Jellyfish Age Backwards by Nicklaus Brendborg is an entertaining broad-based introduction to healthy ageing and longevity.
Rather than following the ‘hard science’ style of many books in the longevity field, Jellyfish Age Backwards introduces the core concepts via stories and examples from the animal kingdom.
For the first 50 pages, I wondered whether I was the right audience. Despite the clever weaving of stories from history, science, and the animal kingdom into each chapter – I was worried that it was too basic.
I’m glad I kept going.
While Jellyfish Age Backwards is aimed at those newer to the topic than me, there are fascinating case studies, perspectives, and entertaining explanations to make it well worth your time. This is the ideal book for someone new to the field, who might find the biohacker or hard-science style inaccessible. I’m sure that when they finish this book, they’ll want to learn more.
As usual with my longevity book reviews, I have listed five takeaways that give an overview of the content. This time, my takeaways are leftfield.
Jellyfish Age Backwards – Take Away #1 – Middle Class Correlations
An entertaining section of this longevity book covered how easy it is to make mistakes with population samples.
Diving into the health benefits of red wine highlights the phenomenon brilliantly.
If you compare people that drink (moderate) amounts of red wine with those that drink beer – then you’ll see improved health markers and longer lifespans. While it would be easy to conclude that a bottle of Beaujolais came with health benefits, it turns out different types of people have different drinking habits.
Red wine drinkers are statistically more likely to be well educated, have bigger pay packets and be healthier with eating, exercise and avoiding smoking.
This also applies to foods, and other lifestyle factors. For example, vegetarianism, consumption of superfoods and attending group classes in the gym.
It will make you look at the claims of massive health benefits from kale smoothies in a new light.
Jellyfish Age Backwards – Smaller People Live Longer? The Laron Syndrome Studies
Size matters within populations of animals.
The longest-lived people (Jeanne Clement, who lived to 122) were only five feet tall. This can be applied to mice too (within their species, the smaller members live longer). Brendborg bought this to life with a long section on people with Laron syndrome.
People with specific genes are physically smaller, many are only four feet tall. They are proportionally identical to the average person – just smaller.
They also live a long time.
While the story movement of a population with a specific gene mutation called Laron syndrome from Israel to Ecuador was fascinating, it was the dive into why size makes a difference to ageing that made it stand out.
Let’s start with cancer. This is significantly rarer for people with the Laron syndrome genes than for those without. Growth signalling pathways impact healthy ageing. IGF-1 is an active area of longevity research.
The book goes on a deep dive into the complex relationship between physical size and longevity.
Jellyfish Age Backwards – Old Blood vs New Blood
This section of the book describes experiments that are not for the squeamish.
Researchers joined mice together, one old and one young. Their circulatory systems were joined, with old blood mingling with new. The old mouse’s health measurably improved, and a new area of geroscience looking at young blood was born.
As with everything biological, things are never as simple as they seem.
While young blood helps older organisms retain youthfulness, the mechanism(s) by which this happens are unclear. Is it something in the young blood, or simply diluting toxins from the older blood that help?
I enjoyed the snippet about historical bloodletting.
Draining some blood was common in ancient times and was even part of a trip to the barbers in the 18th century. It is now associated with ageing benefits – another angle on this vastly interrelated area of science.
Jellyfish Age Backwards – The Mind-Blowing Scale of Apoptosis
This was a ‘wow’ moment for me: We each lose 50 to 70 million cells every day to apoptosis.
Apoptosis is our natural recycling capability. Older cells are broken down, and the proteins reused as the building blocks of new ones. This process is rejuvenating. Fasting (and longevity drugs) are used to trigger it.
Jellyfish Age Backwards highlighted the staggering number of cells which are recycled daily.
As with everything in biology, the story does not end there. Some cells resist death and recycling. Instead entering a zombie-like state called ‘cellular senescence’. These cells have stopped functioning yet refuse to die. They are dangerous, causing inflammation and triggering senescence of nearby cells.
Don’t worry, Brendborg goes on to explain the different ways to reduce our burden of senescent cells.
The difference with Jellyfish Age Backwards is that you get entertaining anecdotes, instead of dry science.
Wrapping Up by Review of Jellyfish Age Backward by Nicklaus Brendborg – How Does it Compare to Other Longevity Books?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though the topics were already familiar to me.
It is the perfect bridge between pure ‘pop science’ and the more involved books covering the harder science and ethics questions of life extension.
This makes it an ideal introduction for that smart friend, or curious relative, that has not yet understood just how much of our healthy lifespan is in our direct control.
Add the entertaining stories from history, the animal kingdom and science – and you have a book that is a pleasure to read.
One final shout-out. This book is a translation (Brendborg is Danish). The quality of the translation is flawless. I really did not know until after reading it that it was not written in English from the start. The shout out goes to Elizabeth de Norma, who is credited with the translation.
More Longevity Science Book Reviews:
- Detailed Review of Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To
- The Glucose Revolution by Jessie Inchauspe
- Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
- Age Later by Nir Barzilai