Aging is one of those things that everybody does but nobody quite understands yet. We're onto quantum physics, relativity, and high powered lasers, but we haven't quite pinned down why people grow old and grey. Human genes are tricky little things and while we get that they change with time--and subsequently instruct us to change into wrinklier, less attractive versions of ourselves--we haven't figured out how to stop them or even alter their course. People get old and die. Philosophically, it's maybe not the worst thing in the world--plenty of thought experiments have indicated that immortality would get boring eventually--but it would be nice if we could control the mechanism behind it at least a little bit.
Researchers on the National Institute on Aging might have found a way to do just that. Specifically, they've found a way to counter the manner in which obesity and aging come together to kill people extra quick. A new drug known as SRT-1720 has been shown to help obese mice live up to 44% longer than they normally would without the drug. The compound helps stave off the development of obesity-related diseases by reducing fat in the liver and increasing insulin sensitivity.
So if the drug helps fat mice live longer, is it extra effective on skinny mice? Unfortunately not; even the obese mice treated with SRT-1720 died earlier than the control group mice who weren't subject to overfeeding and subsequent obesity. The drug merely granted longevity to those mice who were already suffering from an excess of body fat. General good health (and good luck) is still the best medicine for longevity, it would seem.
The development of the drug does present an interesting moral and medicinal question, however. Obesity affects an ever-growing percentage of people in the United States. It's gotten so bad as to be considered an epidemic by many doctors. Is a drug like this a good thing to develop and market? The compound has already entered clinical trials with human subjects and may eventually be available as a prescription medication for obese patients. But should doctors prescribe it?
On the one hand, it's preventive medicine that could save obese patients from dealing with a whole barrage of complications from their conditions. People with thyroid conditions or other problems outside their control that lead to inevitable obesity could certainly benefit from a drug such as this one. Avoiding a nasty chain reaction of health problems is always a good thing. On the other hand, I'm a little concerned that SRT-1720 might end up getting over-prescribed and overpriced, sold to patients who could potentially solve their problems through less expensive means. Diet changes when possible can do everything the drug can and more. Why throw in chemicals to the mix when you could just eat healthily and avoid obesity to begin with? But then there's the question of whether people have the responsibility to be perfectly healthy. We get a lot of fat-shaming in our culture even though the skinnier among us engage in all sorts of unhealthy practices themselves. If there's a pill to prevent obesity-related diseases and people would rather take it than change their lifestyles, I don't really see anything wrong with their decision.