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Jewish World Review August 14, 2003 / 16 Menachem-Av, 5763

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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The unfairness of it all | My generation -- the just-barely 40 crowd -- has at some level always accepted the fact that we are going to be the first generation to not get Social Security benefits.

It's long been part of our thinking that the shell game will fall apart by the time we reach retirement age. We've come to deal with it. "Yeah, we're going to get nailed, so be it," has long been our fatalistic view.

OK — but here is where life gets REALLY unfair. My generation may be the last generation to age at all.

According to a recent news report in the Associated Press, advances in biotechnology mean researchers have begun to pinpoint "genes that may prolong human life while delaying its late-stage diseases, frailties and maybe even gray hair and wrinkles ... ( these researchers) hope to develop compounds to stretch healthy lifetimes beyond limits once presumed to be fixed." To what — 120 years? 250 years? Who knows?

It turns out that there's now credence given to the theory that far from aging being a series of chaotic, unavoidable events, "like a car with too many miles ( which) eventually wears out," there is in humans a kind of "genetic switch" that leads to the diseases of aging and a "premature" death.

Evidence of such a "switch" turns up in so-called underfeeding experiments. Over and over again, in every animal and bug studied, underfeeding — meaning cutting "normal" calorie intake by at least 30 percent — dramatically prolongs life, health, mobility and "youth." Underfed animals "stay strong and energetic. They even keep more fur."

But who wants to give up steak, pasta and chocolate cake forever? Well maybe, researchers are now thinking, it's not the underfeeding per se, but the underfeeding which triggers, or better put doesn't trigger, the aging "switch."

Find and shackle that "switch" — stop the aging. Maybe not forever, but if you can put it off for a few hundred years, why not?

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To say that discovering such an elixir of life would be profitable is like saying there are some kids who like the Harry Potter books. So the drug companies are off to the races. Already we're hearing about things like the supposedly anti-aging human growth hormone. (Though it's considered useless when taken orally, by the way, and wildly expensive with potentially dangerous side effects when given by injection.) But that's just the tip of the anti-aging iceberg. The real juicy stuff is coming down the pike.

And that's where it gets unfair. Serious anti-aging advances could be years, most likely even decades away. Our Food and Drug Administration, which would have to approve anti-aging drugs, might be moving faster than during the Clinton administration, but I need Federal Express here. In other words, by the time the age prevention elixir enters, I'll likely already have the turkey wings under my upper arms, and my lower eyelids will be mixing nicely with my nasal labial folds. (Those are the lines between the mouth and the nose. Trust me, I know my facial geography.)

In the meantime, I suppose, there are all those things to stave off the car breaking down syndrome — injectable fillers and whatever else one reads about. There's also that interesting factoid from doctors at the Mayo clinic who found that people who get facelifts live up to 10 years longer than those who don't — but don't tempt me.

In any event, what's the point of all these ridiculous stopgap measures when it clearly looks like the big kahuna of anti-aging is going to arrive long after I need it, and too late to do any good anyway? Getting close might be the cruelest hoax of all.

And nobody is talking about a pill to take AWAY the turkey wings.

So, yes, it seems likely that my generation will be the last in America to age. I can see it now — "there goes old woman Hart, you know, she was one of the last people to get, what do you call it? OLD."

By the time my kids are grown and have access to all these advances, they'll look like my great-grandchildren.

My mother always said that in a woman's life there are the maintenance years, the high maintenance years, and the replacement years. She also said life is unfair. Boy, she wasn't kidding. I've gotten used to the probability there will be no Social Security checks. But to be part of the last generation to enter the high maintenance and replacement years?

Sigh. Talk about hitting a girl where it hurts.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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