Anti-Ageing: Just how far would you go to live longer?
From hormone treatments to cryogenics, Ed Power on the quest to reverse ageing
How far would you go to stay young forever? Would you, for instance, be willing to eat a chemically enhanced brand of dog food if it meant fending off wrinkles and grey hair?
Or might you be prepared to inject yourself with hormones every day in an attempt to look as if you're pushing a suspiciously well-preserved 25 -- even at the risk of long-term health damage? Or perhaps you'd be happy to tipple on your own urine or gargle wine made from the vital organs of snake. Yes, there would be a terrible aftertaste -- but what price a little bad breath if you end up glowing like a Hollywood starlet?
Of course, the quest for eternal youth has always obsessed mankind.
Until recently, however, anti-ageing solutions tended to revolve around old wives' remedies or the expensive and unpredictable plastic surgeon's knife.
Over the past 10 years, though, science, aided by a cosmetics industry always looking for new creams and tinctures to flog, has started to take ageing seriously. Behind this change is a deepening understanding of what growing old actually involves.
Far from an inevitable consequence of being alive, researchers think it is something we are programmed to do at a cellular level.
It follows that by switching 'off' the genetic instructions that command our cells to age, eternal youth may be within all our grasp. Of course, the time when it will be possible to calmly instruct the body to stop ageing may be decades, even centuries, off.
In the meantime, science is touting an eye-popping range of anti-ageing solutions. And here are some leading examples.
In Dog We Trust
Researchers in the US recently achieved a breakthrough in the war on ageing by developing a food supplement clinically shown to stop you getting old.
With the sexy name TA-65, the supplement tackles ageing at the cellular level by preserving DNA particles called telomeres that have been linked to staying young. Clinical tests have shown that, as your telomeres shorten over time, the body ages.
This may sound like murky science at best. However, in the UK, insurance companies are planning on measuring the length of people's telomeres, the better to calculate longevity. If you fancy doing it yourself, test kits may soon be on sale priced around €500. What has any of the above to do with pet food?
Well, it is too early to test TA-65 on humans. However, scientists believe we may be at the stage where it could be added to pet food, meaning that Paris Hilton's chihuahua may soon look better than Paris herself.
Wee Shall Overcome
In the East, the practice of chugging your own wee in order to stay young is known as 'Shivambu'. It has been practised for nearly 5,000 years and for optimum results it is recommended you imbibe your first pee between 4am and 6am.
Keep it up for 12 years and immortality beckons. In Thailand, 'Shivambu' is still practised widely, and the former Indian Prime Minister Moraji Desai was a big fan of the technique -- he reached the age of 99 before he died in 1995.
Robbie Williams, Nick Nolte and Debbie Harry are among the celebs who have sought to hold back the years by injecting themselves with human growth hormones (widely available on the internet).
What advocates of human growth hormones don't tell you is that these injections can have horrific side-effects, including muscular pain, headaches, swelling in the arms and legs and hardening of the arteries. In contrast, letting nature take its course sounds a breeze.
Here's an anti-ageing remedy that doesn't require you to take delivery of dodgy packages of pills from the internet. Working on mice and worms, scientists have found that an extract of red wine called resveratrol may be linked to longevity.
The bad news is that studies have not yet demonstrated it has a similar effect on humans.
I'll Have What Hiss Having
According to Chinese demographers, the world's highest concentration of people aged 100 or over is in the province of Guangxi, where there is a tradition of drinking wines made from poisonous snakes.
The resulting concoction is described as bitter with a kick that will have you wincing for days afterward. Still, a putrid aftertaste seems a small price if it helps you reach 100.
Frost Among Equals
The cryogenics movement believes that, sometime in the next century, science will crack the secret of reviving those who have passed on.
In preparation for that singular moment, members arrange to have their bodies frozen within hours -- preferably minutes -- of passing away.
They are frozen to 200 degrees below zero and placed in a quiet dark corner, until the day death is finally conquered .
Quite what your physical condition will be after 100 years in deep freeze is anybody's guess.