Can trying to cheat death paradoxically kill you sooner?

Can you paradoxically kill yourself early by trying to cheat Death? For example, die through risky anti-aging approaches?

The question came to mind because such longevity efforts have become more extreme. They also get more hype in the media. I’ve been following the anti-aging space mainly because many interventions involve risky stem cell injections. Those trying to reverse the clock also sometimes do other really “out there” things like DIY gene therapy.

I believe that some such efforts could be fatal. It’s an odd paradox. Go all out trying to cheat Death and you might throw out the welcome mat for it.

What’s going on here?

anti-aging, Dorian Gray
Are some of today’s anti-agers suffering from something like an anti-aging Dorian Gray Syndrome? Image from the cover of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Extreme anti-aging as a disease?

Certain well known anti-agers have been trying all kinds of unproven stuff and getting major media attention for it.

Given the risks, could some of these more outlandish anti-aging efforts be so extreme that taken together they are a disorder or disease? In some cases it could be a version of Dorian Gray Syndrome with an obsession with fighting aging. What is Dorian Gray Syndrome? It’s an unhealthy preoccupation with aging and one’s appearance seeming to get older. The word for fear of aging is gerascophobia, which is perhaps part of this too in some cases.

In a hypothetical extreme anti-ager’s view, maybe you can never be too thin, have long enough telomeres, have low enough body fat, or have the just right DNA methylation pattern. But apparently you should try whatever you can to get as close to some ideal as possible. Maybe an updated book or movie version of The Picture of Dorian Gray could be The Telomeres of Dorian Gray or The DNA Methylation Profile of Dorian Gray. 

By way of update, a new study suggests that those obsessed with illness tend to die sooner. 

Let’s go through some of the riskier anti-aging approaches and why they are potentially dangerous.

How trying to cheat Death could bring it early

  • Unproven supplements. Some anti-agers engage in massive supplement use. The number of supposed anti-aging supplements has exploded. Many are untested in terms of safety or efficacy. I’ve written before about stem cell supplements. Some of those supplements make anti-aging claims too. Supplements do have risks even though they aren’t regulated as drugs. I remember when the first study showed that Vitamin E increases cancer risk. People were shocked. Now after more research the association between Vitamin E and cancer is not so consistent but the point is that there are real and potentially major risks to supplements, especially when taken in extreme doses and in combination with other supplements and drugs.
  • Prescription drugs when there’s no health issue. Some anti-agers also take prescription drugs even though they do not have the relevant disease. That’s risky. For example, metformin should only be used by certain diabetics and potentially those with some other conditions after talking with a doctor, but anti-agers often take such meds just to try to extend their lives. For example, there’s metformin. While there is a lot of speculation about metformin and overall health and longevity, the human data so far are very limited. In rare cases, metformin can cause lactic acidosis so that’s a severe risk. Some people are also dosing themselves with rapamycin. Doctors sometimes prescribe drugs to patients such as metformin off-label. I’ve also heard of people trying out hoped-for senolytics, potential anti-aging compounds that target senescent cells. If in the future more data in humans can prove one of these or some other drug actually extends life and is safe, then that’ll be a different matter. We aren’t there yet.
  • Stem cells. Unproven stem cell clinics frequently market various kinds of stem cells for longevity. There is no good evidence to back this up and the clinics largely do this just to make a profit. Even so, some high-profile anti-agers have reportedly gotten such stem cell “treatments” to try to cheat death. There are many risks in doing that. The hazards are numerous, including infection, pulmonary emboli, tumor growth, and more.
  • DIY gene therapy. We’ve also heard of cases of anti-agers and others considering or even getting DIY gene therapy. The risks include potentially fatal cancers.

Do you have examples of additional risky anti-aging efforts?

Fun vs. fanatical

Excessive medical testing comes to mind such as overly frequent whole body scans like MRIs. This hyper-testing has a high risk of finding irrelevant things that nonetheless lead to additional procedures, biopsies, etc. that pose their own risks. Such medical testing can be highly profitable to those selling it but not so useful to the average person.

Admittedly, it’s strangely fascinating to observe all the various anti-aging efforts these days. At the same time, by giving the anti-agers attention, are we at some level encouraging them?

In some cases, the extreme anti-aging efforts getting so much attention may not reflect an obsession but rather signal a commercial effort to profit.

Admittedly, there are probably thousands of people taking a more light-hearted, even fun approach to fighting aging that isn’t an obsession and they are not proselytizing anti-aging efforts to the public. I don’t see a problem with such moderate efforts at improving health and maybe living a little longer.

What really works on anti-aging?

Finally, as someone in their 50s, I increasingly can relate to how unfun aging can be. Hopefully, solid science can yield some concrete ways for people to live healthier, longer lives on average in coming years.

In the meantime, some of the other things that certain high-profile anti-agers do make good common sense.

For example, more basic things like eating a plant-based diet, aiming for a healthy weight, getting exercise, and reducing stress may have far more benefit than unproven yet somehow sexy anti-aging stuff. Perhaps it’s hard to generate corporate profits off of these?

Keep in mind that the centenarians living in so-called blue zones don’t engage in all the extreme anti-aging stuff to try to cheat Death.

They do the basics and also likely benefit from their environments.

10 thoughts on “Can trying to cheat death paradoxically kill you sooner?”

  1. This is so clever. “The Telomeres of Dorian Gray” and “The DNA Methylation Profile of Dorian Gray”. I have some overlap with the longevity crowd because of my work with stem cell-derived cell therapy for neurodegenerative disease. Aging is not one thing, not a hundred things- and what might be helpful for the immune system, for example, is unlikely to have any effect on the brain or the liver. No one would call me a defeatist, but there is not a simple answer. I do know that the answer is not mesenchymal stem cells.

  2. I want to also share with your readers how Bryan Johnson made Time magazine and also is making the rounds on piers morgan and elsewhere for his anti aging regiment

    All of his supplements and the time of day he takes them are listed here :

    I would be very interested to know what you consider are the most risky things he is doing?


  3. Michael Finfer, MD

    I think that the best advice here is not to take anything that has not been properly studied, meaning not FDA approved.

    Anecdotally, before I had my prostate cancer surgery, I was told not to take any supplements. Predictably, someone I know gave me a huge bottle of something, I can’t remember what, that was supposedly good for prostate cancer. I’m a physician, so I had the good sense to look it up, not that I would have taken it. It turned out to have anti-platelet activity in large doses, meaning that it could have caused me to bleed during the procedure. It went right into the garbage.

    1. @Michael, Thanks for the comment. My impression is that the high profile people doing these non-FDA-approved (not that FDA approval is needed for supplements), often non-science-backed anti-aging regimens end up encouraging everyday people to follow suit even if just by example.

      I too had prostatectomy after my cancer was diagnosed. The only supplement people even brought up was Vitamin D, where the research has been kind of mixed in regards to prostate cancer.

      1. @Bill,
        Okay, some biologics don’t need drug-level FDA approval. In that case, one should look for really good clinical trial data, which is largely absent in the biologics space for products not technically classified as drugs. That leaves consumers in a tough spot in terms of decision making. And, yes, some FDA-approved things are later found to have issues after use in large numbers of patients. It’s not a perfect oversight system but what’s the alternative?

      2. Trusting the FDA is certainly better than no FDA at all. A quick history lessons is full of cautions about lack of regulatory and strong scientific/medical oversight.

  4. You did not include human growth hormone and testosterone repl Therapy, which it seems like all the gym goers are doing now as this generation of middle agers are hitting 40-50. Thank Joe Rogan and peter attia for really pushing TRT and Hgh on people. Also instagram and facebook and youtube dont help in accepting that hormones tanking as we hit 45 are normal.
    I would say that since covid all these folks trying to hack the system are also taking high dose vitamin c lkke emerg-n-c. Is that smart? Nobody would be able to eat a bag of oranges per day and get 1000 units of c per day.

  5. What are your thoughts on NMn or Nicotinamide riboside with magnolia bark(honokidiol) as some companies are selling? Is high dosages of a b complex bad?

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