My quest to stop ageing in its tracks
News that some of us age much faster than others has 39-year-old Celia Walden trying out the most extreme anti-ageing treatments money can buy
Published 15/07/2015 | 02:30
I'm sitting in a pressurised egg in West Los Angeles trying, through a series of dumb, sub-aquatic mouth movements, to clear my airways. "Clear?" asks a robotic voice. "Then up we go." As the graph beside me rises from 1,000 to 4,000 feet, my pulse quickens and all but the humming of blood in my ears is blocked out. I try to move my arms but the pressure pins me to my seat. "You've reached the second tier," the Dalek informs me. "Only four to go before we reach 24,000 feet."
When Nietzsche said: "One has to pay dearly for immortality," I'm not sure this was what he had in mind. The CVAC (Cyclic Variations in Adaptive Conditioning) space egg is stage one in the gruelling quest for immortality I've embarked upon.
Scientists informed us recently that, biologically, some people are barely ageing while others, terrifyingly, are speeding through life at a rate of three years every 12 months. In a group of 38-year-olds, they found, some had the physiology of a 30-year-old while others were closer to 60.
So what to do if you find yourself in the latter category? At 39, I've decided to answer the question by joining the optimists, young and old, hoping to cheat the ageing process through "regenerative medicine", cutting-edge "scientific" technologies, and sheer belief.
Scientists behind the latest study, from institutions including King's College London and Duke University in the US, say most differences in ageing rates are down to environment rather than genes, and so can be altered.
While the sensible answer would no doubt be eating healthily, taking exercise and not smoking, it is not one everyone is prepared to settle for. Defying the ageing process is a major industry, and nowhere more than in Los Angeles.
The high altitude pod I am testing promises to "boost oxygen-rich red blood cells, remove lactic acid and stimulate stem-cell production".
It is just one of myriad anti-ageing solutions offered by the Beverly Hills Rejuvenation Centre.
Dan Holtz, the proprietor (a former bodybuilder who looks genetically engineered), presides over a thriving hormone replacement therapy business alongside his CVAC sideline.
"If you're going to look 20, you might as well feel that age too, right?" he grins. "LA is where you come when you want to make your fantasies a reality.
But if, like me, you're doing everything by the book and still find yourself at 40 with the same flagging energy levels as the guy who never worked out or ate right, it's time to take things to the next level."
To that effect, he swears by 25 minutes a day in the CVAC. "I know of celebrities who have these $65,000 machines in their homes," he says. "One stem cell expert will drive an hour-and-a-half to use the CVAC three times a week."
Still feeling all my 39 years after my own CVAC experience, I turn to the anti-ageing expert to the stars, "Nurse Jamie" Sherrill, who rolls me in an infrared wrap and injects me with "the Myers cocktail", Hollywood's most popular and potent IV vitamin drip. It leaves me feeling not just good but embarrassingly perky.
Unconvinced this is likely to halt the passage of time, however, I seek the advice of the "age management" guru Dr Mike Carragher.
"What people want now is to feel the vigour they had in their 20s and 30s," he says at his high-end West Hollywood clinic, the Body Well. "It's not just the outside any more: people want to work from the inside out these days."
So for $4,000 (€3,622) a year, Dr Carragher puts clients through a physical, compiles a blood panel and assesses their cardiovascular and dementia risks, before tailoring an "age management plan." Hormones, the key to longevity, he believes, are then prescribed, alongside a nutrition and exercise plan.
"We know how to keep people's hearts beating and lungs respiring, but if that's not giving them a decent quality of life, what's the point?" Dr Carragher says.
"My focus is to give the client that quality of life, so instead of spending the last 20 years of your life in a wheelchair, you can be out there playing tennis at 105."
The 91-year-old media magnate Sumner Redstone is a case in point. Still exercising for 90 minutes a day and subsisting on a diet of smoothies and tomato juice, fish dinners and the occasional shot of vodka for its antioxidant properties, he said earlier this year: "The people who fear dying are the people who are going to die. I'm not: I'm going to live forever."
Such belief carries more than a hint of religious fervour about it, a parallel observed by Bryan Appleyard, author of How to Live Forever or Die Trying.
"Like most religions, consumerism needs to make the offer of immortality," he says. "Since they can buy everything else, some rich, privileged people have come to think death is optional."
In the US this is combined with a tradition of preacher-led religious extremism. "They have now applied this native fervour to seeking the medical conquest of death," Appleyard says.
In one last attempt at such a conquest, I brave Cryohealthcare's popular Cryochamber, where, locked in a steel chamber, naked but for a pair of mittens and thermal socks, I endure a temperature of -220F (-140C) in an effort to "stimulate cell production, increase metabolic rate and fight inflammation."
But since even a 90-second deep freeze proves too long for me to bear, an eternity would be intolerable, and in any case, I reason, the $200,000 (€181,000) cryopreservation fee ($80,000 to preserve just the brain) could be put to better use while I'm still alive.
Attempting to stave off the inevitable, it seems, is a far more expensive, anxious business than just eating fruit and veg, moving around a bit and getting on with life while it lasts.
What the immortalists stand to lose, Appleyard observes, "is a good life, since they eat very little, take hundreds of pills and are neurotically consumed by a false hope."
Dying, as he puts it, is "just what humans do." (© The Daily Telegraph)
Turn back time
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