My Swedish uncle used to say that it is better to be young, healthy and rich rather than old sick and poor. That line always drew a chuckle because of its obvious observation and stark contrasts. How would you respond if I told you that young, healthy and rich was within the reach of every single human alive today, that it could be possible to wake up tomorrow with the realization that you could have 30, 60, 90 or more years of vibrant wellness ahead of you instead of maybe 10 to 50 years of progressive deterioration and sickness? In truth though, would you really want more years, even if they were available and came with vibrant health?
Before you shut me down and dismiss me as a wacko may I suggest that all it may take to slow down your aging process, to maybe bring it to a halt or even reverse it for some aspects of your body, is to open your mind that this could be possible. The magic words are Telomeres and Telomorase.
The 2009 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology was awarded for breakthrough research in Telomere Science. Telomeres are the protective end caps on the four limbs of our DNA filled chromosomes that keep the DNA from unraveling or fusing with other chromosomes each time the cell nucleus divides to facilitate healing or renew tissue. With each division your telomeres shorten. As our telomeres shorten we lose our health edge. Telomere length has become a marker for biological aging.
The Nobel prize was about discovering an enzyme, telomerase, that slows, stops or even reverses the process of telomere shortening. To restored telomere length is to restore youth. It was discovered that each cell has a telomerase gene or factory but that we are born with that gene switched off in all cells except our reproductive cells. Reproductive cells, however, are immortal. The telomeres in these cells never shorten or age else our children would all be born with progressive Progeria, a rare disease of short telomeres at birth, and all human life would be extinct in two or three generations.
A typical gut response to the prospect of increasing longevity may be that the earth is already creaking under unsustainable over-population and it is our duty to alleviate the problem by dying sooner rather than later. This may be flawed and uniformed thinking. Consider that our concept of population explosion may be over-hyped and plain wrong. For example, according to National Geographic the world’s 7 billion people can stand shoulder to shoulder within the city limits of Los Angeles. Perhaps increased and healthy longevity for large numbers of the global population is one of the only solutions to a major crisis facing organized society today. A larger question may be: If vital longevity is available would you want it?
History as I wrote in an earlier blog is replete with game-changing random and blind-siding events we call Black Swans that radically change society as we know it. A recent Forbes article calls depopulation the next Black Swan.
While there is a baby boom underway in Sub-Sahara Africa where the average woman is having 5 babies, much of the rest of the world is experiencing rapidly declining birth rates and even depopulation due to increased access to technology and the distraction, demands and costs of a related modern lifestyle.
The most direct impact on birthrate could be internet access. A Microsoft report earlier this year predicts that the current 2 billion internet users will double to 4 billion by 2020. Citing an expected 100 times improvement in data transmission efficiency in the next 5 to 10 years Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has garnered a consortium of a half dozen of the world’s tech giants, including Samsung, Nokia, Qualcomm and Ericsson that together aspire to expedite universal internet access by slashing infrastructure and device costs in hungry search of new customers.
History shows that when people go on line they are more interested in making friends on Facebook than making babies in the bedroom. As people get on the net, a whole new world of information and opportunity opens up. People move from rural to urban areas and new cost of living and lifestyle demands tend to postpone having a family. Young women no longer stay home tending to chores and domestic duties as jobs and potential careers present unprecedented opportunities and demands. Not Africa and not any country in the world will experience expanded internet access and maintain high birthrates.
Apart from natural calamities, sweeping pandemics, alternate social agendae or the steady deterioration of food, air and water quality there are other challenges to a continued stable population base. Population manipulation like three decades of one child policy in China and the widespread practice of gender selection in the world’s two largest countries amounts to 400,000 million missing siblings in China and upwards of 80 million missing girls in China and India. This will have a generational domino impact on both population and economic stability that will not be solved in a mere century.
Ninety percent of urban and sixty percent or rural families in China have a single child. The average family in China today is a precarious upside down pyramid of up to four grandparents and two parents balancing on a single child expected to care for and support all family elders in their growing dependency. Despite widespread easing in the past two years of the one child restriction that now allows for a second child where both of the parents are single children, and in some areas where only one parent was a single child, there has been limited increase in births. City life and a woman’s career is already expensive and complicated without the compounded cost and obligation of caring for one more child. Factoring in this history and these conditions the current 1.38 billion population of China is predicted to peak in 2025 at 1.44 billion and decline by the end of the century to 1 billion.
Developed countries are shrinking. Europe’s population peaked in 2000. The 34 OECD countries with the world’s leading economies that command more than 60% of the global economy with less than 18% of its population are experiencing population stagnation and even decline. Despite having youthful, populous countries among its members like Mexico and Turkey these 34 countries combined are expecting a net population growth of only .2% by 2050. This spells serious consequences for a business model designed to feed on unrelenting and perpetual growth.
It will be a mean game facing the future with shrinking populations. Wall Street icon Peter Peterson, peer and advisor to world leaders, in his book The Gray Dawn tells of ringing the alarm bell in his affluent circles since 1980 to warn of a looming iceberg that threatens to sink civilization as we know it today and “disenfranchise generations to come”. He participated in the 1994 Kerrey-Danforth Commission which concluded that, absent major tax and government spending reform, “the benefit outlays for just five programs–Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and federal civilian and military pensions–will exceed total federal revenues by the year 2030. This would leave zero tax revenue for any other purpose–not even for interest payments, nor for national defense, nor for education, nor for child health, nor for the federal payroll. Not a penny available for anything else.”
Some may perceive Peterson as a budget deficit scaremonger seeking to loot social programs in aid of tax reform and a right wing agenda. That explanation, whatever its merits, does not make the potential mayhem of an untended gray baby boomer tidal wave go away nor does it offset the decades of neglect in preparing for an event now upon us.
In the USA the largely bankrupt federal and state governments on top of everything else face their share of a staggering national health expenditure this year of 2 ½ trillion dollars. The federal government has allocated one quarter its current $3.8 trillion budget to bear 40% of this cost. Stretching the old worn rubber band of perhaps the modern world’s most costly, ineffective and compromised “sickness” industry to meet the demands for health from its exploding senior demographic has little prospect of success, satisfaction or sustainability.
The current deadlock in Congress over ObamaCare seems to transcend partisan politics and may be rooted more in the public’s mistrust in their government’s ability to grasp and deliver Health along with the ostensible Care of HealthCare and a doubt that government and traditional medical practice have the tools, structure and orientation to do so. The only thing that seems to be obvious is that structured public mega-funding will be indentured to serve an old system, in old and paternalistic ways with little hope for better or even adequate outcomes.
So leaving this cheerless scenario aside for a moment, let’s visit the opportunity once more we have before us, the getting younger, healthier and wealthier one. If living a much longer and much healthier life was offered to you today, would you accept it? Would you want it not to be true because it is a Black Swan that contradicts how you understand things should be.
… or do you want to know more?