the drug interactions. Yet only a minority of doctors prescribes exercise. Well, consider this your prescription: you need to exercise for at least an hour, at least three times a week. I know normal people who exercise 20 to 30 hours a week and have fun doing it. None of them have cancer. It may not be the reason they don’t have cancer, but to the best of my knowledge this hasn’t been tested, so it’s entirely possible. Good luck with your adventures in longevity. May you and yours stay healthy until 150.
Alex Lightman is the Executive Director of Humanity+ (the organization) and CTO of FutureMax, a merchant bank. He is the author of Brave New Unwired World, the first book on 4G wireless.