Youth pills

A cure for aging!? In part at least it seems indeed to be that — not only preventing but reversing. Evangelism is not my style, but this one has me collaring people. So far.

Many years ago I co-wrote a piece for CoEvolution Quarterly with Bruce Ames, creator of the renowned “Ames Test” for carcinogenicity. So when I saw a news item that Bruce Ames had discovered something that dramatically reversed some of the effects of aging in his lab rats and was starting a business called Juvenon to peddle the elixir to humans, I visited the web site and then began dosing myself with the substances named in the research. They are two standard anti-oxidants available in any health food store online or on the street — alpha-lipoic acid and L-carnitine. Apparently due to a combined effect, “Our old rats are doing the Macarena,” Ames told the press, “Suddenly the rats were fitter, happier, and had better memory.”

I’m 63. For several years I’ve been watching my ability to recall proper names degrade (regular words you can always work around in synonym-rich English), and I’ve lamented how an ever shorter section of mountain could get me out of breath. Ten days after I started taking the two drugs, my memory began improving; it’s been getting steadily better in the months since. I can remember names like a politician. Four months on, I’m noticing a return of peripheral awareness, most welcome when driving in traffic. About two and a half months after I started, my wind began to come back in a significant way. In Aspen last week, a post-breakfast stroll turned into a quick climb of 2,000 feet to 9,600 feet because it was so easy.

The organelles in question are one’s mitochondria — wee energy factories in the cells. Their decline in number and efficiency is a well known effect of aging and cause of its deterioration. With the combination in Juvenon, the mitochondria come back. (For the mechanisms, read the scientific papers at the Juvenon site, starting with the lead piece in the Press area, which summarizes nicely.) The rejuvenative effect is felt first in brain function because the brain uses one-third of the body’s energy.

Side effects? None I’ve noticed. What age is a good time to start? Dunno. My wife just turned 50 and she’s trying the pills. Is there an accumulative good effect or gradual nullification over time? Too early to say.

The Juvenon company now offers the pills directly — convenient tabs instead of the multiple caps of doing it home-brew; about a dollar a day. Though the two drugs are over-the-counter legal, the company is pursuing rigorous double-blind human trials just as if this were a new drug seeking FDA approval. Coming soon: Juvenon for aging pets.

(Other daily additives in my bloodstream: generic multivitamin from Costco, vitamin E which delights male muscle, and folic acid — prescribed by a passing Doctor Without Borders for prevention of heart attack.)

-- Stewart Brand 02/6/04

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