Monday, 25 January 2016

Another Slice Of Fruitcake?

We just watched a repeat of a Horizon meta-documentary – probably the right term for a documentary of documentaries – pulling together excerpts from Horizon documentaries over the last forty years on ageing and immortality. Why watch it again? Two reasons – firstly, we didn't realise we had seen it before until at least five minutes in; secondly, by five minutes in it was really rather interesting.

And then there were the fruitcakes and nut-jobs. People stuffing themselves with random spoonfuls of chemicals that had some association with longer life-spans, or diets with links to reduced ageing, or even the pure(?) charlatanry of injecting 'beef broth' into the buttocks to be younger. Now, I'm pretty sure the arse full of beef broth brigade definitely falls into the fruitcake and nut-job category, but what about the others?

Calorie restriction seems to be well documented to in some way retard ageing. I've tried it, briefly, in the form of the 5:2 diet, in the interests of weight-loss, not living forever. However, it seems there are people out there who are really using it to try to live longer. Does that make them fruitcakes or nut-jobs?

From a practical point of view, even if calorie restriction really did guarantee a longer life, it makes you feel like crap. That has an uncomfortable association with those who campaign for the right to die, because their lives are so painful or degrading. Who in their right mind wants to live so much longer, whilst experiencing the perpetual hunger of calorie restriction? It does not seem like a viable prospect for most people, but does that make the practitioners fruitcakes and nut-jobs?

One side-effect of the interest in calorie restriction, presumably driven in part by the efforts of the alleged fruitcakes and nut-jobs, was a genuine scientific study to identify the mechanism underlying the apparent effect. Not only did they find a mechanism, they found Resveratrol, which had the potential to trigger it without the calorie restriction. Resveratrol (you can buy the stuff from all sorts of places now) was so promising that in 2008 GlaxoSmithKline paid $720 million for the company controlling the rights... and the hunt for immortality goes on.

So it seems to me that alleged fruitcakes and nut-jobs serve an important purpose. They are the crazies who don't just dream of doing the impossible, but inject beef broth into their arses or try to live forever on lettuce, and deranged as they seem, at the very least they lure saner, more methodical heads into the same pursuit. Our society is replete with medical and technological advances, but how many of those owe something of their existence to the goading effect of fruitcakes and nut-jobs?

So finally, the fruitcakes and nut-jobs... how do we define them? We can't call them crazy, or deluded or anything else, because they might be right. And if it does turn out that they were right, they become visionaries and pioneers. Nobody wants to be the fool calling them names.

You are all welcome to your fad diets and miracle-cures, but please, have a little respect for the fruitcakes and nut-jobs – some of them might be responsible for you living longer. The ultimate vindication, if it comes... I told you so.

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