Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Will 'heavy water' slow the aging process?

I'm intrigued by a British news report claiming that 'heavy water' may be a solution - you should pardon the expression - to the problem of aging.

For centuries mankind has sought the secret of a long and healthy life.

And for centuries it seems we were looking in the wrong place. Forget exotic pills and potions, the key to prolonged life could be as simple as a glass of water. Scientists believe 'heavy water' enriched with a rare form of hydrogen could add as much as ten years to life.

And by also modifying foods, such as steak and eggs, with the hydrogen the way could be cleared to allowing us to eat and drink our way to a healthy old age.

The idea is the brainchild of Mikhail Shchepinov, a former Oxford University scientist.

It centres on fortifying the body's tissues and cells against attack and decay caused by free radicals, dangerous chemicals produced when food is turned into energy. Such 'attacks' on proteins are particularly damaging and have been linked to cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Dr Shchepinov's theory is based on deuterium, a naturally-occurring isotope, or form of hydrogen, that strengthens the bonds in between and around the body's cells, making them less vulnerable to attack.

He found that water enriched with deuterium, which is twice as heavy as normal hydrogen, extends the lifespan of worms by 10 per cent. And fruitflies fed the 'water of life' lived up to 30 per cent longer.

He now believes people could also benefit from the sweet-tasting water, or from deuterium-enriched 'heavy foods'.

Foods could be created by either directly supplementing them with deuterium or by enriching the feed of farm animals, this week's New Scientist reports. Dr Shchepinov said recently: 'We don't have to be consuming isotopes as white powder.

If you take a pig and feed these things to a pig, all you need to do is consume the pig in normal fashion.'

The technology was likely to be tested in pet food first, he added.

Dr Shchepinov runs biotech firm Retrotope whose scientific advisers include Aubrey de Grey, a controversial ageing guru.

Dr de Grey, a 'bio-gerontologist' who leads the Methuselah Foundation, a charity which aims for 'the defeat of age-related disease and the indefinite extension of the healthy human lifespan', said the research was 'extremely promising'.

He said deuterium existed in all living matter at a certain level and it was a case of introducing it in a 'more targeted manner'. There was no radiation involved, he added.

Dr Judith Campisi, of the Buck Institute for Age Research in California, said: 'I've heard some pretty crazy ideas about how we might live longer but I'm intrigued by this.'

But Tom Kirkwood, of Newcastle University, said: 'Shchepinov's idea is interesting but . . . the history in the field is cluttered with hypotheses which are only partially supported by the data.'

Interesting thought . . . but deuterium is also used in nuclear physics. According to Wikipedia, it's 'useful in nuclear fusion reactions', among many other things.

This led to an interesting conversation with a friend this afternoon. I told him of this article, and the benefits allegedly promised by deuterium, and mentioned its nuclear properties.

FRIEND: "So, when I pee, will it glow in the dark?"

ME: "Er . . . well, I don't know, but I don't think so."

FRIEND: "Then what's the point?"

ME: "Why would you want to pee in the dark anyway? Surely aiming would be more difficult? Why not turn on the light?"

FRIEND: "Well, if my pee glowed in the dark, I wouldn't have to, would I?"

ME: [Heaves a deep, long-suffering sigh] "So much for nuclear physics . . . "

Perhaps Stingray and/or Labrat could enlighten us?



Anonymous said...

I remember reading somewhere, sometime, that heavy water was poisonous, inhibiting the electron transport chain. It's 2230, and I can't be bothered to find out where I read that. But there it is.

Joat said...

I remember that episode of Hogans Hero's, they convince Klink that the heavy water that is passing through the camp is for Hitlers personal spa and it will help grow hair and make him look younger.

Anonymous said...

Like William said, I'm pretty sure it's poisonous. LabRat would be better able to offer any explanations on how it'd interact with a biological system, but I do recall from some physics class way back when that if you drank heavy water while drunk it would counteract the loss of balance since the alcohol molecules are lighter than water, and thus muck about the normal fluid balance in your inner ear, while the heavier deuterium would sink and counter the effect.

'Course it was mentioned at the time that such would not be the smartest thing to try in the first place, and it is entirely possible I'm not remembering correctly, as the class in question was over ten years ago.

Anonymous said...

It's a PR for the nuclear industry. Heavy water is toxic. The nuc industry just want to dump it under the pretext of health. It's very similiar to the aluminium industry and fluoride.

Mass medication is also illegal (although it is done with fluoride) as the Nuremberg trials pointed out.

I also believe the other side effect is to create sterility if at around 25% of the body's water is heavy