The elixir of immortality may be a myth, but a combination of lifestyle habits, dietary and nutraceutical intake and other longevity interventions can lower one’s biological age — “meaning they are likely to stay healthy longer,” says Brian Kennedy, Distinguished Professor of biochemistry and physiology at NUS Yong Yoo Lin School of Medicine and Chief Scientific Director of therapeutics firm Regenosis.
A heavyweight in longevity medicine (or geroscience), the former President and CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging has committed his career to translating research discoveries into new ways of delaying, detecting, preventing and treating ageing and associated diseases.
Last week, the NUHS Centre for Healthy Longevity, at which he also serves as director, officially opened its doors at Alexandra Hospital. The Centre will initiate, for the first time in a South-East Asian population, clinical research based on longevity medicine to target the biggest risk factor for chronic disease, namely, biological age.
With Singapore’s ageing population, the urgency is clear. “The government has recognised that the population is rapidly ageing and that it is important to keep people healthy longer. Extending healthspan in Singapore will be a major economic boost and dramatically improve life quality. For a rapidly ageing population, this may be the most important healthcare goal,” Kennedy shares.
We asked Prof Kennedy everything we’ve been dying to know about the ageing process.
Can one describe ageing as a disease?
I believe it can be both argued that ageing is a disease and that it is a risk factor for other chronic diseases. From an interventional perspective, it does not matter. We should try to slow the rate of ageing, or even reverse it, so that people can enjoy longer, healthier disease-free lives.
How long can we really live? Based on reports, 120 years and longer isn’t far-fetched.
The current interventions being tested are likely to extend median lifespan of the population, although it is unknown whether they will extend maximum lifespan, which is currently around 120 years of age. Ultimately, I believe it will be possible to extend maximum lifespan. In animal models maximum lifespan can often be extended quite dramatically. Therefore, it is likely possible in humans. What is the limit? No one knows.
Wouldn’t living longer radically change the way we live, the services we require, even family structures?
It is important to remember that we would also be healthy longer, in fact the period of time when people are sick may even be compressed. Therefore, living longer does not necessarily mean more eldercare centers and hospitals. However, if lifespan were dramatically increased there would be unpredictable, and I would argue mostly positive, effects on societal structure. Most interventions currently being tested are not likely to have effects on that scale though. I am hoping for 5-10 years of extended healthspan and lifespan. Dramatic changes are likely still on the horizon.
The quest for immortality is as old as time itself. But from general observation in your interactions and research, do people actually want to live forever?
I think it is more about living longer disease-free, and that is the goal of longevity research. I would not want to live longer in a state of severe debilitation.
In terms of public acceptance, are there any challenges in encouraging interventions to slow ageing?
People don’t realise that we are trying to extend healthspan as well as lifespan. They often say they don’t want to live longer because their older relatives are fighting multiple diseases and suffering from functional decline. We have been trying to make everyone understand that longevity interventions are really the ultimate preventative medicine. They will make you healthy and disease-free longer. I think most people want that.
Regenosis, at which you serve as Chief Scientific Officer, is known for its 6-month RealHealth programme. Tell us about it.
The RealHealth programme is fully personalised and aimed at helping people adopt healthier lifestyles through a multi-faceted plan. Firstly, the programme encompasses understanding and determining your present health conditions. From there, personalised recommendations are made for your lifestyle including fitness, diet, skincare and more. This is accompanied by tailored supplements and other interventions with the objective of increasing healthspan. Optimising healthspan is going to require a holistic approach, and ideally, individuals will combine healthy lifestyle choices with emerging longevity interventions.
I think with a combination of lifestyle modification, supplements and potentially other interventions like stem cells, most people will lower their biological age, meaning they are likely to stay healthy longer. They will also likely have more energy and feel better in the present. So it is a win-win.
How about some tips, which anyone can follow, to help slow down the ageing process?
From a lifestyle perspective, there are four things to incorporate: sustained exercise, healthy diet, stress management and sleep. These are important, and mostly modifiable. I would also suggest that someone should know the levels of key vitamins and other health parameters. A longevity clinic like Regenosis can help you with that.