Thursday, May 17, 2018

Review of the Human Longevity Project Series

Over the past 9 days, a series of videos compiled by The Human Longevity Project, explored various topics related to human longevity. This is not a typical Netflix binge watch, although the old folks they interviewed were quite adorable. The series delivered huge dosages of scientific content from a vast panel of experts.

I was particularly interested in this series for two reasons:

First, I'm an actuary, and a life/health actuary at that (vs. property/casualty). So understanding the influential factors of health and lifespan are critical to the nature of the work I do.

Second, on a personal level, about 3 years ago we had a family health crisis. My wife's digestive system seemed to rebel and shut down. Conventional medicine, doctors, etc. failed to remedy the situation. The health journey took us through alternative health practitioners, ultimately leading to some radical changes in our lifestyle - mostly dietary changes, but also movement habits, and meditation. As a result, not only did the digestive issues decrease in severity, but she also experienced an elimination of panic attacks, decreased anxiety and depression, reduced brain fog, and gained more energy. Through this treatment course (that required no medicine) we started following experts like Robb Wolf, one of the featured experts in The Human Longevity Project series.

Now - to recap the series.

Episode 1 - Mitochondria 101 and Fundamentals of Aging

The series sprints out of the gate, getting heavy into the science of mitochondrial function.  The central thesis of the series is that the health of the mitochondria (the source of all the energy for the cells) is a primary driver in the pace and degree of aging.  The episode borders on information overload.  You almost need a guidebook to follow along with that lists each expert, has references to all the scientific studies mentioned, and helps you to keep track of terminology.

Episode 2 - MicroBiome

There is a universe inside of us.  One of the fascinating facts I learned in this episode is just how much of our body's programming is outsourced.  "Simpler" creatures like some worms have many times the amount of DNA as we do. The human DNA code actually isn't very active, it instead relies on external information to express a gene.   This episode will be a hard one to watch for the germaphobes since they encourage playing in dirt, and avoiding hand sanitizer.

The episode is a continuation of the argument from Episode 1.  If mitochondria health is imperative for longevity - how do we maintain high performing mitochondria?  And a big part of the answer is through making sure that the delivery systems and communication systems (a.k.a the microbiome) are not polluted, sabotaged, or otherwise impaired.

They really drive the point of connectivity.  The outside world informs our inside world. The things we touch, eat, feel, perceive, react to, affect our internal universerse, most notably on our skin and in our gut.  These in turn, talk to the bodily systems, particularly the immune system and the chain continues.

Episode 3 - Diet and Movement

As they say in the actuarial profession and other modeling sciences - Garbage in, Garbage out.

No surprise, the recommendations here follow pursuing whole foods, organic if possible, concentrating largely on plants of every color.

Movement is equally critical, and there's a lot of research coming out on the hazards of sedentary lifestyles.

A few more comments at this point.

  • There are moments in the series that the panelists appear to be balanced, stating where there is push back on a given position.  This particular episode was more one sided - Anti-GMO, pro organic, etc.  I think there is some degree of merit hearing the opposite positions.
  • The panelists appear to be oriented around functional medicine, holistic and naturalistic practices, and various lifestyle and nutrition coaches. At times, it may feel that it is very granola.  That said, these aren't just hand waving homeopaths.  They are intelligent and informed people.  And it turns out,a lot of the latest science in health fields lines up with many of their positions.  I'd be interesting in seeing rebuttal from someone from the American Medical Association  or other conventional practitioners.

Episode 4 - Environmental Toxins

This by far the most discouraging episode.  Poisons are everywhere - the things we wear, bathe ourselves with, eat, drink, breath, watch, hear.  Even the invisible wifi signals around us aren't doing us any favors.

The episode reminds me of numerous books I read that have a similar structure.  80-90% of the content is a case against something.  It is always easier to critize and tear apart than offer new solutions, create actionable items, or even just build arguments in favor of something.  So, I wish the reoriented the tone and focus to a proactive and positive tone, rather than a 'sky is falling' message. It would focus more on action and hope, than fear and avoidance.

[Mandatory promos and plugs section] By the way - as I write this, I am looking at my computer through blue light blocking glasses, drinking water from a Berkey water filter, wearing clothes that get washed with Norwex cleaning products, all while an allergy buyers club air purifier is running.

 Affiliate link below:

Episode 5 - Circadian Rhythms and Sleep

Sleep more, sleep better is the take away message here.  Also, there is an emphasis on mindfulness and meditation to counter the stress and frenetic pace of everyday life. 10 minutes focusing on breath is a good start. 

Did you know that you get a brain wash each night?  I hadn't known that before watching this episode.  If you don;t let the whole cycle run, you don;t clear the junk, and the junk just keeps accumulating.

Episode 6 - Pregnancy and Children

The capstone of each episode is a message from Jason Prall (the producer of the series) talking about  their mission to impact 1 million lives through improving childbirth circumstances across the globe. 

Fetal development, childbirth, are how we all get started, and since this is oriented around the mother, maternal health is key.  Not just for all the topics discussed so far, but also epigenetic phenomenon and inherited customs, beliefs and even traumas.

The project wades into the murky waters of vaccinations, and this is where I think they do an excellent job of providing balanced information.  They raise key questions about frequency/manufacturing process of vaccinations. They also discuss the process of sickness and allowing the body to be sick and grow/develop immune "muscles" instead of rushing for prescriptions.

Episode 7 - Sense of Purpose and Community

This episode becomes one of the softer topics as purpose and belonging are very subjective and personal things, and harder to measure.  Yet the message is still important, and it underscores the idea that this whole effort - that is pursuing longevity - is a systemic thing - and that at the very least there are emotional/psychological (if not spiritual) pieces to consider beyond physical/environmental things.

No matter where you stand on faith/religion, there is a sense from the elders across the globe that the projects talks with that they seek peace, forgiveness, gratitude, service, family, faith, and other perspectives and approaches to life. The various faith practices contribute to in a large way.

Episode 8 - Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Cancer and Other Degenerative Diseases

Up to this point, the series has been more oriented about preventative and proactive approaches to a variety of concerns and obstacles on the way to aging.  The eighth episode pivots a little bit and drills down into specific pathological situations that are a result (at least in part) to the consequences of deteriorated mitochondria, imbalanced microbiome, and increased environmental toxicity.

As the experts explain the various mechanics of the diseases of aging, we start to come full circle to the beginning. They point out studies which link Parkinson's to the gut, and Dementia to mitochondria function.

I wonder how these revelations will start making their way into the insurance world.

Episode 9 - The Way Forward

The series concludes with a spotlight on the centenarians and their stories - their longing for the ways of old - coupled with the latest advances in technology that could help us live longer and higher quality lives. It may seem a bit informercially but it's good to see what's out there.  I would like to continue to see more product/initiatives come from the longevity industry.

Overall, the series is a good one.  I plan on owning it and sharing it with family and friends.  I see it as more of a dialogue starter than the Utopian idealistic final position on things.  After all, scientific breakthroughs may illuminate other mechanics of aging.  And technology continues to advance at a frenetic pace. 

As final thoughts - a couple "commericals" for health remedies:

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