The Overactive Brain’s Effect On Lifespan. One Factor May Decide:
So living longer is a mystery we’ve been trying to decode forever.
That’s why “The Fountain Of Youth” is such an enduring symbol/catchphrase.
And one of the best things Science can do is to solve that problem; especially if we can also stay healthy at the same time.
Unfortunately, news and innovation in the longevity department is really slow to arrive and few developments offer some kind of magic fix.
But in some recent work by a Harvard team, researchers might have found the first few steps in a new direction; they might even have some ancient precedent…
Science Tackles An Old Problem:
So over the course of history, we’ve had some pretty wacky solutions to the aging problem.
We’ve had all kinds of ancient-society snake-oil like alchemy, probably-toxic anti-aging solutions, cold showers, resveratrol, antioxidants, magic space drinks, and even obsession with the blood of young people and virgins.
Very few of them have shown any actual results, but the impulse is still there, and the ideas are old.
But The Short Answer for the current work is the Harvard team found 1 protein present in the brains of people who lived to an advanced-age, called REST,
And whose absence is associated with excessive brain-activity and mystifyingly, shorter-lifespan in all the tests they ran.
Read on to find out the details…
But The Outliers Told A Different Story:
So previously, most people were going to live fast, die young, and leave a moderately good-looking corpse,
Because that was the only real option before modern medicine.
But every once in awhile society would throw-off an outlier, like an X-Man who would defy the list.
Just like the SuperAgers who somehow live to be 100 or older.
Every time they crop up in the media today, people ask them how they did it and the answer is always bizarre:
No Sex, Beer & Bacon Every Day, Don’t Get Married, etc.
But we still want to know the answer.
Just like ancient societies wanted to know the secrets of the impossibly-old Yoda- like wisemen living in isolated caves for what seemed like a very long time.
Strangely-enough, a lot of those old guys seemed to be people spending lots of quiet time in deep thought, which may reveal itself to be a factor; later.
So Here’s What They Studied:
Far from the mountain caves of eastern ascetics, Bruce Yankner’s team at HMS looked at around 300 brain-samples from people who had lived to different ages.
One group was those who had lived up to but not over 80.
The other was people who had lived to be over 85.
One key difference they found was people who lived from age 85 up to 100 was their brains showed fewer indications of excessive-activity than the people who only lived to ages between 60 and 80.
And the counter-intuitive smoking gun? All the subjects who lived longer had more of a protein called REST.
The scientists went even further to confirm if this was just correlation instead of causation.
So they tried it on test-animals that had their amounts of REST changed both by Drugs, and also gene-therapy.
In both cases, the test animals with less REST had shorter lives, and higher excessive neuron-activity.
The opposite was true for those with more REST protein.
Another Type Of Gut-Brain Axis:
And this is an amazing and unexpected result!
Just about the last thing any scientist would expect to find is that one protein in a brain could control aging and the length of somebody’s life!
Even more strange is that other studies have shown this same protein is tied to protection in brains from other problems like Stress, Alzheimer’s, and Dementia.
And it all comes from REST being at the top of a chain of biochemical events that all connect to metabolism.
-Not unlike our odd-friend, Intermittent-Fasting which lets your metabolism do all kinds of weird stuff for your body’s clock, after it’s done digesting the food you eat.
So as many ancient philosophers would have you believe, I guess the Mind really Is connected to the Body!
And this isn’t too much of a black-box either, because REST does almost everything you could imagine with your brain-cells to speed them up or slow them down.
The Overactive Brain’s Absence Of REST. Mind Connects To Body, Lifespan:
So my totally-amateur guess is, it looks like if REST is in short-supply, your brain-cells hyper-activate,
Your IGF metabolism pathway goes nuts, and possibly negatively affects the mitochondria in your cells, causing them to all have a shorter-life than normal.
There was a great episode of Scientific American Frontiers called “Never Say Die”, with Alan Alda all about how the length of the ends of your cells’ mitochondria, called Telomeres, ultimately can influence how long you live.
So the old saying of, “The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” might actually have some basis in scientific-fact.
Now Here’s The Bad News:
Although it could turn out to be very neuro-protective,
Dr. Yankner does not see development of any measurement and increasing of REST in living people in the immediate future.
His team still thinks there is more to study,
And that you should be very careful if anyone out there in Supplement World comes out with some magical brain-elixir that claims to up your REST levels.
Furthermore, he also cautions about the great American tradition of just popping a pill and forgetting about everything else as-if that one drug would fix everything,
And then people could go out and eat cheeseburgers all day, still expecting to live to 120.
As we’ve said before, if you want to live to 100, lifestyle choices count for an awful lot in the equation, and Dr. Bruce agrees.
More Bad News:
Right now, the HMS team has also not put out an official list of conditions and activities that describe excessive neural activity.
-Especially since things like novelty and learning are generally viewed as positives that end up improving your brain and growing you new brain-cells, anyway.
But Bruce did give a hint. He mentioned that things like Alzheimer’s, Bipolar, Epilepsy, Stress, and Anxiety may be in or near that category.
-Other disorders like ADHD were not mentioned, though.
So probably one of the first things you can do is to get yourself on the right medication for those conditions and hopefully influence REST at-least indirectly.
His notes are also interesting, because previous research has also established that so-called Type-A and Type-D (ruminators) are the two general personality types with the lowest life-expectancies,
So there may be some tipping-point past which the hyper-vigilance of Anxiety overpowers the otherwise healthy conscientiousness it usually inspires.
Stress has been shown to be just generally-awful in every possible way many times before.
-Even to the extent that if you eat perfectly, high-stress, or long-term unresolvable stress of a mid-level will definitely shorten your life and cancel-out much of the benefits of even perfect nutrition.
Back To The Future! Finally Some Good News:
There IS however a general list of practices, habits, & lifestyle-choices that a person might choose that do influence their longevity,
And maybe even their amount of REST, if that isn’t just some fixed-value set at birth by genetics:
1) Intermittent Fasting
2) Calorie Restriction
3) Getting toxins out of your recreational habits, like excessive alcohol, and smoking
4) Eating a Mediterranean Diet
4a) Adding Neal Barnard’s Brain Health Hacks to that diet
5) Reducing Systemic Inflammation By Losing Excess Bodyfat
6) Regular Cardiovascular Exercise, preferably 30 minutes a day
7) Getting Toxins out of your Mind, Chiefly: Chronic or Incidentally-High Stress
8) Getting Toxins out of your Environment, like Air Pollution and sub-standard Nutrition
8) Keeping Toxins out of your Brain by taking care of your gums
9) Reducing Anxiety and Rumination
12) Gratitude & Happiness
13) Sense of Purpose
No Magic Bullet, Yet:
So although it will take a long time for the HMS team to do the right experiments on actual living people,
And find a way to measure their Before/After levels of brain-overactivity,
Including finding a drug that is safe in every other way for long-term use,
Not just something you’d give to a lab rat for one test.
The possibility of a Test, a Drug, and a Routine to get REST to an acceptable range,
Especially if this is a way of attacking other degenerative-diseases like Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s,
Is not completely out-of-the cards and is actually Dr. Bruce’s next To Do List item!
We may not have it yet, but REST’s top-level influence on something as potentially-small as telomeres and ultimately-lifespan,
Is nothing short of amazing.
And at-least we have a whole list of non-REST things we can all try to slow aging and live longer, including the ancient Kung-Fu monk playbook of meditation, exercise, and calorie-restriction; failing that, there’s always Aubrey Plaza.
Photo Credits: “Selective focus photography of monk at corridor”, by Alexander
• Source: Harvard
• Source Study: Nature – Regulation of lifespan by neural excitation and REST | Full Article PDF