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Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw – 2
is parrots, which have a higher body temperature and a higher metabolic rate. There are certain species of parrots that live over a hundred and fifty years. That’s not in the wild; I mean in captivity, where they’re well taken care of, protected from predators, and have their food given to them everyday and so forth.
Sandy: But, nevertheless, people don’t live in the wild either. Not really. (laughter)
Durk: Exactly, and I see no reason, in principle, why people couldn’t outlive the longest lived parrots, because, as I said, they actually have a higher body temperature than human beings.
Sandy: It really depends on finding out how aging takes place, which is being studied. There’s a huge quantity of information about aging, and the body of literature is growing at a dramatic pace. Researchers are studying how aging takes place, the different critical points in the aging process that control a lot of what’s taking place, and ways that you can alter how the critical points are functioning.
Durk: Now the government funding of research on aging mechanisms has both an up and a down side. The up side, of course, is that they’re funding of a lot of research, and much of this research is really interesting and good. The down side is something that Milton Freeman pointed out back in the early 1980s–that it can cause scientists to go astray. If you’re offered a lot of money to do research here, and not offered any money to do research over there, you’re going to do research here rather than there.
Sandy: For example, for years a huge amount of research has been done on calorically-restricted animals, looking at what changes take place in the animals compared to the animals that are normally fed–that is, that eat as much as they want. Of course this is a very interesting thing, but in the long run this is not telling anybody anything other than, maybe if you starve yourself you can extend your lifespan. In fact, it’s still not even established that this mechanism would increase the maximum human lifespan.
Durk: I’d love to see some research done on the metabolic differences in parrots versus human beings–old parrots versus old human beings. Particularly, I’d like someone to look at mitochondrial biogenesis, because parrots have to fly and that’s a very energetic task. And yet, even a hundred year old parrot can still fly. I mean, how many hundred year old humans can run a hundred yard dash? In 20 seconds, let alone 10?
Sandy: Another thing about birds is that they have very high blood-glucose levels. In humans, when you have high blood-glucose levels it causes all sorts of problems. You can end up with diabetes, but even if you don’t get diabetes high blood-sugar levels causes a variety of chemical changes. For example, glucose attaches to protein molecules. It’s something that happens very readily, and as you age you have more and more proteins that have been altered by glucose.
Durk: Which could result, for example, in kidney failure. Even though the parrots have much higher levels of glucose, they don’t have these problems. They have some sort of anti-glycation mechanism that either prevents the glycation from occurring in the first place, or reverses it after it happens.
Sandy: Exactly, and I’d sure like to know how that works.
Durk: I know. If a way could be found that could prevent or repair glycation, that would be real good news for a whole lot of diabetics.
Sandy: It will also be a way of slowing aging, because as you get older these glycated proteins are major factors in the increase of free radical activity, and they decrease the ability of proteins to function.
Durk: They cause lose of elasticity in elastic tissues. They can act as antigens that will stimulate autoimmune diseases. I mean, there’s all sorts of nasty things they could do, and yet you’ve got parrots living for well over a century.
Sandy: If we were the ones that were giving out the money, we’d be giving it for different things. But you know what, we’d never take that job, because we don’t want to be giving out other people’s money. Another problem with this government-funded research is that, in the end, it’s just another special-interest group. It makes the scientists into another special-interest group that are all begging for money from the government. If you read the scientific journals now, it’s sort of pathetic–disgusting, in fact–how researchers are always complaining that they’re not getting enough money. But what’s enough? How do you define enough? When you’re getting the money from the government, there’s never enough. So it’s become part of the political process which the two of us avoid like the plague.
David: One of the people that I interviewed for this collection is John Guerin, who started the Ageless Animals Project. According to John, there’s a number of animals that don’t appear to age. For example, a healthy whale was captured at the age of two hundred and eleven years.
Durk: How did they determine that the whale was two hundred and eleven years old?
David: They used a technique called used aspartic acid racemization. Recent research by Jerry Shay at the University of Texas in Dallas showed that whales can live over two hundred years in good health.
Durk: I’d really like to see the scientific references to that, because whales operate at a relatively high body temperature too. They’re not cold-blooded, like a sea tortoise.
David: Rockfish don’t appear to age either. Rockfish caught around Alaska have been discovered to be hundreds of years old.
Durk: Well, rockfish operate cold, and free radical reactions double for every seven degrees Fahrenheit. So I can see how a fish that’s living just above the freezing point could live a real long time, because that’s going to suppress the hell out of free radical reactions. However, when you’re dealing with a warm-blooded animal, like a whale, that’s a whole lot more interesting. Whales are hot, like parrots and people.
David: What suggestions would you make for someone who is looking to improve his or her memory and cognitive performance?
Durk: The first thing is you take a look at the raw materials that are required for it, and one of them is choline. Acetylcholine plays a very important role in memory in the brain, and it’s very easy to increase the amount of choline and acetylcholine in the brain. There was a paper in JAMA which showed that by the time you get into your sixties the amount of choline that you are transporting into your brain drops. It gets into your brain by active transport.
Sandy: Yeah, this is either choline that you’re taking as a supplement or choline that you’ve gotten from your diet. It’s in the bloodstream, and is able to get across the blood-brain barrier–but that’s where the bottleneck takes place.
Durk: It’s active transport that moves the choline into the brain, and by the time you’re in your sixties you have maybe twenty or thirty percent of the transport capability moving choline into your brain that you had as a young adult.
Sandy: But you can overcome that by taking a choline supplement.
Durk: If you don’t have enough choline in your brain, your brain will actually take apart nerves to scavenge the choline from phosphatidylcholine.
Sandy: Nerve membranes, actually. You have phosphatidylcholine in the nerve membranes.
Durk: And the cholinergic nervous system is a “use it or lose it” type system. That is, the activity of cholinergic nerves in the central nervous system causes the release of neurotrophic factors that keep the nerves alive. If you don’t have enough cholinergic activity the nerves start dying back.
Sandy: It’s just like muscles that aren’t used. The same kind of “use it or lose it” type thing.
Durk: So choline works very nicely. You increase the amount of choline turned into acetylcholine with cofactors that are involved in the synthesis. If you look up on the metabolic pathways chart, one of them is vitamin B-5, calcium pantothenate (pantothenic acid). That works through coenzyme A to increase the acetylation of the choline to form acetylcholine. Another thing that you can do is to take betaine, also called trimethylglycine. It’s another methyl donor. A considerable amount of choline gets eaten up, not to make acetylcholine, but to provide methyl groups–because methylation is an important reaction for all sorts of things, including gene control.
Sandy: So if you have a lot of betaine your choline doesn’t have to be used for the methyl group, and it can be used to make acetylcholine.
Durk: Right. Of the choline that you take, a lot of it gets oxidized into betaine, and by providing the betaine you can reduce that loss. Another thing that you can do is provide other ingredients for neurotransmitters. For example, phenylalanine can be used to make the neuromodulator betaphenethylamine. You need vitamin B-6 and you need cooper. It’s interesting to note that, according to the old FDA standards, before they lowered the amount of vitamin B-6 that they recommended, something like sixty percent of the population was getting less than the RDA of B-6, which is necessary to form noradrenaline, dopamine, and betaphenethylamine. So you can take a formulation containing phenylalanine and vitamin B-6, a little bit of copper. Forty percent of the population is not getting the RDA of copper.
David: What suggestions would you make for couples who are looking to improve their sex lives?
Durk: One of the things that I would suggest is