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If you want to live a long and healthy life you should choose your parents carefully, who themselves chose to come from a long-lived family, and it is also important to choose to be members of a society where there are low risks of predation from animals and people. Spring Chicken – Stay young forever (or die trying) by Bill Gifford starts out with a brief overview of humanity’s quest for eternal life coupled with eternal youth and soon comes to Susan Somers and Ray Kurzweil, the frontrunners in the eternal-life race. Somers fights back against the Seven Dwarfs of menopause – “Itchy, Bitchy, Sweaty, Sleepy, Bloated, Forgetful, and All-Dried-Up” (p. 45) or occasionally dumpy, lumpy, and grumpy. But, for women at least, estrogen replacement led to accelerated rates of breast cancer, heart disease, blood clots, stroke, and dementia and proved that a more successful approach was vegetables, routine exercise like walking, and personally chosen easily controlled stressors.

On page 249 Gifford  mentions one of my favorite authors, Nicholas Taleb, and applies Taleb’s theory of antifragility to a centenarian who smokes. But his usage of the new term antifragile to mean robust is not quite right. Antifragile means the ability of a system to form quick responses to new environmental situations with flexibility, and it’s the opposite of resistance to a new situation with a toughness that the term robustness implies. He discusses naked mole rats and a Slovenian cave salamander called an olm, each of which are flimsy-looking and live in strange environments, but it is unknown why they live for extraordinarily long times. Human beings are potentially the most antifragile species because they can look into the future and see opportunities that other creatures can not. I say potentially farseeing because there are obvious failures.

Science might come to the rescue, but not yet. Resveratrol in about four glasses of red wine seems to help with longevity, as does a couple of cups of coffee, and curcumin with black pepper kills cancer cells in petri dishes, but has trouble getting to cancers in living humans. Metformin, a cheap diabetes medication, lowers diabetics’ risk of cancer and heart disease and helps mice live 6% longer, but no study of normal healthy humans has been completed yet. The book ends with a plug for aspirin which is an anti-inflammatory agent and cardiovascular helper.

Spring Chicken will get you up to speed on modern anti-aging science, but it claims there isn’t a proven pill just yet. 

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