While this approach will certainly lead to better health and a slowing of the features of aging (wrinkles, tight tissues, loss of energy etc) it does not lead to life extension...the adding of years to the current norms of life expectancy.
Research has shown that it is however possible, using one specific strategy, to not only produce life extension, but as a by-product to have the remarkable spin-off of reducing the chances of degenerative diseases such as cancer, arthritis and heart disease, and what is more to often see the normalisation of such conditions when they already exist.
This strategy is called Calorie Restriction and we will examine it in greater detail below. Before examining it though we should briefly examine other life extension approaches.
1. Growth Hormone Stimulation:
This hormone is produced in the pituitary gland and is vital for growth and repair. It is possible to artificially stimulate growth hormone secretion by taking the amino acids (building blocks of protein) ornithine and arginine.
This approach was advocated by Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw and has led to a mini-industry in Life Extension products.5
While G.H. stimulation produces a definite 'youth enhancing' result there is no evidence at all that it increases life span.
A 1990 research study at the Medical College of Wisconsin6 showed that when synthetic growth hormone was injected into elderly men for a period of six months they built lean body mass (muscle) and lost fatty tissue; increased their bone density; had improved skin quality and thickness, and appeared 10 to 20 years younger than their chronological age. They also felt fitter, more energetic and had enhanced libido.
But neither the stimulation of growth hormone using amino acids, nor the injection of synthetic growth hormone produces an extension of life beyond the current norms.
Calorie Restriction boosts G.H.: Interestingly though levels of Growth Hormone are increased when Calorie Restriction methods are used, and also when we perform aerobic exercise.
2. Antioxidant Approach:
Oxygen is a cellular poison and its free radicals can cause major tissue damage connected with the aging process. Free radicals are thought to be major elements in production of cancer, arthritis, nerve degeneration and atherosclerosis.7
All the evidence points to major health benefits and protection against such chronic disease when free radicals are efficiently quenched by anti-oxidant nutrition (vitamins A,C,E and the minerals selenium and enzymes such as Super Oxide Dismutase and Catalase for example) ...but there is very slim evidence of this health enhancing leading to actual life extension.8
There is though, perhaps surprisingly, some evidence for life extension in some animals when synthetic anti-oxidants such as the food preservative BHT is added to their feed.9
Calorie Restriction boosts anti-oxidants: As we saw in the example of the influence of Calorie Restriction on Growth Hormone, so it is interesting to discover that there is massive 50% increase in the presence of the powerful anti-oxidant enzyme, catalase, when Calorie Restriction methods are used, most noticeably in the liver and kidneys where its presence usually declines as we age.10