Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Oprah covers extreme longevity with Dr. Oz; ABC covers Alzheimers

Today, March 24, 2009, Oprah Winfrey presented the topic of “Extreme Life Extension” with Dr. Mehmet Oz. The topic had been presented Monday morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The link for Oprah show is here.

The show started with a 50 year old attorney carefully preparing his vegetarian 1900-calorie-a-day food (with nuts and beans for protein), and showing his exercises. He had reduced his weight from 175 to 135 at 5 feet 9 inches. He, like Benjamin Button, started living backwards.

The idea is that severe caloric restriction can prolong life and slow down organ deterioration, especially the circulatory system (an idea already covered in a review of Mark Hyman’s PBS show, on this blog).

Next Dr. Oz showed new technology in organ replacement. The idea is to take the liver, pancreas, or even heart of a mammal (often a pig), remove the cells to be left with a white “matrix”, put the person’s own stem cells on, and grow a replacement organ, which will not be rejected. Coronary arteries could be grown this way.

The research is being carried out at a lab at Wake Forest University in North Carolina – the lobby of which (with sculptures of fresh vegetables) was shown. Some of the funding came from 75 year old billionaire David Murdock, who expects to live to 125. Murdock started with nothing as a veteran after WWII when a stranger gave him a loan to start a restaurant (Murdock was penniless), and he took it from there (again, a “Scratch Beginnings” story as in Adam Shepard’s recent book).

Extreme longevity will pose public policy problems, including keeping people working longer, delaying Medicare and social security, and particularly, I believe, extended family cohesion. Families are weaker than they used to be because of individualism (of which Oprah is an example), but strong emotional ties might be necessary to give people the support they would need for attempts at extreme longevity. Should this be expected of other family members? “As the world turns”, unprecedented problems or conundrums arise that challenge all the assumptions about what we would get to do with our own lives. Technology cuts both ways, it seems.

Oz also recommended a pill with an enzyme from red wine.


ABC "World News Tonight" covered a rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington Monday night of families caring for people with Alzheimer's Disease.

The story, by John McKenzie, is "Alzheimer's Disease Booming Among American Baby Boomers; New Report Says 10 Million Americans Will Develop the Disease", link here. The television report covered a young woman changing jobs to move in with her mother with Alzheimers, and covered the issue of relating to someone who no longer knows you or perceives reality as we generally know it.

On "ABC Nightline" March 25, 2009, Terry Moran took his own genetic test, and Newt Gingrich and Sandra Day O'connor appeared. In some families, 1 in 8 people will have the disease by age 65, and 1 in 2 by age 85. Moran described Alzeheimer's as "tsunami" about to hit the baby boom generation. But I don't remember hearing Barack Obama mention it.

Moran said that men as a whole have a 1 in 9 (11%) chance of developing Alzheimer's before death. However I'm not sure if this includes dementia related to heart disease and not to plaques. The genetic test gives a risk percentage, not a black-and-white diagnosis, like it does for Huntington's (as in an episode of Everwood in 2004).

Nightline called Alzheimer's the "Dark Side of Longevity". Indeed it is, and only now does the media get this!

Oprah has previously covered "Blue Zones" on her show. In Blue Zones people achieve extreme longevity without Alzheimer's or dementia. A good question is whether extreme caloric restriction or other lifestyle measures could help prevent Alzheimer's as well as vascular-related dementia. Or do the extended family social connections and reduced "individualism" actually act as a brake against Alzheimer's in some people?

See also my "Bill Retires" blog on March 24, 2009 for a story about the American Alzheimer's Association Meeting in Washington DC this week.

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