Should We Be More Skeptical About Longevity?

From reputable scientists to extravagant billionaires, people are attracted to the idea of improving lifespans and even reverse aging. However, when it comes to longevity, the definition is not clear, and lines between evidence and pseudoscience are often blurred.

Last year, the longevity and anti-senescence therapy market was valued at $27.11 billion and is predicted to reach $44.92 billion by 2031. More than 460 people are now competing in the "Rejuvenation Olympics," a contest to reverse biological age.

Rina Raphael, the author of the book "The Gospel of Wellness Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care," says that mankind has always been interested in longevity.

However, she points out that there is no clear definition of longevity, as it may refer to both biohacking treatments and protocols that have very little studies to attest to their efficacy, and the actual science of longevity.


Raphael tells Healthnews, "Most people are talking about pseudoscience or things that are not actual longevity. They're just things being marketed as longevity."

For example, some skincare lines, which were previously marketed as anti-aging, are now called longevity, although they did not change the ingredients or make new products.

Some longevity experts now also disagree about what aging is. David Sinclair, a renowned Harvard geneticist, says that aging is a treatable disease, while others consider it a natural part of life, which also happens to be a major factor for many diseases.

"Aging is not a disease any more than adolescence is— it's something that happens to all of us as we get older, and it's a matter of things changing in our body," said Jessica Kalender-Rich, M.D., a geriatrician and professor at University of Kansas Medical Center.

Which longevity experts can we trust?

In recent years, longevity experts have amassed large audiences of people interested in improving their health and lifespan. The podcast of Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and tenured professor at the Stanford School of Medicine, is now the most popular health podcast in the world, subscribed by over five million people.

As the podcast covers a wide range of topics, it is often criticized by scientists working in the respective fields. One of the latest examples is the episode on marijuana's effects on the brain, which some cannabis researchers called "nonsense" and factually incorrect.

Dr. Andrea Love, a biomedical scientist, called out Huberman and some of his podcast guests for promoting bad science. Love wrote in her blog that Huberman often speaks about animal studies as if they were conducted in humans.


Moreover, he interviews contrarians — critics of the body of data — who spread misinformation. In the professional field, these contrarians are diluted out by quality science, but that's not the case for the podcast.

He picks tiny inconsequential details to make it seem like he's doing deep dives on a topic, and then after his hook, promotes unproven wellness hacks that he makes money off of.


Sinclair, who claims he reversed his biological age by 10 years, had to step down from the position of the president of the Academy for Health & Lifespan Research, after launching a supplement to reverse aging dogs. The supplement, which Sinclair initially claimed was "clinically proven," led to improvement in cognition, which wasn't maintained through six months.

One of Sinclair's former colleagues, Dr. Matt Kaeberlein, called the supplement of the textbook definition of a "snake oil salesman" and said that normalizing dishonesty in science is distressing.

In the early 2000's, Sinclair's lab at Harvard University discovered that resveratrol, a naturally found polyphenol, appeared to extend the lifespan of mice. He founded a biotechnology company Sirtris Pharmaceuticals that developed drugs including a reformulated resveratrol.

However, the National Institute on Aging's Interventions Testing Program reported in 2013 that resveratrol didn't extend the lifespan of healthy mice. The supplement is used in humans despite being mostly studied in animals and lab cells.

Charles Brenner, a chairman at the City of Hope National Medical Center, whose research focuses on NAD+ metabolism, is a fierce critic of Sinclair. In a letter to the editor published in Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics in 2022, he reviewed Sinclair's bestselling book "Lifespan: Why We Age ― and Why We Don't Have To."

Brenner criticized Sinclair's theory that genes called sirtuins extend lifespan in organisms and that the genes can be activated by resveratrol. He also pointed to the limited evidence on the effects of calorie restriction on lifespan and Sinclair's use of type 2 diabetes drug metformin for longevity.

He wrote, "Indeed, Sinclair has voiced support for the idea that aging begins shortly after the fertilization of eggs. Thus, to say that aging is a disease is to pathologize life itself."

An unhealthy preoccupation with health


Besides scientists like Sinclair and Huberman, there are a plethora of longevity influencers without medical credentials who engage in biohacking — DIY biology aimed at finding ways to optimize health, such as taking anti-aging supplements and doing cold plunging.

However, biohackers can often go to extremes. Bryan Johnson, a tech billionaire, and Dave Pascoe, a retired systems engineer, take about 100 pills — mostly supplements, but also some prescription drugs — each day to reverse aging.

Dr. Jonathan N. Stea, a clinical psychologist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Calgary and author of "Mind the Science: Saving Your Mental Health from the Wellness Industry," says longevity influencers often take a pseudoscientific approach to their claims.

We often see that these claims are either based on anecdotal evidence or these claims are oversimplified, exaggerated, and taken out of context based on a low-quality study or an animal study, the conclusions of which don't actually generalize to humans or support the claims of the influencer.


While biohackers say they are experimenting on themselves, they also inspire their followers to do the same. Some doctors are now deprescribing their patients from dozens of unnecessary supplements.

Stea says, "It can sometimes be unhelpful to develop a preoccupation with stifling the aging process without allowing oneself to learn how to cope with and embrace life's various transitions across the lifespan."

Raphael says some studies show that even purchasing a supplement may boost a feeling of being proactive about your own health.

"The idea that I can buy something and it will magically make me healthier is really appealing to Americans. It's a lot easier than doing the harder work of overhauling your lifestyle or committing to a better routine or being able to eat a more nutritious diet," she adds.

While there is a lot of pseudoscience, Raphael says actual longevity science is a legitimate and very exciting field, although still in early stages.


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