As many of us start this New Year with new possibilities, we may be looking at how to get healthier and live longer. With that in mind, ideastream health reporter Sarah Jane Tribble talks to with Morning Edition Host Rick Jackson about her conversation with an author who has being studying the science of aging and radical life extension.
After San Francisco-based author and journalist David Ewing Duncan, finished his book Experimental Man he was in demand, giving talks across the country about life science and the radical extension of life.
One of those talks, a TED talk, has recently been turned into a small book available online. That book, "When I'm 164," poses many questions and Duncan explains in an video interview that, yes, the title is a inspired by a Beatles song.
"Yeah, this is a riff on when I'm 64 and updated for the 21st century. When we may live a lot longer. When Paul McCarty wrote that song, actually, he was a teenager when he wrote the original version, 64 was old. And now it's not, which is part of what the story is," Duncan says.
For many, 64 isn't old anymore, Duncan says. The average life expectancy in the U.S is now 79 years old. That's five years more than in 1980, when the life expectancy was 74, according to the World Bank.
How long does Duncan hope to live?
"I've asked thousands of people that question and have a lot of interesting numbers around it. I probably fall in the camp that it's not so much about numbers but about quality of life. And my family actually tends to live a long time - mostly into the 90s and a few over 100. As long as I'm healthy and have my faculty, I don't really see a horizon. But on the other hand, I'm not one of these people who want to live forever. I think there is a beginning middle and end to life and we should respect that," Duncan says.
Duncan's latest book talks about living healthy and scientific work to understand what makes our bodies tick. The relatively new field of "enviro-genetics" or "eco-geneteics" explores the idea that everyone's body is genetically programmed differently and, thus, reacts differently to toxins and other elements that are part of our environment. Those toxins and environmental issues could include UV rays from the sun or chemicals such as mercury, pesticides and the plastic additive BPA.
For instance, some people aren't affected by trace amounts of mercury in their bodies. Others are more susceptible to neurological disorders, according to research.
"It makes sense that life in general is really about the inner-play of genes and the environment. We developed through evolutionary forces as an organism over billions of years which really that inter-play of those two our genes trying to respond and adapt to our environment. So, of course, toxins play an enormous role," Duncan says.
Duncan says we're going to hear a lot more about these new forms of science this year and - in full disclosure - he's started a company to produce some genetic tests. One of the first tests they plan to sell will try to detecting your body's genetic response to mercury.
Genetic tests controversial
In late November, the Food and Drug Administration blocked one genetic company's marketing, saying it didn't have government approval to market potential health benefits. The company was 23andMe, which sells a saliva test for $99 and received venture backing from Google.