William Faloon and The Life Extension Foundation
Written By Steve Goodman
Not too long ago Cambridge University geneticist Aubrey de Grey astounded the world by saying, “The first person to live to be 1,000 years old is certainly alive today …whether they realize it or not. Barring accidents and suicide, most people now 40 years or younger can expect to live for centuries.”
One person who would certainly agree with Mr. de Grey is South Florida’s own William Faloon, co-founder of the renowned Life Extension Foundation. “There are so many exciting areas of research being explored right now that you can’t deal with all of them in the scope of a single article such as this. When I was told at about the age of 11 or 12 that aging and death were inevitable, I didn’t accept that. I felt even at that time that there had to be some way, some scientific way, to slow down that aging process and perhaps even reverse it. For many decades that concept was not taken very seriously.”
However, that all began to change in the early ‘90’s. It was then that people started to look at growing old and say it doesn’t have to be this way, and the emerging discipline of anti-aging medicine began to take hold. Geriatrics, the traditional medical specialty for treatment of the elderly, looked at aging and the changes that came with it as a series of inevitable symptoms, which may or may not be able to be alleviated. Anti-aging medicine, on the other hand, looks at the typical problems associated with aging, loss of vitality, cognition, etc., as the symptoms of a single disease that cannot only be treated, but may be prevented.
“The idea behind anti-aging medicine,” says Bill, “is that we say ‘I can personally intervene into that process, and take proven scientific steps to slow it down. Even simple common sense ones such as quitting smoking, or staying out of the sun – that concept holds true of the entire body. What lifestyle you choose to follow, and whether or not you choose to aggressively intervene into what nature does to our aging bodies – that is what will dictate how long and how well you are going to live.”
Life extension is not a fable. It is a proven scientific fact. We can all extend our lives simply by doing a few simple things. The traditional medical establishment would not deny that quitting smoking, losing weight, and eating a sensible diet adds years to your life. The idea of radically extending the healthy human’s lifespan, as supported by the Life Extension Foundation and practiced by anti-aging doctors, takes that concept a step or two further.
“We have identified 17 specific mechanisms of aging that are correctable,” says Bill as he talks about some of the research funded by the life Extension Foundation. “For example, if you can replace your sex hormones to a more youthful range, you are less likely to feel depressed, you are going to have a better outlook on life. Your quality of life will be improved in such a way that you will be motivated to follow the other steps towards a healthy lifestyle.”
You might imagine that the question that Bill is asked most often is: “What are the most important things I should be doing right now to stay healthy and slow the aging process?” Bill’s surprising answer is “I have no idea.”
He is not trying to be funny. The other unique aspect behind his theories is that life extension requires a very individualized approach to medicine, and one that is very patient specific. “Until we review a comprehensive panel of blood tests,” says Bill, “and see what certain biomarkers are, see what hormone levels are, what glucose and lipid levels are, we can’t develop a scientific program to extend an individual’s healthy lifespan.”
Bill wants people to understand that the things he and the Life Extension Foundation stand for are built upon a solid base of legitimate, peer-reviewed, scientific research. The Foundation is not among those hawking the latest “Fountain of Youth” elixir or anti-wrinkle cream. “The main difference between us and them is they tend to promote a single product with what they claim has such a myriad of benefits, that it may be the only product that you ever need. The Life Extension Foundation has been around for 30 years, and I can tell you no such ‘one size fits all’ product exists. That doesn’t mean that there are not efficacious products that people can benefit from, but we understand that it is a matter of individualized dose, and individualized need. We are not promoting ourselves as providing any single product that is the ‘Fountain of Youth’. We do fund research that has discovered many interesting products that are already available that have had proven results.”
If we can accept that there are practical methods to extend human lifespan even now, what about the idea of preserving a body that has legally “died” – until such time as medical science can reverse the damage, or cure the disease that caused death? This is the theory behind the science of Cryonics, and what is practiced at The Alcor Life Extension Foundation, located in Scottsdale Arizona.
There is no truth to the urban legend that Walt Disney is frozen in cryonic suspension, and Bill assures me that Disney’s body is not among the over 80 patients “cryo-preserved” at Alcor. But Disney did believe in the possibility of freezing to extend human life and, according to Bill, rightfully so. “Actually, most people think that cryonics is further advanced than it really is. Some people believe we have already been able to revive cryo-preserved animals, but the technology has not yet advanced enough to do that yet. The fact is, though, Alcor is now better able to cryo-preserve humans, than ever before.”
If you think the idea of freezing to extend life is far-fetched, or just so much science fiction, think again. There is a medical precedent for the techniques Bill is talking about. Its called therapeutic hypothermia, and it is being used today in emergency rooms and on ambulances the world over. For many years heart surgeons have been using induced mild hypothermia during cardiac bypass surgery –icing the patient to lower body temperature – to limit the chance of brain injury while undergoing the procedure. Later, the technique was adapted for use in emergency rooms and in transit to the hospital.
The idea of cryo-preservation, as practiced by Alcor, merely takes the concept of therapeutic hypothermia a few steps further. In animal testing scientists supported by the Life Extension Foundation have broken every record in reviving “clinically dead” dogs, some that have been frozen for as long as 16 hours. Says Bill, “I’ve seen these dogs running around our facility, they’re happy, they’re healthy, and you would never know that they were technically dead.”
What about the religious implications of cryo-preservation? Bill says upon close examination there really aren’t any conflicts, and many clergymen support Alcor’s research. He points out that in the early years many of the same arguments were leveled at the use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other resuscitation techniques. It had been said that if the person is declared dead, then the person’s soul has left their body and man has no right to intervene by doing all of these heroic measures to revive him or her. Yet today these techniques are used routinely every day, and few theologians would argue with them. Obviously, our concept of “legal death”, or “medical death” has changed over the years, with scientific and technological advancement, so the concept of a “legal death” or “medical death” as we define it today, is not relevant as to what may be possible in the future in terms of reversing the “legal death” of cryo-preserved humans.
Living to 120, 150, or more, virtually living forever through cryo-preservation, are there any limits to the human lifespan? In the not too distant future, perhaps not. As Bill puts it, “We now have a greater understanding of aging, of life, and of death on a molecular level than any generation has had before. Do we have the technical expertise to overcome aging and death? No, not yet. But we literally have a blueprint for immortality.”
You might think that possibly extending the life of the entire human race is what drives William Faloon to do what he does, but actually he feels he is giving back in a smaller, and yet just as profound way. “When I think of the number of calls and emails I get from people who are suffering serious medical problems that the conventional medical establishment either has not addressed, or has caused their conditions to worsen, when I can provide those people a tidbit of information, or in some cases a lot of information, and they are able to recover, that’s probably the most rewarding part of my job. I am able to do that by working with forward-thinking physicians and scientists, who are looking at what is not being done, but can be done, to save lives. We were the first ones back in 1983 to suggest low-dose aspirin to prevent heart attack. We fought a 15 year battle to get that accepted, and now it is a regular protocol recommended by cardiologists. Think of the numbers of husbands, wives, sons, and daughters, whose lives we saved by publishing that information.”
And that is just one example of more than two decades of “ahead of its time” innovation and recommendations made by The Foundation. Also in the 80’s LEF was the first such organization to recognize the healing properties of anti-oxidants. Throughout that decade and into the 90’s other discoveries, once scoffed at, but now generally accepted, followed. They were the first to recommend Lycopene to fight cancer, and to introduce Melatonin as a sleep aid that also had anti-aging properties. Into the 21st Century, they were the first to raise the alarm on Cox-2 inhibitors, such as Celebrex and Vioxx, which have since been linked to heart disease. LEF was one of the first to report on the anti-aging properties of resveratrol, found in grapes and other fruits. And as recently as 2007 it was LEF that introduced a form of CoQ10 that has proven to be much more effective in anti-aging than other commercially available CoQ10 supplements.
When I have the opportunity to speak with someone like William Faloon who is involved in research that is this fascinating and life -altering, I usually conclude my interview by saying “I hope to do a follow up article with you in a year or so, to see how things have progressed.” This time I said “I hope to speak with you again in a few hundred years, and we can look back at this article and say ‘I told you so.’
The Life Extension Foundation funds two standalone research facilities in California and another in Boynton Beach, Florida. When people enroll as members of the Life Extension Foundation, their first step is to have a comprehensive blood test done to identify what they as individuals should do to protect against age-related disease. Life Extension operates a blood-drawing station at its headquarters on Commercial Blvd. in Ft. Lauderdale and has arrangements with blood drawing stations throughout South Florida so its members can conveniently have their blood tested.
To view the kind of avant-garde health information that Life Extension publishes daily, you can log on to their website at www.lef.org/duomag – DUO