Detailed Review of Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old
By Andrew Steele
Coming back to Ageless by Andrew Steele for this detailed review was an eye-opener.
I first read it alongside other longevity science books in a flurry of enthusiasm and note-taking.
It only took thirty pages of my second reading before the penny dropped – Ageless is excellent.
The writing, structure, and balance between hard science and relatable stories is beautifully constructed. Steele explains complex biological processes without ever becoming dry or overly detailed. This book is the closest to a ‘page-turner’ of any popular science book I’ve read.
It might even push out ‘Lifespan’ as my top recommendation for anyone new to the topic of healthy ageing.
No Hype: A Pragmatic Approach to Ageing Science
Ageless tackles longevity science soberly.
Andrew Steele does not promise the impossible for life extension. He covers the many lines of promising research, from stem cells to DR mimetics, from Senolytics to lysosome boosts. It is difficult to complete this book without awe at this progress – and optimism that a frail old age is far from guaranteed.
Boiling this information into my usual review format of five take-aways was challenging.
So challenging, that I have created bullets at the end of my Ageless review – covering items that did not (quite) make the cut.
Ageless by Andrew Steele Book Review: My Top 5 Take-Aways
#1 – Long Lived Worms and Population Success
While I’d heard of the trade-off between the age of individuals and population success, the way that Andrew Steele covered this topic in Ageless is more accessible than in any other book I have read.
He introduces both antagonistic pleiotropy and the disposable soma theory.
This covers the trade off between genes which help organisms reproduce, and those that facilitate a long life. Environmental factors are key. In environments where your risk of death (typically through predation) is high, early reproduction is favoured. Where it is low, longer life, along with reproduction over time is favoured. This is more than just big vs small animals. Comparing bats with similarly sized mice highlights these environmental factors in action.
I enjoyed the brief history of C. elegans, followed by how disposable soma theory was demonstrated experimentally.
This involves worms with genes that allowed them to live far longer. AGE-1 and DAF-2 are scarcity mimetic genes for these tiny worms, and mutants enjoy a significant lifespan increase.
The key finding is that in competition with N2 (standard) worms, long-lived worms simply can’t compete. When food availability is varies, unaltered worms crush the altered ones – rapidly dominating the population.
#2 – Ageless Book Review: We are Made of Disposable Protein
70% of our mass takes the form of protein, and the recycling of it is vital.
Intermittent fasting guides highlight autophagy as a benefit, it can almost feel like this breakdown and recycling of cell components would not happen without a fast.
Ageless highlights that the recycling of proteins is happening every second of every day. It happens at a massive scale. Hundreds of millions of cells are broken down daily. The components (amino acids) are reused.
I loved the ‘we are proteins’ angle. I also loved the descriptions of how ageing interferes with this recycling process.
Ageless covered the negative effects of misfolded proteins in depth. Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease all come into this discussion.
New to me was the negative effects of misfolded proteins within cells. These are broken down by lysosomes – little stomachs inside our cells. The accumulation of molecules which our lysosomes are unable to break down degrades their ability over time.
Harnessing bacteria to break down junk protein that we can’t dispose of is a fascinating new approach that I had not heard of before reading Ageless.
#3 – Living Long Enough to Live Even Longer
Practical measures to slow ageing are the cornerstone of the Age Well Times – so naturally this part of Ageless piqued my interest.
Living long enough to benefit from future medical breakthroughs has a separate section in Ageless.
As in the science sections, this is free from hype and impossible promises. The recommendations include all the core advice: Healthy food (and not too much of it), sleep quality, exercise and avoiding toxins.
Steele also advocates regular vaccines. A few years ago, this would not have raised any eyebrows – these days, it is a far more controversial topic!
I enjoyed the approach of this section.
Longevity science is progressing at an incredible pace. That said, the near-infinite complexity of our biology means there is no magic pill for the foreseeable future. Interventions are coming. Staying healthy and living longer for now will maximise your chances of benefiting from them. The same strategies will also minimise the time you spend battling diseases as you age. A win-win.
Andrew Steele concludes Ageless with a strong case for additional funding or ageing research. He estimates that every day we delay costs 100,000 lives.
#4 – Cellular Senescence vs Organism Senescence
Steele covers senescence in multiple contexts.
Alongside the mechanisms that cause senescent (zombie) cells and related drugs / treatments discussion, there are some fascinating facts.
An example is the role of SASP (inflammatory signalling) in the embryo. This having a role in splitting individual fingers and toes was brand new to me. This made me think of disposable soma theory in a new light. Not only is senescence a way to stop cells becoming cancerous through DNA damage with short / no telomeres – it has roles in early life too.
Senescence in the context of an organism has a different meaning.
Ageing can be measured by the increase in the chance of death over time. For humans, the risk of all-cause mortality doubles every eight years.
Ageless led out with a discussion of giant tortoises from the Galapagos. Their risk of death does not increase with age. They are ‘negligibly senescent.’ A giant tortoise at 150 years old has the same percentage chance of death that year as a 30-year-old individual.
My optimistic side wondered whether we will reach this milestone (or something close to it) at some point?
Note: This image is AI generated, using DALL-E and playing around with zombie holding a cell prompts
#5 – Why Women Live Longer (by 5 Years)
Tongue-in-cheek advice to live longer in the final section of Ageless is ‘be a woman’.
Glossing over this short section would have missed the interesting reasons. The XX vs XY chromosome differences are well-known. What I did not know is that the male Y chromosome is a stub. Instead of a replica of the X, this is a short version, which only contains a third of the genes.
If something goes wrong (examples are genes for colour vision) on the X chromosome, there is no Y chromosome backup in men – while women have a second chromosome in reserve.
Birds illustrate the significance of this. Male birds have ZZ chromosomes and females ZY. The ZY follows the one complete, one stubby pattern of human male XY chromosomes. Male birds live longer.
Mitochondria and sex hormone differences also affect sex differences in longevity.
Ageless Review: More Noteworthy Parts
With so many take aways from one book, I found it difficult to stick to just five take-aways.
Here are highlights that I took notes on, though did not make the cut:
- Young Blood / Old Blood: Sewing together young and old mice was not new to me. The depth of discussion on the topic in Ageless was fascinating. Research into whether old blood is toxic, or whether young blood is rejuvenating is a lively area.
- 90% of Infectious Disease Deaths in Over 60’s: The Thymus shrinks as we age. This is responsible for creating new memory t-cells. Transplants and rejuvenation of it are interesting areas – as is the role of silent viruses which trigger many t-cells to focus on preventing flare ups.
- BOFFFs: Discussion of ‘Big, old, fertile, female fish’ was new to me. Without them, fish populations can nosedive. Studying them highlights the environment-specific balance between genes which favour rapid reproduction and those which favour long-lasting bodies.
- Peto’s Paradox: Why bigger animals have lower cancer rates, even though they have more cells to mutate. This works between species, though not between different sized individuals within a species.
- Microbiome Transplants: This field is still young, though the link between the diseases of ageing and aged microbiomes is already clear. Transplant studies in mice and killifish have shown benefits for older individuals, and negative effects for younger ones from old gut bacteria.
Ageless is an excellent book, I look forward to following the work of Andrew Steele.
As always, I won’t add a commercial link to any bookseller here to prevent bias, conscious or otherwise. You will find Ageless at Amazon – and Andrew Steele has his own website at andrewsteele.co.uk
More Detailed Longevity Science Book Reviews:
- Lifespan: Detailed Book Review
- Age Later by Nir Barzilai
- Jellyfish Age Backwards
- Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker