Modern and Ancient Ayurveda Biohacks for Longevity
by Robert Keith Wallace, PhD
This article is adapted from 16 Super Biohacks for Longevity: Shortcuts to a Healthier, Happier, Longer Life.
One of the hottest anti-aging topics is the discovery of biochemicals in “young blood,” which could help reverse the aging process. Young blood refers to the blood from younger animals. Parabiosis is an experimental approach used extensively on animals, in which the circulatory system of one animal is connected to that of another. When an older animal is connected to a younger animal, the older animal begins to exhibit rejuvenation in certain tissues such as the skeletal muscles, heart, and liver, and even show improvements in memory. In contrast, the younger animal experiences an opposite effect, with their tissues aging more quickly and a loss in memory.
The main conclusion from this and other research is that blood from young animals seems to restore gene expression patterns in certain tissues, while blood from old animals has the opposite effect. Clearly, there are rejuvenating factors in young blood, and aging factors in the blood from the older animals. Can we make an animal live longer through young blood? Present research does not bear this out.
And as is often the case, the findings in animals may not apply to humans. Because of the difficulties and costs of blood transfusion in humans, attempts have been made to isolate the rejuvenating factors. One of the most well documented is a factor called growth differentiation factor named GDF11 peptide. Research at Harvard claimed that GDF11 levels in blood fell with age, and that supplementing GDF11 could revitalize old muscles including hearts. These studies, however, could not be replicated. Other researchers are searching to find more promising rejuvenating factors.
Despite the lack of concrete evidence, companies are already competing to attempt to monetize these new findings with obvious ethical concerns. One start-up company began selling young plasma transfusions for $8,000 per liter. New experimental biohacks for longevity need to be researched thoroughly to make sure that there are no adverse side-effects, as is so often the case with modern pharmaceuticals.
Ayurveda, which, as we have mentioned. is the natural health system of India, and has innumerable recommendations to prevent disease and maintain a balanced physiology—all of which are biohacks. Some of them benefit everyone, like having our main meal at noon when digestion is at its strongest. Other biohacks depend upon our individual mind/body nature and are highly personalized. There are three main mind/body natures or Energy States, called Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. For a Vata individual the most effective biohack challenge is to stick to a daily routine. For a Pitta person the most important thing is not to miss a meal (the word “hangry” was surely coined for them). Finally, for the Kapha Energy State people, creative physical behaviors are good biohacks to help keep them active. Each of us is a mixture of these three Energy States and the best biohacks for each individual will most likely include a blend of different behaviors and food.
In the previous article we mentioned Ayurveda biohacks for diet, exercise and sleep, and meditation. There are, in addition, numerous dietary supplements. We will explore these in future articles, but there is one class of supplements in Ayurveda which are designed and used to promote longevity. These are called Rasayanas.
There is also a section of knowledge in Ayurveda known as behavioral or psychological rasayanas, which are behavioral biohacks for learning and longevity
Below is a list of some traditional Ayurvedic Behavioral Rasayanas that help improve physiology and health:
- Stay in balance with a good routine
- Be loving, simple, and compassionate
- Speak the truth sweetly and uplift others
- Avoid anger and be giving to others, even those who have mistreated us
- Devote ourself to the knowledge and development of higher states of consciousness
- Transcend regularly through the practice of meditation.
- Be respectful of elders and keep the company of the wise
In our modern times there is an equivalent type of positive behavioral recommendations in environmental settings called blue zones. The idea of blue zone communities grew out research by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain. They studied the Nuoro province in Sardinia, Italy as an area with the largest concentration of centenarian males. Since then, a number of other locations have been added such as Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece; and Okinawa Island, Japan. The people living in these regions also eat simple and moderate diets. They exercise regularly and perhaps most importantly they are treated as respected and valued members of the society.
Any suitable community may be certified as a blue zone. The town I live in, Fairfield Iowa, was certified in 2015. This was the result of a concentrated effort by community leaders to introduce the world’s best practices in food policy, environmental care, exercise opportunities, and social networking. And to make it even more supportive, people come twice a day to meditate in large domes on the Maharishi International University (MIU) campus with the goal creating peace for the world. The programs that the University offer are unique in that they combine the ancient knowledge of the Vedic Tradition of India with the most current theories of modern science. In my own department, the Department of Physiology and Health, for example, we offer undergraduate and graduate programs in training health and life coaches in Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. MIU’s College of Integrative Medicine is about to offer a unique fellowship in Integrative Medicine which allows physicians to specialize in Ayurveda.
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