Longevity: A Research Mystery Yet to be Solved

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.

(Yahoo!Health) It’s easy to understand why people, and especially researchers, are interested in finding ways to prolong life. A quick look at the term "longevity" on the Internet reveals many sites promoting a number of different products. These are primarily combinations of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants along with a variety of additional components like enzymes, extracts of grapes or green tea, and amino acids.

Interestingly, none of the websites I looked at, even one with a product named "LongevityTM," claimed that they prolonged life. Rather they make statements like "ward off signs and feelings of aging" and "help you look younger and feel great." Although I find it difficult to believe that older individuals will attain such benefits from any of these concoctions, many people must be wasting their money by purchasing them.

What about vitamin supplements?

Unfortunately, many older people, especially those living alone or short of money, don’t get adequate nutrition. There is no evidence, however, that anyone eating a well balanced diet containing ample amounts of calories needs to take supplements of any vitamin other than vitamin D or any mineral except for calcium. Further, in regards to longevity, there's no proof that supplements play a role.

Has research discovered anything we can take to increase our lifespan?

The short answer is a resounding "No."

One current misconception is around taking supplements of the hormone DHEA. Produced in large amounts by the adrenal gland, DHEA has been touted to prolong life. The possibility that this supplement is required to live a long life was suggested by the finding that blood levels of DHEA fall dramatically with increasing age in both men and women. But DHEA supplements have not been proven to promote longevity. In fact, if you think about it, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to prove that any medication or substance prolonged the life of humans. While it is possible to show that specific treatments, such as lowering cholesterol levels or blood pressure, have a relatively rapid impact on lifespan, it would take many years and a huge number of study participants to prove that any substance increased longevity. Instead, animal studies are likely the best way to at least find clues for substances that might allow humans to live longer.

For now the best advice on how to live a healthier and longer life are the well known, good lifestyle habits of a healthy diet, weight control, regular exercise, and avoid smoking.