Introduction – Mavericks of Medicine
with the FDA. The FDA is in bed with the drug companies.” What this means is that the FDA generally supports patented drugs over natural dietary supplements–regardless of the scientific evidence–because the drug companies can’t profit off them.
Pharmaceutical companies are seen by many as being motivated primarily by profit, and a lot of people are concerned that this motivation adversely effects their research agendas and marketing strategies. To help solve this problem, retrovirus researcher Peter Duesberg suggested that we “Generate a free market for scientific ideas in which funding depends on logic, scientific principles, and useful results, rather than on approval, or better yet the blessings of “peer-review.” Since the “peers” represent the established scientific monopolies their self-interest demands “science” that confirms and extends the status quo–rather than innovation, which threatens their considerable scientific and commercial investments.”
When I spoke with natural medicine advocate Jonathan Wright he offered some insight into why the research agendas of the pharmaceutical companies might be off track to begin with. He said, “So far as medicine in general goes, our very biggest mistake…started in the early part of the twentieth century, and it continues to this day–and that is, relying on patent medicines to heal the body. This has been an enormous mistake, because the condition necessary to patent anything says that it can not occur in nature. But out bodies are made of materials that are entirely natural…The best it’s going to do is suppress symptoms, and yet the medical profession has gone along with this for over a century.”
However, Dr. Wright told me that he thought that the solution to this problem was very simple. He said, “Everything we need to do can be summed up in these two words: copy nature.” For example, research has shown that when engaging in hormone replacement therapy it is essential that one use hormones that are biologically identical to those found in the human body, if one wishes to avoid the potentially deadly side-effects from taking patented synthetic hormones. The scientific evidence certainly suggests that we should avoid that which is unnatural to the body, and that an important secret to health and longevity is simply to mimic what nature does. Others point out that this is a good place to start, but that we can also significantly improve upon nature.
Our conventional medical system is entirely oriented toward the treatment of disease, illness, and injury. Little attention is given to making healthy people healthier and for improving physical, sexual, and cognitive performance. However, there are now many drugs, herbs, and nutrients available that have been shown to improve physical endurance, cognitive abilities, memory, and sexual performance. In the pages that follow, I discuss these drugs and dietary supplements with Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw, Jonathan Wright, Ray Kurzweil, and others.
These performance-enhancing supplements appear to compensate for some of the decline in performance caused by aging. If cognitive and sexual performance can be enhanced in the elderly then perhaps other consequences of aging can also be reversed. Understanding and reversing the aging process is another important theme in this book.
Reversing the Aging Process and Life Extension Research
Although there are some good theories of aging, and a lot of progress has been made in terms of understanding why we age, the aging process is still largely mysterious. Some of the most important theories of aging–such as the free radical and cross-linking theories–are discussed in this book, along with proposals for how we might halt and reverse the aging process.
When I spoke with Leonard Hayflick, the microbiologist who discovered that healthy somatic cells can only divide a finite number of times (now known as the “Hayflick limit” ), he defined aging as “…the random systemic loss of molecular fidelity, that–after reproductive maturity–accumulates to levels that eventually exceed repair, turnover, or maintenance capacity.”
British biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey told me that he thinks that there are seven primary reasons why aging occurs. He said, “These are intrinsic side-effects of metabolism, of being alive in the first place, and they are things that build up throughout life. Although these side-effects are not the cause of aging, they start to become harmful once they get to a certain level of abundance. Once there’s enough of them around the body starts to suffer from them and eventually it suffers seriously.” Dr. de Grey believes that this process is reversible, and he has assembled a master plan for doing so that a substantial number of other life extension researchers are taking seriously. In the pages that follow, Dr. de Grey speaks with us about this.
Perhaps the most compelling reason why radical life extension is possible is because not all animals age like we do. In fact, it appears that some animals don’t age at all. When I interviewed John Guerin, director of the Ageless Animals Project, he told me about rockfish caught off the coast of Alaska, that were hundreds of years old, healthy, and fertile. Whales have been known to live for over two hundred years without showing any signs of aging. A male whale that was over a hundred years old was harpooned while it was in the midst of having sex. Guerin believes that by studying these types of animals we can learn why they live so long without losing vitality or fertility and then apply that knowledge to extending the life span of human beings.
Technology theorist and inventor Ray Kurzweil spoke to me about how nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and robotics will eventually allow humans to live for indefinite periods of time without aging. Dr. Kurzweil thinks that “nanobots, blood cell-size devices that could go inside the body and keep us healthy from inside” will be available in about two decades. So, Dr. Kurzweil believes, if we can just stay alive for another fifteen or twenty years we’ll be able to live forever.
Nanotechnology would not only allow for radical life extension, but also for a dramatic improvement in all physical capabilities–including brain functions. Dr. Kurzweil believes that the line between biology and technology is going to completely blur together in the decades to come, and that nanotechnological brain implants will substantially increase our intelligence and dramatically expand the power of the human mind. The power of the mind, and it’s relationship to medicine, is another important theme in this book.
When I was in college during the early Eighties, my maverick mentor Russel Jaffe told me that the most effective tool discovered by modern medicine was being overlooked by the majority of physicians. Dr. Jaffe was, of course, referring to the placebo effect, the power of the mind to effect the health of the body. Numerous studies have demonstrated that what we believe about a medical treatment dramatically effects how we respond to it. This is why when pharmaceutical companies develop a new drug it is always tested against inactive sugar pills–placebos–that are known to improve symptoms and facilitate cures simply because the patient and/or the physician believe that the new drug might work.
However, ironically, when I studied psychobiology at USC and NYU, I was taught by most of my professors that the placebo effect was simply something to be controlled for in experimental or clinical trials. In other words, it was like a nuisance that interfered with our understanding about the effects of a new drug or procedure, and most researchers and healthcare practitioners simply shrugged the placebo effect off as simply irrelevant. This was in the days before we really understood that what we believe not only directly impacts how we feel, but it measurably effects our physiology as well. We now know that the mind and body are simply two parts of the same inseparable system, and each dramatically effects the other.
Candace Pert, the neuroscience researcher who discovered the opiate receptor in brain, (and who I interviewed for my previous bookConversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse), brought about a paradigm shift in modern medicine by pioneering research that revealed an intimate relationship between the mind and body. Her interdisciplinary research into the relationship between the nervous system and the immune system demonstrated a body-wide communication system mediated by peptide molecules and their receptors. Dr. Pert believes this to be the biochemical basis of emotion and the potential key to understanding many challenging diseases. Dr. Pert’s research provides a basis for understanding why cancer patients can measurably reduce tumor growth through the process of visualization, and why placebos can cause measurable physiological changes.
In his practice as a general and pediatric surgeon, Bernie Siegel began recognizing common personality characteristics in those patients who did well and those who didn’t. In his bestselling book Love, Medicine, and Miracles, Dr. Siegel describes how exceptional cancer patients survive because of their attitude and beliefs. When I spoke with Dr. Siegel he told me, “You can’t separate thoughts and beliefs from your body. In other words, what you think, and what you believe, literally change your body chemistry.”
Studies confirm Dr. Siegel’s observations. For example, a PET scan study conducted at the University of Michigan showed that people who believed that they were receiving a pain killer actually produced more
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