Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1213, (11 -17 September 2014)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1213, (11 -17 September 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Hanging on to youth

Long gone are the days of reverence for old age! Those silver strands that symbolise dignity, maturity, knowledge and wisdom are shunned by a society wholly obsessed with eternal youth.

The sudden death of American comedian Joan Rivers at 81 should not have been a shock, but it was! Rivers was so dynamic, so feisty, so fearless, so young, one thought she would go on forever. Had she not gone for a simple routine procedure in a doctor’s clinic, she probably would have. What made her so young was not her plastic surgeries, her wigs, her lasers and fillers, but her quick mind and acerbic wit, her laughter and joie de vivre, her self-confidence and courage that helped her overcome her many hardships. She was not one to moan, but to get up and get going with the business of living.

Rivers was convinced that looking young was an asset in today’s society and was unashamed about her many face-lifts; in fact she recommended them for everyone.

Of course they are not for everyone! While we all wish to look good at any age, some are quite comfortable with their greying hair and wrinkled skin. Really!! Who amongst us has not resorted to at least a bottle of hair dye?

Our society constantly sends us messages that youth is the key to glamour, romance, wealth and happiness. The desire to remain young has accelerated at a dizzying speed, even among the young. The business of youth and beauty costs Americans $30 billion, the Brits 16 billion pounds annually, which includes cosmetics, creams, vitamins, hair-transplants, lip-suction and surgical procedures. The quest for youth and beauty is unstoppable!

Whatever happened to the virtues of old age, of wisdom, experience, self introspection? Who needs them nowadays? The technological revolution has reversed our priorities. The race is on to tap the fountain of youth and science is ready to oblige. What we forget is looking young does not make us young. Age cannot be controlled.

A decade ago the rage was over stem cells. Stem cells would restore and rejuvenate ailing or dying organs. We could live and die feeling extremely healthy and looking exquisitely young, or why even die at all as long as every organ functions perfectly?

If stem-cells are complicated, why not simply swallow a pill that can perform all that? Scientists assure us that a pill to extend our life span is within reach. At least it has extended the life-span of mice, administered at a mouse age equivalent to 60 years. Their life-span was extended by up to 14%.

A recent study by the German Centre for Neuro-degenerative Diseases, (DNZE), and the Hemholz Zentrum Munchen, has found that the drug ‘rapamycin’ extended the life-span of mice by up to 14%, reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. Dr Dan Ehringer, research group leader at DNZE says: “Rapamycin influences the aging process and has the potential to yield broadly effective therapeutics against old age.”

As the body’s repair mechanism begins to fail with age, signs of wear and tear appear. The risk increases for many diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, Cancer and Cardio-vascular disorders. Rapamycin can delay or avoid all that. Bring it on! Who needs those diseases at any age!

‘Rapamycin’ is not a new drug. It was first discovered in 1960 in the soil bacteria collected on Easter Islands and named after the island of Rapa Nui.

A naturally derived anti-biotic, anti-fungal, immune-suppressant, it has been commonly used to prevent rejection in organ and bone-marrow transplants, as well as children’s pediatric medicine. It influences the growth of blood vessels and helps stem cells retain their stemness. Scientists see a broad range of possibilities from the treatment of vascular malformations to kidney diseases and multiple kinds of cancer. Is this a new miracle drug?

When we learn that 150 human traits typically change during the course of aging such as loss of vision, cardio-vascular function, immune function and more, what are we waiting for? Who wants to contend with tired limbs, broken teeth, wrinkling skin, aches and pains! Where can we get our dose of rapamycin? Scientists say not for another decade.

Meanwhile, what to do? Either we submit to a surgeon’s knife or embrace age as gracefully as we can! We need to hold on to our sense of humour, curiosity, our confidence, our faith and our courage. That was the secret of Joan Rivers’ success and youthful demeanor, not her numerous face-lifts. A mind-lift beats a face-lift any day!

“Do not go gentle into that good night”. Do not submit to old age! Fight it, defy it until the very end.

Is it smart to ignore the advances of science and technology that would improve the fate of humanity? NO! Is it smart to want to look young forever and live indefinitely? NO! Die we shall, but living well until we die, that is pretty smart!

Forget about the age, the wrinkles, the grey hair! Keep your heart young and unwrinkled. “Father time spares no one, but is kinder to those who are young at heart.”

Above all, do not stop dreaming. Hang on to your dreams regardless of your age. Russian writer Anton Chekhov built his dream house knowing he was dying of tuberculosis.

It is the age of the heart that matters! Feel young and you will remain young!


 “Old age isn’t so bad, when you consider the alternative”
Maurice Chevalier (1882-1972)

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