Does living longer mean living poorly?

America has the highest health-care costs in the world. But are we really living better as a consequence of this massive cost? The January 2011 issue of the Journals of Gerontology says maybe not (1). There is no question that Americans are living longer, but our years of disease-free and functional living are declining faster. In particular, the chances of someone age 65 reaching age 85 have doubled from (from 20 percent to 40 percent), but a longer life is coming with more chronic disease and an increasing inability to function normally. In other words, the number of healthy years we can expect to have has actually decreased over the last decade.

So where are all our health-care dollars going? They appear to be keeping us alive. We are delaying death at the price of decreased quality of life as we age. As the lead author stated, “Longer life is what we want. But we’re going to have to pay for it with more treatment of diseases and accommodations for disability.” Since 40 percent of our health-care costs come after age 65, we can expect that Medicare costs will rise even faster than expected as an increasingly sicker baby-boomer population begins to enter Medicare starting this year.

But what about all the news we hear about “anti-aging” research where we can just inject “youth hormones,” like growth hormone, to reverse the aging process? It turns out that there may be trouble brewing in that area also. These hormones are growth factors. This means they turn on DNA synthesis that leads to a shortening of telomeres at the end of a DNA strand. When these telomeres become short enough, any future DNA turnover stops, and the cell dies. This has been demonstrated to occur in mice in which you can increase the levels of growth hormone. When you do so, the animals die prematurely, and there appears to be an acceleration of aging in many organs, including the brain (2).

This potential side effect of increased growth hormone is further confirmed in another recent study (3). This particular study demonstrated that giving mice inhibitors of the release of growth hormone increased their longevity. What was unique in this study was that they used specially bred mice that age prematurely. So if you want to speed up the aging process by taking growth hormone injections, you might look great in the process, but don’t count on an extended lifetime.

Of course, there is another way of looking better and living a longer, healthier life: Calorie restriction without hunger or deprivation. This is the foundation of the anti inflammatory diet. By maintaining the appropriate balance of protein to carbohydrate at every meal and snack, you are able to maintain satiety (i.e. absence of hunger). If you aren’t hungry, then you don’t eat as many calories. This automatically slows down the aging process as long as you are getting adequate protein and supplying necessary micronutrients (4). Not surprisingly, this is also how you squeeze out more quality years as you age.

1. Crimmins EM and Beltran-Sanchez H. “Mortality and morbidity trends: Is there a compression of morbidity?” Journals of Gerontology Series B 66B: 75-86 (2011)
2. Bartke A. “Can growth hormone accelerate aging?” Neuroendocrinology 78: 210-216 (2003)
3. Banks WA, Morely JE, Farr SA, Price TO, Ercal N, Vidaurre I, and Schally AV. “Effect of a growth hormone-releasing hormone antagonist on teleomerase activity, oxidative, stress, longevity, and aging in mice.” Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 107: 22272-22277 (2010)
4. Sears B. “The Anti-Aging Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (1999)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

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This entry was posted in Zone Health and tagged , , by Dr. Barry Sears. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dr. Barry Sears

Dr. Barry Sears is a leading authority on the impact of the diet on hormonal response, genetic expression, and inflammation. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his research efforts over the past 30 years to the study of lipids. He has published more than 30 scientific articles and holds 13 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. He has also written 13 books, including the New York Times #1 best-seller "The Zone". These books have sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S. and have been translated into 22 different languages.

4 thoughts on “Does living longer mean living poorly?

  1. Dr. Sears, on, Dr. Mercola is Promoting Peak 8 exercising to release HGH. This is exercising has hard has you can for 30 seconds and then walking for 90 seconds and repeating 8 times in 20 minute’s, I have started doing this and it feels great, is this flawed, based on what you just wrote? Of coarse you are releasing your own growth hormone and not haveing it injected? I should note that Dr. Mercola does not recoment injections either.

    PS. I read most of your books and you have made a huge influence in my family and my Life, thank you Dr. Sears.

    • Interval training is the best way to release growth hormone. It takes some effort, but then that is what exercise is supposed to entail. Because you are giving the body a chance to rest between exercise bouts, you are able to maintain a better balance of growth hormone release. Not constantly elevated as with injections of growth hormone, nor shut down as with genetic knock-out mice. Interval training exercise in general (kettlebell exercises and suspension training are other good ways of doing interval training) is the best way to maintain that hormonal balance.

  2. Hi, Dr. Sears,

    I’m curious what you think of TA-65. Of course it’s expensive, but certainly within reach of affluent elderly people and a small price to pay for living healthier, for longer.

    Apparently it does help telomeres remain or even grow longer. I realize that some people are afraid that may encourage cancer.

    My suspicion is that this fear is parallel to the ones over testosterone and prostate cancer. After all, young men have lots of testosterone and almost no prostate cancer.

    Young people have long telomeres and almost no cancer.

    But I’m not a medical researcher :)

    Is it possible that TA-65 works, especially for people who also look after their health in other ways? I’m not suggesting it be treated as a license to eat sugar, smoke and never exercise – just that it could also magnify the effect of following the Zone and exercising moderately.

    • Rather than looking at ways to elongate telomeres, I think it is better to look at ways to reduce their rate of shrinkage. I am among those that have a lurking fear that increasing telomerase activity may increase cancer risk. On the other the ways to reduce teleomere shortening include reducing insulin levels and increasing omega-3 fatty intake. Both of these approaches have been demonstrated to slow the spread of cancer.

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