According to Greek mythology, there was once a mortal by the name of Tithonus who enjoyed a happy life as one of the princes of Troy. One day, while lounging on the beach at sunrise, he was met by Eos, the Goddess of the Dawn.
Eos decided to take Tithonus as her lover, which would have been seen as a stroke of luck, as like most goddesses, Eos was extraordinarily beautiful. But as Tithonus was a mortal, their relationship had an expiry date, and so Eros asked Zeus, the king of the gods, to make Tithonus immortal so that they could spend eternity together. Zeus generously agreed, but there was a catch.
Eos asked for Tithonus to have eternal life, but not eternal youth. As so as the years passed, Tithonus continued to age, his skin wrinkling and his body shrinking. In the end, he could no longer move his limbs and was left babbling incessantly, getting smaller and smaller until he became the size of a cricket. Chirp!
While the fate of mortals chosen by gods is a common theme in mythology, the story of Tithonus is particularly relevant against the backdrop of modern medicine. A similar story is unfolding across the globe as we see life expectancies continue to increase, while at the same time the years managing chronic diseases is increasing at a faster rate. In mathematical terms, while a 65-year-old now may expect to live five years longer than a 65-year-old in 1960, they will spend more than five additional years managing conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
As our social environmental conditions improve, and medical procedures, technologies, and pharmaceuticals continue to advance, our ability to extend life expectancy will continue to increase. This trend is already apparent as the leading causes of death and disability worldwide are now related to lifestyle and aging, also known as noncommunicable diseases.
But if we are spending those additional years of life managing disease and disability, we risk becoming a version of Tithonus. The aim should therefore be to extend health span – the number of years we are functional and disease free.
The fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death and disability worldwide, as grim as it is, does have a silver lining. We now know that heart disease is in most cases a disease of lifestyle and therefore for the most part preventable. This is also the case for stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. What are the secrets to a long, and more importantly, healthy life?
We should all know by now the health benefits of exercise on the body. The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for physical activity for adults recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week.
This should be supplemented by muscle strengthening activity at least twice a week.
Optimizing nutrition is equally important. Released every five years, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides a complete framework of recommended foods, updated using the latest clinical evidence. In addition to a balanced diet, vitamin supplements may also help boost energy levels and support immune health.
The positive effects of sleep on mental health, weight loss, memory, brain health, and the immune system have been shown in numerous studies. Typically, we should aim to get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Stress also acts negatively on the body and should be managed naturally if possible through breathing exercises or meditation.
In addition to lifestyle modifications, a new body of science is forming around a molecular approach to slow the aging process and its associated diseases. While aging is not considered by the established medical community to be a disease, there are a host of conditions that are linked to aging including cancer, dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), age-related inflammatory diseases, and immune function deterioration.
The Sinclair Lab at Harvard Medical School has developed a hypothesis that our body’s response to DNA damage may be the chief cause of aging. In their research, they discovered that the amount of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) in the body, a vital coenzyme found naturally in all living cells, decreases with age. NAD+ is linked with the health of the mitochondria, often called the powerhouse of the cell. According to the Sinclair Lab, “a large body of evidence indicates that common aging-related diseases have a mitochondrial component.”
In mice models, providing NAD+ supplements has resulted in restored metabolic function back to youthful levels as well as extended lifespan. The combination of diet, exercise and NAD boosters has resulted in benefits to the following areas:
According to David Sinclair, co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Harvard Medical School, “NAD+ is the closest we’ve gotten to a fountain of youth.”
In recent years, NAD+ has become one of the most sought after supplements in the fight against age-related disease and disability and is now available as an IV infusion.