THE HEART OF THE MATTER
a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA) 

Transcripts: 512-4 and 512-5

Week: 512.4 Guest: Leonard Hayflick, M.D. Topic: The Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging - Part One Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA : This is the first half of a conversation on the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging. My guest is Dr. Leonard Hayflick, author of How And Why We Age.

NEMA : Dr. Hayflick, there is a study that you talk about in the book called the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. First of all, would you just explain a little bit about how that was structured, the kind of things that were being looked at and tell me what kind of information came out of it and how many of them were surprising pieces of information?

HAYFLICK: The Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging called affectionately the BLSA was initiated by some far thinking biogerontologists in the late 1940s who should be given credit for the enormous struggle that they had with the administrators at the NIH at that time who fought this idea but thankfully lost the fight and the biologists and others involved won because this is probably the most important study we have in the world on aging humans, especially their biology. It began and still continues with volunteers who come to the institution in Baltimore for three or four day battery of tests every couple of years and they return as I've implied every few years for these tests which gives to this study, it's unique character, namely Longitudinal Study, i.e., you study one person from the time they enter the program until they die and this gives you data on single individuals throughout a long span of their lives that provides information that you could not get otherwise reliably, i.e., the quick and dirty method of doing experiments like this is to take a population of humans who represent different ages and do the studies on them today, for example, and then plot that data and come to some conclusions as a result of what you see after doing those measurements. The problem with that kind of study which is called a cross-sectional study is that there is so much individual variation in the aging process and the kind of scatter that you would get with that kind of test would give you very unreliable information yet that's the kinds of tests for which most of us have relied up until now for information on the aging process. Now the Longitudinal Study in Baltimore has provided us with insights that we would never have appreciated and I've mentioned several of them in my book. One of them, for example, is to torpedo, the old belief that with age, heart function decreases. It turns out that's not true, that healthy older people have cardiac functional capacity that's similar to people in their 20s and 30s and the reason for that, it turns out, is quite simple and that is that the statement that I just made is true only for individuals who don't suffer from cardiovascular disease. The trouble is that in this society, cardiovascular is almost universal. You may recall that our young soldiers who were autopsied after death in the Vietnam war or the Korean war were found even at those young ages to have early signs of plaque in their arteries as a result of faulty nutrition.

NEMA : Join me for part two on the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging with Dr. Leonard Hayflick.

Transcripts:

Week: 512.5 Guest: Leonard Hayflick, M.D. Topic: The Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging - Part Two Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA : This is the second half of a conversation about the ongoing Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging with Dr. Leonard Hayflick, author of How And Why We Age. I asked Dr. Hayflick if there have been any surprises from the BLSA.

HAYFLICK: The Longitudinal Study in Baltimore has provided us with insights that we would never have appreciated. Healthy older people have cardiac functional capacity that's similar to people in their 20s or 30s. Finding the various tiny fraction of humans who are very old who have no evidence of cardiovascular disease is very difficult but when you do find them and they have been found, their heart function is as good as young people. Now that was a big surprise. Another big surprise was the fact that if you look at weight as a function of longevity which is not done in the so-called ideal height/weight tables that are currently posted in physician's offices, the BLSA has in fact done this and has discovered that one must include age in making those weight/height determinations if longevity and not beauty is your goal. And it turns out that you should weigh 10% or 15% more than the so-called ideal height/weight tables tell you you should after the age of about 45 or 50 and you should weigh a comparable amount less before age 45 or 50, i.e., less than the so-called ideal height/weight tables if again maximum longevity is your goal. Now that's a surprise that came out of the BLSA and, in fact, forced the insurance companies to revise their height/weight tables to correspond more with this finding but they did not go the full distance so that the current ideal height/weight tables are faulty in this respect.

NEMA : Are we too worried about the quantity of life over the quality of life?

HAYFLICK: I think that pretty much varies from individual to individual but in general, I would agree with the belief that the quality of people's lives is probably more important to most people than the quantity which explains why given the knowledge that we have about exercise and proper nutrition, not everybody adheres to those rules. Furthermore, it has been known since the early 1930s that it is probable, a very strong probability that we can increase our life expectation substantially by undertaking what I had alluded to earlier as the only way we know of manipulating the aging process and that is by undertaking a diet of low caloric intake, i.e., undernutrition as opposed to malnutrition. If you, by the results that have been obtained with virtually every animal in which a study has been done, by decreasing your caloric intake by 40% or 50%, you could increase your life expectation by a comparable amount. Now this information has been known since the 1930s but no one with the exception of one or two people that I know have opted to do this because the quality of people's lives is generally more important to them than the quantity. And to partake of a near starvation diet is not a quality life.