Can the Rich and Powerful Live Forever?

Can the Rich and Powerful Live Forever?

Can the Rich and Powerful Live Forever?

The madness of new longevity treatments.

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A few weeks ago, Bloomberg profiled Bryan Johnson, the 45-year-old tech entrepreneur who harvests his 17-year-old son’s blood in a medically dubious anti-aging treatment known as “plasma-swapping.” He calls it Project Blueprint. Others have compared it to the “blood boy” arc from Silicon Valley. In any case, his goal is simple: to look 18 again.

Johnson shares this fixation on eternal youth with some of the richest and most powerful people in the world. Their methods differ, from hyperbaric oxygen chambers, to off-label use of the diabetes drug Ozempic, to actual hibernation. But the obsession motivating them is the same: to slow down the aging process, if only because it’s not yet possible to defy it altogether.

This effort to pursue technological and pharmaceutical “solutions” to aging may seem like a frivolous oddity for the ultra-wealthy, but it has real consequences. These self-appointed “masters of the universe” are investing their resources in experimental anti-aging treatments while half the world’s population still can’t access basic health care.

The myopic push for artificial youth sets unrealistic expectations for the public. Not only are many of these anti-aging treatments expensive and inaccessible, some are also dangerous and irreversible. The rising trend of buccal fat removal helps chisel the cheeks and jaw, but can leave patients looking gaunt before their time. And many so-called anti-aging specialists are prescribing hormone therapy without sufficient training and licensure.

Off-label use of human growth hormone can change patients’ body composition from fat to muscle, but can also cause a litany of other health issues, including cancer. Meanwhile, kids who actually need growth hormone can’t get it: There’s a shortage of the drug Norditropin, which could be caused by the sudden Ozempic craze. (The two drugs are made by the same company, and are administered with the same injector pen.)

And then there’s social media. AI-powered filters can make your nose smaller, your waist thinner, your eyelashes longer, your lips fuller, your skin clearer, your teeth whiter, and your eyes brighter. And—surprise—that’s having a serious effect on users’ mental health. “Young women who spent just 10 minutes taking, editing and posting selfies to social media reported feeling more anxious, less confident and less physically attractive afterwards,” according to Phillippa Diedrichs, a psychologist and researcher with the Dove Self-Esteem Project.

TikTok’s “Bold Glamour” filter is almost indistinguishable from a real-life facelift and professional makeup job, making the Kardashian fantasy accessible to everyone. And increasingly, users are trying to make those fantasies a reality: a staggering 79 percent of facial plastic surgeons have patients who cite “selfie awareness” as a reason for wanting reconstructive surgery.

The quest for eternal youth is, ironically, thousands of years old. Long before Juan Ponce de León went searching for the Fountain of Youth in Florida in 1513, Herodotus was writing about such a wellspring in the fifth century BCE. For as long as humans have gotten older, we have tried to prevent it—and the goal is as quixotic now as it was back then.

One of the most vocal longevity experts, Dr. Peter Attia, has some reasonable advice for living longer: For a more fulfilling final decade of life, exercise well and eat with an eye toward staying mobile. But he also spent years refusing to eat cookies baked by his children, and insists that his deli meat be microtomed—that is, precision-cut to exact specifications.

While the wealthiest and weirdest people in the world are trying to become centenarians, life expectancy is declining. In the United States, life expectancy is the lowest it’s been since 1996. The focus on anti-aging solutions is misplaced. Instead, we need to commit more resources to aging solutions.

Take health care, for one. Medicare is credited with lengthening the average American life since it was passed in 1965, and Medicare for All would likely drive those numbers even higher. Or take gun control. On average, gun violence decreases life expectancy for white Americans by 2.23 years. For Black Americans, it’s 4.4 years—and young Black people are at even greater risk.

The rich and powerful cannot live forever. But they do continue to live nearly a decade longer than their poorer counterparts. We should be closing that gap, not widening it. What’s more, many of those long-lived elites are current holders of elected office. If they insist on clinging to power rather than enjoying retirement, the least they can do is use that power to help Americans age with health and grace.

With a reallocation of government resources into research on aging, not fighting against it, they could make the reality of time’s endless march a little gentler for everyone.

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