Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Do YOU want to add 20 years to your life? Of course you do!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on July 10, 2009

And, obviously, of course you can’t through a pill, no matter what the Daily Express wants you to believe.

A WONDER pill could extend the lifespan of people by up to 23 years.

I’m intrigued!

The “elixir of life” anti-ageing drug was made from a compound found in the soil on Easter Island – one of the most remote places on Earth – which is created by a microbe living in the soil.

Going good so far. Of course you need “one of  the most remote places on Earth”. That implies it is untempered with, which implies it is natural. We all know how freaking great natural stuff is, no? And having a place called Easter does not hurt either. It adds a religious layer to this whole thing. Good marketing!

It is hoped that the findings could lead to the creation of drugs that dramatically slow down ageing, allowing people to be healthier for longer.

Hoped? HOPED? I thought we had a WONDER drug on our hands, what’s hope got to do with anything?

The Easter Island compound – called rapamycin after the island’s Polynesian name Rapa Nui – was found to extend expected lifespan by 38 per cent when tested on mice.

Oh that’s why, it’s only been tested in mice so far (and we dont’ even know the details of that research, but we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for the time being)! I guess that’s wonderful news for rodents.

Dr Arlan Richardson, director of the Barshop Institute, said: “I’ve been in ageing research for 35 years and there have been many so-called ‘anti-ageing’ interventions over those years that were never successful. I never thought we would find an anti-ageing pill for people in my lifetime. Rapamycin shows a great deal of promise to do just that.”

Ah, news flash Dr. Richardons, all the failed anti-ageing interventions showed great promise in the initial stages of research. I would advise at least a pilot study on humans before you start touting what a great deal of promise rapamycin offers. Come on a bit of skepticism, doctor! Maybe you should take a cue from your colleagues at Oxford.

Dr Lynne Cox, researcher in ageing at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford, said: “This is a very exciting study where a single drug with a known cellular effect increases the life expectancy and lifespan of mice.

“In no way should anyone consider using this particular drug to try to extend their own lifespan as rapamycin suppresses immunity. While the lab mice were protected from infection, that’s simply impossible in humans.

That’s right folks. Of course the study is exciting but check your horses before you start patenting this stuff.

So where do we, as skeptics, stand with regards to this particular drug? We should find the results of the study interesting and exciting. If the study was conducted properly and it had the effects it says, and it can be fairly reasonably replicated this could be very interesting. But being interested by a possibility is vastly different from a headline that proclaims that “NEW PILL CAN ADD 20 YEARS TO LIFE” or having a first sentence in your article that says “A WONDER pill could extend the lifespan of people by up to 23 years.”. Not it can’t! No it couldn’t! Not yet we cannot make such statements.

I wonder: do headline writers even read the article they’re writing the headline for?

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AMA’s new policy on anti-aging hormomes

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 16, 2009

In their latest Annual Meeting the American Medical Association, adopted a new policy with regard to the use of hormones for anti-aging purposes:

Use of hormones for anti-aging procedures: Despite the widespread promotion of hormones for anti-aging, the scientific evidence to support these claims is lacking. In some cases, evidence suggests that long-term use of a particular hormone has more risks than benefits. Hormones reviewed by AMA include human growth hormone, testosterone, and estrogens with and without progestins.

Today, the AMA passed policy to inform physicians, policy makers and the public of the current scientific evidence on the use of hormones for anti-aging. Proponents of any hormone or other substance for anti-aging have the responsibility to prove that claims are scientifically valid.

Somebody tell Suzanne Somers and Oprah…PRONTO!

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Is aging optional?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 11, 2009

So asks an article appearing at The Daily Galaxy. It makes for an intriguing read over all, but I was left unimpressed with the substance of it. Sure, living to be 1,000 is quite appealing to many people, yours included. Surely we should not oppose any attempts to advance the scientific knowledge to the point where this becomes reality. If it can be done, why not try to do it, right?

Yes, but saying one idea is great, is quite different from saying that it is doable. The article talks about the guy who started this thing, Aubrey De Grey and the Methuselah Foundation which he set up to work on this. Here’s a quote from De Grey:

“It’s a repair and maintenance approach to extending the functional life span of a human body. It’s just like maintaining the functional life span of a classic car, or a house. We know — because people do it — that there is no limit to how long you can do that. Once you have a sufficiently comprehensive panel of interventions to get rid of damage and maintain these things, then, they can last indefinitely. The only reason we don’t see that in the human body now is that the panel of interventions we have available to us today is not sufficiently comprehensive.”

Which is not wrong in principle, but sound like nothing more than wishing at this point. Sure if we had the technology to live to 1,000 we would live to 1,000, but that statement is redundant and does not add anything to the debate. We could say that for anything. If we had the technology to reanimate the dead, we could reanimate them! It is precisely because these “interventions” are lacking that many people are, rightfully so, skeptical about this idea of living to 1,000, especially if the number is chosen to be so high.

Now, I am not against any research in prolonging life, in fact, based on past history, I am quite confident that we could possibly double the life span to about 200 years in the future. That is the sort of confidence I have on science and medicine. Small, progressive improvements are quite probable in my opinion, if for nothing solely because we’ve been doing it for the last couple of centuries. But a 10 fold increase in life span is a lot. That is why this guy sounds a lot like a quack, or a genius so far ahead of his peers as to appear nuts.

So the question is, is this guy a nut or a genius? Practice has shown us that most likely than not he’s just nuts and the probability of him being a genius is very very low. But let us take a look at his foundation’s website to see if they have anything more substantial than simply “I want to live to be 1,000”.

The first thing I noticed while reading the Mission Statement of the foundation is that they do not make any outlandish claims. They do not claim to have the know how to make you live longer. They simply have made it their mission to spend all their time, money and energy in advancing the science to the point where the human life span could be extended considerably. That’s a worthwhile mission I think, even if it turns out to be a fruitless one.

A question with De Grey from the Learn More section also makes me feel good about this foundation and the motivations behind it:

What is the story of your commitment to life extension?

My commitment is about prevention and curing of diseases and reversing the internal physiological conditions that allow diseases to arise in the first place. If you examine the track history of cures since the civil war in the US, you’ll find that the greatest number of true cures have come from military research. I’m not speaking of treatments or therapies – I’m speaking of cures. The reason for this in my opinion is that the resources of the military are quite large, and the mission of the military (winning and keeping veteran care costs as low as possible) is quite different from commercial concerns whose key concern is to have a product requiring chronic dosing that creates trackable earnings for Wall St and their investors. So, in short, the incentives currently in the system do not produce cures. It’s literally too expensive for a company to cure anything. The pill to cover the cost of research, development and marketing would have to cost 6 figures each if you only needed to take one – ever.

I agree. A lack of interest in immediate profit is very likely to produce big results.

They seem to have a simple strategy. Near Term – provide support for the elderly now. Medium Term – Various prizes available for achieving specific goals with research on mouse longevity and rejuvenation. Long Term – providing support for three companies working in the research and development of long term life extension solutions.

Conclusion

The first quotation that the Daily Galaxy article gave us seems to be a little out of place in light of the actual foundation’s website. We know how cherry picking goes, and we also know that sometimes people get too exited and say stuff that can come accros the wrong way. So going back to my earier comment, I think De Grey is neither a nut nor a genius. He’s just a guy who feels pationately about this issue and is willing to do whatever he can to see it come to fruition. I respect that dedication.

Nevertheless, while I don’t think that we will reach 1,000 years in the lifetime of anyone able to read this post today, I think the mission of the Foundation is worthwhile and they appear to be going about it the right way, by trying to encourage novel research and by supporting other companies working on life extension solutions. They do not appear to be a quack company. They make no outlandish claims and are not selling any products. They are simply doing whatever they can to collect donations and use that money to stimulate research in an area they think is important. I am fine with that and wish them good luck, for humanity’s sake.

Queen Margaret University and Prostituted Academia

Posted in The Quackometer by Skepdude on February 19, 2009

A few weeks ago, newspapers were carrying remarkable stories about a Scottish mineral water, Deeside Water, that could halt aging, reduce wrinkles and have amazing anti-oxidant effects – a remarkable fountain of youth. Newspapers gushed with reports of this amazing scientific discovery. Even the BBC had previously reported that Deeside Water could “treat rheumatism, skin conditions and stomach complaints” .

Deeside water were celebrating a press release from Queen Margaret University (QMU) in Edinburgh that said that “A bottle a day keeps the wrinkles away”

For the first time, scientists can prove that Deeside Mineral Water actually slows the signs of ageing and does so 50% more effectively than other tested waters on the market.

In the first of two new research studies, Deeside Mineral Water was rigorously tested against other major international market leading brands of bottled water. The study was undertaken by scientists at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and confirmed that Deeside Mineral Water is 50% more effective than other waters tested in suppressing free radicals.

Dr Mary Warnock, lecturer in Dietectics, Nutrition and Biological Sciences at Queen Margaret University explained “Free radicals are harmful to the body’s cells and contribute to the ageing process. Reducing free radicals helps protect cells from damage. Deeside Mineral Water has some very unusual properties and we know that people have been drinking it for its curative benefits for centuries. The results from these tests are very exciting. They show that something as simple as Deeside Mineral Water, a Scottish product, could be effective at protecting the body and skin from the harmful effects of free radical damage.”

The study, carried out on women aged between 18 and 52, also showed a reduction in the average number of wrinkles when a litre of Deeside Mineral Water was drunk daily over a period of 12 weeks. Again this is due to skin hydration, one of the single biggest factors in the ageing process. The test results showed that by drinking Deeside Water, the skin was plumped up, leading to fewer wrinkles.

Now, this rang many alarm bells. Firstly, extrapolating from test tube data to ‘health benefits’ of products is one of the cardinal sins of quack nutritionists. Just because a product “suppresses free radicals” in a test tube does not mean that the same product will “slow the signs of ageing” when eaten or drunk. Not least, any antioxidant effects of a mineral water must be utterly insignificant when looked at in conjunction with other components of a diet, i.e. food. The idea that choosing one brand of water over another will have any meaningful effect in ‘slowing aging’ is just preposterous. The research at QMU, if it existed, surely could not support the claims in the press release or the newspapers.

My alarms rang even louder when I read the Deeside Water web site. The site starts of with quite a claim that it “is one of the purest, healthiest waters in the world”. The site gets remarkably worse when it describes Deeside Water as ‘enhancing complementary treatments’. It claims the water has a ‘living energy’ and ‘higher vibration’ than other waters, and advises its customers to “Ask your pendulum which water is the best for well-being!”, Genius quackery. To cap it all, we find out that the water is supplied to Prince Charles, the quacktitioner royal, to bottle as Duchy Original water.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “THE QUACKOMETER”