Precision Aging: Part II
Karie Dozer [00:00:04] I'm Karie Dozer and this is TGen Talks. You are about to hear the second half of our conversation on precision aging. We spoke with Dr. Nicholas Schork and Dr. Matt Huentelman in front of a live studio audience. And we focused on the aging process, both in terms of our bodies and our brains. In part one, you heard about just when scientists believe the aging process begins and just how well your doctor can predict your risk for developing Alzheimer's disease. In part two, we talk about how the COVID pandemic affected our bodies and our brains, and how we can best separate fact from fiction in the vast world of anti-aging supplements. We're just coming out of the COVID pandemic. And I would say coming out of it's not over, certainly, but we're back on planes, we're back in offices. We're back to normal life. But there was a long stretch of time or gyms were closed and socialization was limited for just about everybody. What effect does that have on. I'll start with you, Matt. On an older person living alone who has limited access to people anyway. What did COVID do to our brains?
Dr. Matthew Huentelman[00:01:13] Well, we're seeing research come out now that across the whole aging spectrum, COVID had an influence on cognitive performance, learning in children, various things like that. So and I think at its root cause is the lack of socialization, especially for the older population. It's the fact that many things that we were already doing got shut down, many things that we relied on to meet other people, see our friends, those stopped and those we know those are important for brain health. I think one of the open questions not to be to gloom and doom, one of the open questions is do we just rebound from that? Right. So we're all back to normal now. We're having fun tonight hanging out together. Do we rebound from that and do we recover or is it a long-lasting effect? Is there some lasting influence? Yeah.
Karie Dozer [00:02:09] If people wanted to find a way to exercise, they did. But what did COVID do to our physical selves? Yeah, it set us back a couple of centuries.
Dr. Nicholas Schork[00:02:17] Definitely did. Sadly, people took up, you know, poor eating habits, did all sorts of other things that really contributed to kind of physical decline. But there's another factor we should really think seriously about that contributes to aging. We had mentioned, you know, bad diets. We had we mentioned the need to exercise. We mentioned sleep. There's also trying to avoid stress, which is not easy, especially in times like COVID, right, where there was nothing if not stress. People were associated with schools being shut down, jobs being uncertain. You know, this kind of apocalyptic vision, those things, there was nothing if not stress. So another thing people need to do to keep healthy for longer is somehow either learn to deal with stress or avoid those stressful situations and they have their toll that stresses its toll and mental aspects of aging, but also physical.
Karie Dozer [00:03:16] I think everyone watching is familiar with ads, be they on commercial television or radio or those that pop up on social media just about everywhere. Everywhere you look, there is a product or a program or something that is promises to take years off of your brain age or give you back the body of your youth. Let's play a little fact or fiction about some of these things. I'm dating myself here in the late eighties, early nineties, when I worked at a local radio station. I was in charge of. Taking the Paul Harvey five-minute news in and producing it and giving it to someone so that it was ready for air. He would do a 62nd commercial every day for ginkgo biloba. He could talk nonstop about ginkgo biloba. He was Angel. He and Angel were taking it, and he swore that it would give you a brain 30 years ago. Anything to ginkgo biloba?
Dr. Matthew Huentelman[00:04:17] Yeah, I'm. I'm glad we started with this one, because I think a lot of people have heard about ginkgo, and it's I still see it being recommended today. And starting with Gingko gives us a chance to talk about how we quote unquote, prove things in science and medicine. And we use this very specific type of design. It's called a placebo double blind randomized trial. What that means is the people who are participating don't know what they're getting. The doctors who are giving it to them don't know what they're getting. Everyone is blinded and some people aren't even getting the active ingredient. Now, the problem is most of the things you talked about, most of the things we see advertised to us don't go through this type of testing. Medicines that your doctor prescribes to you. Maybe a blood pressure medicine or a cholesterol medicine. Those have all gone through this type of testing, and it's the gold standard for truth. Is this beneficial or not? Gingko actually is one of the supplements that went through this randomized testing. And it was a big study. It took about eight or ten years to do. And in the end, it turned out it had no influence, no positive effect on your cognitive performance and no positive effect on helping you avoid Alzheimer's disease. So when you hear folks talking about Gingko nowadays, you really should look at them a little bit and one or two yourself. Are you up to date? Because this was this was shown about 15 years ago not to be effective.
Karie Dozer [00:05:51] When I Google Alzheimer's prevention, I get a lot of combinations of medicines, supplements. Take this, take that. The one I most commonly see is vitamin C and vitamin E, take massive quantities of them to prevent. What is the idea behind that and is there any medical truth to it?
Dr. Nicholas Schork[00:06:08] So one of the ideas behind it is there. There are certain nutrients like vitamin C that are known to be essential to the body. And all that means is your body doesn't make them so you depend critically on external sources, vitamin C, oranges, you know, other sorts of foods that have vitamin C. So the real obvious argument to make is, well, if you're depriving the body of something that it needs by not eating these foods that provide the external sources, of course, your body is not going to do well. Unfortunately, the links between essential nutrients like vitamin C and diseases is not been subjected to the sorts of tests Matt was describing to prove. How could you how could you? You'd need to track people a long time. There's any number of these nutrients that you'd have to test. I mean, no one has the money, the time or the energy to test them all. So unfortunately, people are making claims about the utility or the benefits of these nutrients and vitamins and whatnot without much substance behind them. Now, in this context, I'll tell you one thing. There are a number of kind of initiatives, many sponsored by the government to convene panels to discuss what kind of evidence it would take to convince the average person that something is working. I think if you wanted to do the study, would it be the RCD, the randomized controlled trial of the type math described? Would it be something else? Is there a more efficient substitute that doesn't have to take 20 years to figure out? So these panels are trying to come to grips with the very sorts of issues that you're describing. There's all this stuff out there. A lot of it is misinformation. Some of it, quite frankly, is disinformation, like pretending that something works. Knowing that it doesn't work. So there are, again, panels out there, groups convened to sort of combat this stuff through science. I'm on one of these panels. Matt, if he's not on one of the panels, will be on one of the panels.
Karie Dozer [00:08:03] Should be on one of these panels for sure. Most commonly, I will read a following a claim like taking C and E, They will say the brains of people who were diagnosed with Alzheimer's were shown to be deficient in C and E. And that is. And that really doesn't prove anything.
Dr. Nicholas Schork[00:08:19] Well, it might be the case, but that doesn't mean there's sort of a cause effect there. So there are many things that you can find that might be out of whack in someone's brain, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're the causes for, say, the cognitive deficits they have. So you have to be careful with these things. And fortunately with colleagues like Matt and other colleagues at TGA and we're putting the thinking caps on and how we can kind of correct the record for a lot of these things.
Dr. Matthew Huentelman[00:08:43] And it's one of the things that's really interesting about Alzheimer's disease is that it takes for our best estimates 15 to 20 years to fully develop. So the day that you start to experience cognitive problems that influence your daily life, you've had it for a while. And so we don't we have a very poor understanding of what was going on 20 years ago. And that's where we're trying to push the science now, understand those early steps because we think that might be some of the clues of what to treat, what to get in there and treat. So the point is, you know, when you look at a brain at death, you can see a lot of things are lower or even higher. And it's really hard to put those into sequence, which came first.
Karie Dozer [00:09:25] All right. I got an ad on Instagram the other day for something called Active age two. This is I wish I could play the ad. It's great. It's pitch is that there are two tablets that the salesman dropped into a glass of water and he said this is molecular hydrogen infused in drinking water with a breakthrough open glass formula. And if this is just like an Alka-Seltzer. And his claim is that it will infuse your water with molecular hydrogen gas. It's very small, and it will get into all areas of the body and basically cure whatever it is that's going on. Is there any is there any reason to believe a claim like this that finds you on social media?
Dr. Nicholas Schork[00:10:12] I would say with without knowing what they're basing it on, I would be very skeptical. You know, most of these sorts of claims should be backed by hard science. And if you see an advertisement in a magazine, you know, there's usually in the fine print.
Karie Dozer [00:10:28] This is nothing tested on humans.
Dr. Nicholas Schork[00:10:30] Right. And if you see that, I think you should run. If it if there are references, then you could ask someone, Matt, myself, anyone, scientific friend or whatever. Is this legitimate? Because there is a lot of hype out there that there's just no scientific basis for it.
Karie Dozer [00:10:47] Do you guys get really tired of answering questions from your friends and your neighbors about what they should be doing?
Dr. Matthew Huentelman[00:10:51] No, because I learn about new things all the time, you know? I'm interested in the Alka Seltzer drink. Yeah.
Karie Dozer [00:10:57] I'll send you the ad. I'll send that along. Bottom line, it sounds like all of your advice. I won't even call them tips because they're not products. It's just ways to live. All of this is free. All of the things that you're talking about. Obviously, a good diet might cost a little bit more, and it's not very convenient. But these aren't supplements. These aren't programs. This isn't anything extra. This is all something that really should cost nothing.
Dr. Matthew Huentelman[00:11:27] Yeah, well they cost time and effort though, and I think that isn't necessarily free. You have to you have to actually make a choice. And I feel like that's difficult for us as humans, right? Like you said, we can all sit at home and.
Karie Dozer [00:11:43] Order anything I want. Yeah.
Dr. Matthew Huentelman[00:11:44] Binge on the on the newest Netflix show and order anything we want to our doorstep. So I think that's perhaps one of the things that we struggle with is actually making that choice. So, you know, yeah, they are free, but I think there's still. A little bit of activation energy, as we would say in the science world. You know, to get over that hump. Yep.
Karie Dozer [00:12:08] So not to put a dollar sign on it, but January headline reads something like this Jeff Bezos wants to Never Get Old Invests in anti-aging company. The number is $3 billion in a company that has some legit pharmaceutical executives and physicians. This isn't a large $3 billion. It's obviously a huge investment, and he's not the only one doing it. How big a number is that as far as medical research is concerned? Because it sounds giant to me, but I'll ask each of you. Nick, first, if you had $3 billion to invest in something, where would you.
Dr. Nicholas Schork[00:12:48] Start? Yeah, it's a great, great question and I wish I did have $3 billion to invest in this area. I would probably spread the wealth a little bit in terms of identifying things that might shed light on how we could lead healthier lives. With companies like Altos Labs, the Bezos Lab in Calico, which is the Google equivalent to Altos, has their own $3 billion budget. They're focusing on one or another things. And I think from my perspective, that might be limiting because we know there are multiple things we just went through a bunch that contribute to kind of healthy aging. And so I would again take multiple shots on goal, probably not confined attention to anyone. I think that be pretty much what I'd argue is.
Karie Dozer [00:13:37] You know, 3 billion where are you going first
Dr. Matthew Huentelman[00:13:40] That 3 billion number is greater than what the federal government funds on a yearly basis for research. Yeah. So that's a that's a big number, but it's deserved it. This topic needs this attention. How I would spend it is really getting focus back on the US public, trying to get them engaged in science, get as much participation as we can from all walks of life. Because that's really, really important for us as we study this complicated process of aging. And it's really important that when we make findings which turn into public health suggestions that we're making the suggestions to the right people at the right time for the right reasons. And because of that, we need, you know, really the involvement of our whole population. It sounds grandiose, but it's really, really an important part of this. Not so many people out there participate in scientific research. But yet a lot of us reap the benefits of those, you know, of the new drugs that we need to survive or the new things that we learn about our brain or our heart or our lungs. And so we need more participation to make it richer, make it stronger.
Karie Dozer [00:15:03] Broader.
Dr. Matthew Huentelman[00:15:04] Broader.
Karie Dozer [00:15:04] All right. Last chance. Any secrets? Is there anything that either of you to do or take or drink on a daily basis that you feel. Need some attention. Any secrets?
Dr. Nicholas Schork[00:15:16] For me, it's exercise. Avoid stress. To the degree that's possible in a somewhat stressful.
Karie Dozer [00:15:23] It'll be the hardest thing.
Dr. Nicholas Schork[00:15:24] The hardest thing? It's hard. I Yeah, I eat right. Or at least try to eat right. And I actually do pay attention, probably because of the nature of my job to developments in this area. So if in fact, there looks like there's a truly science backed supplement or emerging therapeutic to kind of take care of whatever issue you might have. I just want it on my radar. So I think, you know, to Matt's point about kind of getting people engaged, part of that is going to have to involve exposure. Just letting people know what the truth is in certain areas. And it's crucial. So I try to stay abreast of that stuff. You know, as a consumer of these products, not just as a scientist.
Dr. Matthew Huentelman[00:16:09] My answer, similar to his I do take a few supplements, you know, the fish oils, the multi vitamins, but none of them specifically for my brain. What I find that I need to do to myself is get sort of gets back to my point I was making earlier, which is I push myself to do things I'm not comfortable doing, right. This is not something I would choose to do tonight. You know, I'm a homebody, but I know it's good for me to get out and, you know, do social things, talk and interact with other people. So as much as I would love to stay, you know, in the house.
Karie Dozer [00:16:45] At home.
Dr. Matthew Huentelman[00:16:46] Yeah, at home. That's an example of where I say to myself, okay, this is what you want to do, but what should you do? And I try and push myself to do some of those things.
Karie Dozer [00:16:56] Thank you, Doctor Nicholas Schork and Dr. Matt Huentelman for helping us better understand how and why we age and what we can do to make the most of the years we are given. You can watch and listen to this entire conversation on precision aging on our Web site at TGen dot org. For more on TGen's research, go to TGen dot org slash news. The Translational Genomics Research Institute, part of City of Hope, is an Arizona based nonprofit medical research institution dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life changing results. You can find more of these podcasts at TGen dot org slash talks, Apple and Spotify and most podcast platforms. For TGen Talks, I’m Karie Dozer.