The Longevity Gap


Linda Marsa in Aeon (Picasso at home in his villa in villa at Notre-Dame de Vie in Mougins in 1967 surrounded by his latest paintings. He was 85 at the time. Photo by Gjon Mili/Time Life/Getty):

The life expectancy gap between the affluent and the poor and working class in the US, for instance, now clocks in at 12.2 years. College-educated white men can expect to live to age 80, while counterparts without a high-school diploma die by age 67. White women with a college degree have a life expectancy of nearly 84, compared with uneducated women, who live to 73.

And these disparities are widening. The lives of white, female high-school dropouts are now five years shorter than those of previous generations of women without a high-school degree, while white men without a high-school diploma live three years fewer than their counterparts did 18 years ago, according to a 2012 study from Health Affairs.

This is just a harbinger of things to come. What will happen when new scientific discoveries extend potential human lifespan and intensify these inequities on a more massive scale? It looks like the ultimate war between the haves and have-nots won’t be fought over the issue of money, per se, but over living to age 60 versus living to 120 or more. Will anyone just accept that the haves get two lives while the have-nots barely get one?

We should discuss the issue now, because we are close to delivering a true fountain of youth that could potentially extend our productive lifespan into our hundreds – it’s no longer the stuff of science fiction. ‘In just the last five years, there have been so many breakthroughs,’ says the Harvard geneticist David Sinclair. ‘There are now a number of compounds being tested in the lab that greatly slow down the ageing process and delay the onset of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.’

Sinclair, for instance, led a Harvard team that recently uncovered a chemical that reverses the ageing process in cells. The scientists fed mice NAD, a naturally occurring compound that enhances mitochondria – the cell’s energy factories – leading to a more efficient metabolism and less toxic waste. After just a week, tissue from older mice resembled that of six-month-old mice, an ‘amazingly rapid’ rate of reversal that astonished scientists. In human years, this would be like a 60-year-old converting to a 20-year-old practically before our eyes, delivering the tantalising dream of combining the maturity and wisdom of age with the robust vitality of youth. Researchers hope to launch human trials soon.

More here.