Post Health


Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

I gather that Glenn Reynolds writes the most read blog in the world, though I don’t recall ever visiting it, until now. Regarding today‘s NYT story on calorie restriction he writes:

Calorie restriction is unlikely to work in humans — and I’m not sure it’s worth it anyway — but drugs that mimic its effects are another thing entirely.

If is unlikely to “work” (I assume Reynolds means “extend maximum species lifespan” as CR clearly does have immediate health benefits) how does he expect to work? If the effect works then a pill will be worth it for many more people than practice, but that’s another thing entirely.

Fortunately the rest of Reynolds’ post makes perfect sense, so I won’t go on, and may visit again.

Calorie restriction and me

Monday, October 30th, 2006

A few months ago reporter Michael Mason contacted me for a story about via my writeup of the first day of CR IV (I still have notes from the other two days and will write them up in the fullness of time). The story appears in tomorrow’s New York Times, now online, as One for the Ages: A Prescription That May Extend Life. Just a few notes on the paragraphs that mention me and accompanying photos:

Mike Linksvayer, a 36-year-old chief technology officer at a San Francisco nonprofit group, embarked on just such a diet six years ago. On an average day, he eats an apple or some cereal for breakfast,

Cereal is pretty much junk food, and whether I eat any is a pretty good indicator of how well I’m doing. I can go for weeks without any, then eat some every morning for a week at work if I’m procrastinating on a project. I skip breakfast more often than not. Natto and garlic (pictured) is my favorite breakfast.

followed by a small vegan dish at lunch.

However, it must be noted that most people practicing CR are not vegan.

Dinner is whatever his wife has cooked, excluding bread, rice, sugar and whatever else Mr. Linksvayer deems unhealthy (this often includes the entrée). On weekends, he occasionally fasts.

I cook a fair amount, too. The dishes pictured are typical of my cooking — more or less random vegetables and vegetable protein mixed together with lots of spices.

Mr. Linksvayer, 6 feet tall and 135 pounds, estimated that he gets by on about 2,000 to 2,100 calories a day, a low number for men of his age and activity level, and his blood pressure is a remarkably low 112 over 63. He said he has never been in better health.

My first estimate was 2,200, which includes some fudge factor, as I know how easy it is to underestimate intake, and I am not super meticulous. But they wanted to go with a lower number.

I am on relatively mild CR. For example, in at least one human CR study the median blood pressure was 99/61.

“I don’t really get sick,” he said. “Mostly I do the diet to be healthier, but if it helps me live longer, hey, I’ll take that, too.”

True, though I learned of CR through life extension circles and that was definitely my initial motivation. It doesn’t really matter to an individual whether CR squares the mortality curve or extends maximum life — only whether that individual gets more healthy years (easy) and yes, perhaps a better shot at hanging on long enough for real life extension technologies.

Regarding the food pictures, the photographer wanted food on plates, but I typically eat multiple servings or from a salad bowl, as in the photograph with me in the picture. The lunch and dinner pictured are low calorie density for their volume. Some people on CR eat a huge salad every day.

The clarifications above aren’t intended as criticisms. Overall the article is pretty good and I was impressed by the amount of legwork and research the reporter and support people put into the story. Seeing a real photojournalist at work was very interesting (picture of two of his cameras I took while he carried the rest of his gear down the stairs), even if I didn’t really enjoy being a subject. Maybe the MSM is worth keeping around after all. :)

There have been several stories about CR published recently. I recommend checking out The Fast Supper in New York Magazine, which features people far more hard-core and interesting than myself.

Also check out the Calorie Restriction Society. I rarely blog about CR, so subscribe to April Smith or Mary Robinson, who do so intelligently (though most people on CR seem to be male).

Better yet, ignore all of the above and contribute to the real fight against aging — from December 2005:

Excepting the very laws of nature (see arch anarchy), aging and its resulting suffering and death is the greatest oppressor of humanity. As far as I know Aubrey de Grey’s Methuselah Mouse Prize/Foundation is the only organization making a direct assault on aging, so I advise giving generously. Fight Aging! is the place to watch for new anti-aging philanthropy.

Addendum: The meal photos left out dessert.

Iraq war costing 120% too much

Sunday, October 15th, 2006

It is not completely unreasonable to guesstimate the average value of a U.S. jurisdiction citizen’s life at around $9 million, given that it has been guestimated at between $4 and $5 million in 1980 and apparently increases about 15% given a 10% increase in income. See Is Your Life Worth $10 Million? for an explanation and Economic History Services for income data.

Then it is also not completely unreasonable to guesstimate the average value of an Iraq jurisdiction citizen’s life at around $250,000, given per capita income of $3,600 at PPP.

Now assuming the Lancet study is roughly correct (I know, controversial, but if it overestimates then the Iraq war is an even worse “deal”) in estimating 600,000 Iraqi excess deaths and that the U.S. government has spent $335 billion so far on the Iraq war (only direct costs; including more controversial costs would again make the “deal” worse), it is straightforward to see that the U.S. has spent over $550,000 for each Iraqi life.

What a ripoff! And we were expecting a great deal.

(Intended as irony. Too bad if post seems autistic, outrageous, or sick.)

New world depopulation

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

A researcher seems to have pretty good evidence that much of the post-conquest depopulation of Mexico was due not to smallpox and other old-world diseases, but . This does not mean “maybe the Spaniards get off the hook.” It probably makes them more culpable:

[Acuña-Soto] also thinks he may have solved one of the other great mysteries of cocolitzli—namely, why it hit the Aztecs hard but left the Spanish largely unaffected.

Hemorrhagic viruses affect human populations that are already stressed, Acuña-Soto says. “The natives were poor and probably near starvation and living in unsanitary conditions where the rats would congregate. They also worked in the fields, where they’d be exposed to the rat droppings. The Spanish made up the upper classes.”

There is a tiny hint that hemorrhagic fever could have played a role in the depopulation of the Americas post-1491 but before substantial European contact (my extrapolation and emphasis):

The evidence from the Douglas firs shows that during the 16th century central Mexico not only lacked rain but also suffered the most severe and sustained drought in 500 years, one that encompassed nearly the entire continent.

(Acuña-Soto thinks hemorrhagic fever outbreaks are related to conditions immediately following severe drought.)

Via Tyler Cowen.

Calorie Restriction Conference IV, part 1

Sunday, April 9th, 2006

I attended the Fourth Calorie Restriction Society Conference after missing CR III. Comments on most of the presentations:

Conference co-organizer Robert Krikorian said he thought attendees expected less from , at least in terms of life extension, than did attendees at the first conference, held in 2001.

spoke about a small study in which overweight asthma patients practiced approximately “every other day” CR — one day, 20% of energy requirements the next — amounting to approximately 20% CR. Onset of presumably CR-induced benefits — objective and subjective measures of asthma symptoms, oxidative stress and inflammation markers — was drastic and rapid, largely kicking in after only a few weeks. Laub is also researching an unintentional human CR study from 1956 by Arias Vallejo in which 60 restricted patients in a Madrid nursing home had about half of the hospitalization days of the 60 control patients. Only half as many restricted patients as controls died over the course of the study. Laub said the mortality numbers were too small to be significant (I believe 12 and 5 deaths) but he did not let this stop him from extrapolating a mortality curve for the restricted patients shifted to the right.

Josh Mitteldorf claimed that aging is a result of to check population growth that would deplete resources and lead to extinction. He admitted to holding a minority position and offered critiques of three theories of aging. Mitteldorf thinks that the CR effect falsifies disposable soma, which he thinks should predict that more energy would allow for more damage repair and less aging rather than the opposite. I suspect he is attacking a strawman version of the theory. He claimed that the existence of genes that seem to have no purpose but programmed death and to rule out and mutation accumulation as primary causes of aging. Certainly these theories can be criticized, but Mitteldorf’s own probably goes down the wrong track by relying on group selection, which may not even exist is somewhat controversial. He invokes the dynamism of exponentially growing then crashing populations. It seems to me (i.e., completely uninformed speculation) a changing environment might favor genes for aging to free resources for new generations, which might have mutations enabling survival in changed conditions — this would be mere . Mitteldorf said the existence of programmed death would make life extension easier — single interventions could have powerful cascade effects — and that indeed, CR may be an example of such an intervention.

Luigi Fontana gave an update on human CR studies in progress that show CR practicioners have extremely low markers for cancer and heart disease risk and noted one study in which raw foodists had markers in some (but not all) areas as good as CR practicioners suggests that protein restriction may be something to study. This doesn’t seem to be of much practical use given a CR concern with maintaining muscle mass nor does it seem to be a likely effect to me — the raw foodists consumed calories closer to the CR group than to the exerciser and control groups — presumably this accounts for most or all of their CR-like markers.

suggested that the CR effect is mostly absolute and will not effectively scale for long lived organisms due to famines lasting a similar amount of time for organisms regardless of lifespan, resulting in only two or three years’ increase in life span for CR’d humans. I highly doubt multi-decade famines never happen, though perhaps they do not occur often enough to favor genes conferring equivalent life extension. Certainly the CR effect is much greater proportionately in shorter lived organisms — de Grey cited examples ranging from several hundred percent for C. elegans to a 40% for some mice to a few percent for Okinawans. He also spoke a bit about , about which I’ve written previously.

Caleb Finch‘s talk on meat-adaptive genes in the evolution of the human diet was fascinating. If I understood correctly, some of the same genes that offer protection from the dangers of eating raw meat (parasites, prions, high iron doses) also indicate larger brain size, specifically . With the exception of some chimpanzees (and of course humans), existing hominids only eat plants and some insects, so this gene is not present. Some groups of chimpanzees do hunt and practice cannibalism, but this is cultural and could have even been transferred from humans. Although little recognized, Alzheimer’s occurs in many mammals. APOE also protects against Alzheimer’s. About ten percent of humans have an APOE variant that results in decreased lifespan (about half of the female-male difference) but better protection against certain diseases.

Steven Austad said that although the CR effect is often assumed to be ubiquitous many studies have shown exceptions, even in rodents. Although some of his examples are questionable, clearly the effect of CR on an organism should not be assumed to be always positive. I (because I am ignorant) found his clear description of what CR means in the context of single cell organism and fruit fly studies valuable — especially for the former, it isn’t very similar to CR for mammals. I have a fair amount of raw notes taken from this presentation which I may eventually turn into a separate post.

Three later presentations, the scientific panel, and general observations in a subsequent post.

The conference was written about in the local (Tucson) paper. Probably the two best known bloggers writing about their own CR practices, Mary Robinson and April Smith, each have posted about the conference and will presumably be posting additional thoughts.

Pro abortion

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

Why would anyone, especially a self-styled economist say something as silly as the following?

In spite of the slander of pro-lifers, nobody is in favor of abortion. Abortion is horrible. Ask anybody who had one.

Clearly anybody who has had an favored abortion over giving birth, just as anybody who has had a root canal favored enduring the operation over an eventual jaw infection and chronic pain. People don’t bother saying “nobody is in favor of root canals.” Of course few people look forward to a medical procedure, be it abortion, root canal, hernia repair, or far more unpleasant. An economist of all people should recognize the nullity of claiming nobody favors a choice that many people actually make, given real world constraints.

I favor abortion. Strongly. Kill the parasite! I favor even more strongly, but abortion is a good backup plan.

Ten year life extension, available now

Wednesday, January 4th, 2006

Review article Three Different Paths to Age One Hundred, text posted, sans notes, maybe eventually available at the New England Centenarian Study publications page, points out some interesting data.

I’m not sure how they’re obtaining these numbers, but three studies cited claim that 25-35% of variance in longevity is can be attributed to genetic influences, leaving 65-75% to environmental effects.

A compelling example of the large impact of environment is that benefit from their otherwise nutty attempt to follow by avoiding meat, tobacco, alcohol and sloth, obtaining a life expectancy of 88 years, versus 78 years for (presumably genetically very similar) average Americans. I have heard many times that Adventists practice healthy lifestyles, but this is the first time I’ve seen a number attached to their health outcomes (not that I’ve looked).

The article also seems to generally comport with economist Robert Fogel‘s research–environment early in life has long term health effects and those who achieve exceptional longevity tend to greatly delay or avoid aging related disease rather than fulfilling the stereotype of merely living longer, but in a miserable state. A healthy lifestyle may substantially increase your lifespan and simultaneously decrease the total amount of time you spend in a disabled state. What a deal.

For whatever it’s worth, the researchers at the NECS have a Living to 100 Life Expectancy Calculator. It expects me to live to 94.

MPrize impact predictions

Monday, January 2nd, 2006

Last June I wrote about Methuselah Mouse Prize related prediction market claims and suggested that claims conditioned on MPrize fundraising goals would be interesting. I just noticed that makes predictions of its own via its ill-explained The Life Line Equation calculator.

I couldn’t find any discussion of the calculator and it is not very prominent on the site. I suspect not much thought was put into it, but the implicit claims are interesting anyway. Given a year of birth, the calculator provides an expected lifespan and an estimate of funds required to reverse aging before you die, as well as a plot like the following:

One problem with the calculator is that it apparently doesn’t use . The average 75 year old is not expected to die next year, as per the calculator.

In the table below I’ve taken the output of the Life Line Equation calculator, supplemented with age-adjusted data from U.S. National Center for Health Statistics life tables (italicized).

Birth Expected
1990 2072 2068 $244,000
1980 2061 2058 $407,000
1970 2050 2049 $800,000
1960 2040 2040 $2,100,000
1950 2029 2031 $9,850,000
1940 2018 2023 $226,800,000
1930 2007 2017 $40,000,000,000

The implication is that to reverse aging by 2029, the MPrize needs $9,850,000, and furthermore that aging could be reversed very shortly with enough incentive and that aging will be reversed 2030 or so regardless of MPrize funding (the funds needed to reverse aging after that date are insignificant, so I think it would be fair to discount the role of the MPrize in reversing aging after that date, if not much sooner).

MPrize funding currently stands at $1.4m, with an additional $1.8m committed. So according to I (born 1970) have nothing to worry about. Hooray!

Well, perhaps not. The calculator seeems pretty poorly conceived and implemented. Still, it would be very interesting to obtain estimates of the impact various levels of MPrize funding might have on anti-aging breakthroughs. Such estimates would be great marketing fodder for MPrize fundraisers–even a very modest impact would save many lives.

As I mentioned before one means of obtaining such (collective) estimates would be to condition anti-aging prediction contracts on MPrize funding levels. Very simplistically, “what is the chance aging will be reversed by 2030?” and “what is the chance aging will be reversed by 2030 if the MPrize raises $100m by 2010?” (Obviously a real claim would define some specific indicator for aging reversal, e.g., a 90 percent drop in 75 year old mortality relative to 75 year old mortality in 2005.)

I still strongly recommend supporting the Methuselah Mouse Prize and the generally.

While I’m peeving away, I wish Rejuvenation Research were an journal. “[M]most important of all: this journal needs to be read.” At $263/year for a personal online-only subscription I don’t think so.

Addendum 20060118: There is a claim on FX very much like the aging reversal claim I outlined above — 90% drop in overall death rate before 2050 relative to 1994 rate. I almost certainly read this claim in the past and forgot about it, but not its general thrust.

Outsourcing charity … to Wikipedia

Friday, December 30th, 2005

Giving and asking for recommendations for worthy charitable donations seems to be popular this time of year, so I’ll do both, following my earlier unsolicited financial advice.

Excepting the very laws of nature (see arch anarchy), aging and its resulting suffering and death is the greatest oppressor of humanity. As far as I know Aubrey de Grey‘s Methuselah Mouse Prize/Foundation is the only organization making a direct assault on aging, so I advise giving generously. Fight Aging! is the place to watch for new anti-aging philanthropy.

The most important human-on-human oppression to end, in the U.S. at least, is the drug war (which directly causes oppression in other jurisdictions as well). I’ve only mentioned this in passing here. There’s too much to say. The Drug Reform Coordination Network is saying some of it. The seems to be spearheading state level liberalization initiatives. See MPP’s 2006 plan. I met MPP founder Rob Kampia a year or so ago and was left with a good impression of the organization.

is the current exemplar of the anti-authoritarian age and I love their .

Finally, you could help pay my salary at Creative Commons, more in these letters.

I’d really prefer to give entirely outside the U.S. and other wealthy jurisdictions. However, I’m not interested in any organization that gives direct aid (reactionary, low long term impact), supports education (feel good, low long term impact), exhibits economic neanderthalism, has religious or social conservative ties, or is a shill for U.S. foreign policy in the areas of drugs, terror, or intellectual property. I am looking for organizations that support autonomous liberalization or any of the goals exemplified by the organizations I already support above. Suggestions?

I suppose supporting prizes is one means of donating without respect to jurisdiction. In cases were low cost is important, researchers in cheap areas will tend to win.

I’d also prefer to give via some innovative mechanism. We’ll see what the new year brings.

Wikipedia chief considers taking ads (via Boing Boing) says that at current traffic levels, Wikipedia could generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year by running ads. There are strong objections to running ads from the community, but that is a staggering number for a tiny nonprofit, an annual amount that would be surpassed only by the wealthiest foundations. It could fund a staggering Wikimedia Foundation bureaucracy, or it could fund additional free knowledge projects. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has asked what will be free. Would an annual hundred million dollar budget increase the odds of those predictions? One way to find out before actually trying.

Of course I expect all of my donations to have imperceptible impact, almost as imperceptible as voting. But it’s all about expression. I’ve increased my expressive value by including a donor comment — “in loving memory of Άναξιμένης” — with my Wikipedia donation. I got an expressive boost when my comment was chosen for highlighting.

( was a pupil or contemporary of and has a cooler sounding name. As a kid I’d dedicate donations to Alexander the Great, but I now know better.)

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

‘s essay 1491 in the March 2002 Atlantic was one of the most fascinating magazine articles I’ve read. It posited a human an natural world in the Americas prior to 1492 very unlike the one taught in history classes–large, organized human populations that thoroughly shaped their environments–and it seemed the scant evidence pointed to this world.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus expands on the essay and is a good read, apart from a few personal anecdotes and one painfully silly page on Inca economics. Some of the major points:

  • Humans probably 30,000 years ago, not 12,000 years ago.
  • The first complex culture in the Americas, in present-day Peru, was contemporary with ancient civilizations in the old world (beginning 3000BC).
  • Pre-1492 ecologies, including the Amazon rainforest, were engineered by humans, mostly through fire, irrigation, and planting of fruit and nut bearing trees.
  • Pre-1492 human populations were large and well organized, and not just in Mesoamerica and the Andes. Amazonia and fertile parts of the present day U.S. were heavily populated and organized. The earliest accounts by Europeans agree with this.
  • Perhaps 80 percent of the new world population died of old world diseases in the century after 1492, almost entirely without direct contact with old world humans. may have declined by 20 percent in the first 200 years.
  • New world populations were vulnerable to old world diseases and not vice versa because there weren’t many new world species suitable for domesticaion (and thus the passing of disease between humans and animals) and very little diversity in genes impacting the immune system.
  • The Spanish conquest of the and empires would have been impossible had both not been ravaged by immediately before conquest.
  • The survived with food taken from villages emptied by disease shortly before.
  • The overgrown forests, massive bison herds and pigeon flocks and similar encountered by later arriving old world descendants did not exist prior to the die off of native human populations and resulting disintegration of their socities. in particular seem to have been rare pre-contact (their bones are rare in refuse that contains bones of many types of birds eaten). The flocks of billions were an outbreak population enabled by human death or other ecological disruption resulting from contact.
  • farming did not exist pre-contact–it only becomes practical with steel axes. Clearing with stone axes would take many months, for land that can only be cultivated a few years. With steel axes, clearing can be accomplished in a week. Farmers in Amazonia instead created that could be farmed continuously through a “slash-and-char” process.
  • Present day primitive state of peoples such as the may not be ancient at all. The tree-based agriculture of Amazonia would have enabled them to abandon their farms for a short time at no permanent loss–and they would have had plenty of reason to flee from disease and Spanish slaving–but after a generation or so, especially with high mortality, their agricultural knowledge would have been lost.

Apart from Norte Chico, which appears to have only been recognized in the last decade, none of these revelations are truly new. They have been hotly debated by archeologists for many decades, with the consensus slowly coming around to support the scenario above, at least that’s what I get from reading Mann’s description of the debates.

I have changed my mind about one thing, mostly as a result of reading this book and some further reading on the topic. I used to think the Aztecs and Incas basically “had it coming” as they were super-seriously, super-outrageously, and super-bizarrely deranged by bloodthirsty religions (as opposed to the merely serious, outrangeous, and bizarre derangement of the bloodthirsty subjects of the ) that left them unable to cope with anomalous events. The pre-conquest civiliations may not have been more bloody than their contemporaries in Europe in terms of numbers killed. The appearance of pale skinned men on horses with guns is no anomaly compared to smallpox. I suspect old world civilization would have convulsed had disease worked the other way–the impact was greater than that of the .

An interesting and demystifying paper on the Aztec legal system.

I am both amazed that essentially a whole separate set of cultures and line of history existed and saddened that it is almost completely lost.

That famous passage from Adam Smith’s (1759):

Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.

Smith’s hypothetical was merely off by an ocean.