On October 27-29 I attended CR VII, the 2011 Calorie Restriction Society Conference held in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Members of the Calorie Restriction Society restrict their calories while maintaining adequate nutrition as a means of extending their lifespan (or improving their healthspan), as has been proven to work in lower animals.

Although I was still in a wheelchair as a result of falling from a ladder and hip surgery, I got my airline to give me handicapped-support (wheelchair assistance), and I rented a wheelchair in Las Vegas.

CR VII was the seventh CR Society conference held in the ten years since the first such conference was held in the same city, in the same hotel, and in the same meeting-room ten years earlier in 2001. Thursday, October 27 featured presentations by Calorie Restriction Society Members, whereas Friday and Saturday featured presentations by PhD scientific researchers. I am a CR Society Member, so I was invited to speak on cryonics on Thursday. It was a small conference, so there were not many more than forty people attending on any of the days.

My presentation was preceded by a presentation by Peter Voss, who is both a CR Society Member and a Member of Alcor. Peter and his companion Louise Gold were the only CR Society Members other than me attending  the conference who are cryonicists. Peter spoke of the ultimate goal of indefinite lifespan, sharing his wisdom based on his experience practicing calorie restriction, describing cryonics as a “safety net of unknown fabric”, and mostly speaking of his goal of developing Artificial General Intelligence to accelerate research in life extension technologies. Concerning his CR practice, he noted that CR is not binary, and that people receive the benefits to the degree that they restrict their calories. He said that he does not count calories, but simply weighs himself and adjusts his calories appropriately, which is the practice I have adopted. Peter is not worried about hostile AIs because he believes that rationality is positively associated with morality. (See http://www.adaptiveai.com/ for a sample of Peter’s work.)

Although it was not a large group, I expected that such a group of dedicated life extensionists willing to go to extremes in restricting their calories would be very receptive to the practice of cryonics. On the other hand, Shannon Vyff warned me that although CR Society Members can be enthusiastic to hear about cryonics, they don’t sign-up. I gave considerable thought to the marketing aspect of my presentation. I decided to be very up-front about being a salesman, while nonetheless attempting to side-step salesmanship (and sales resistance) by concentrating on the technical issues and encouraging a technical discussion (although I did mention prices and insurance funding).

Alcor Member (and long-time cryonics promoter) Brenda Peters lives in Las Vegas, so I invited her to be my guest at the CR Society Conference. My thought was simply that Brenda and I could renew our friendship while enjoying the conference together.

I began my presentation by describing my and experience and mistakes in practicing calorie restriction as well as my fall in September which resulted in hip surgery and no prospect of walking again for many weeks — and how this had interrupted by exercise/CRAN program. When I asked who felt familiar with their knowledge of technical issues of cryonics, I was surprised that none of the non-cryonicists raised their hands.

After giving my presentation of the technical issues in cryonics I asked the audience to pair-up to discuss both their understanding of my presentation, and reasons they may have for thinking that cryonics may not work. After the paired discussions I asked for questions and objections. Brenda was more enthusiastic than I expected about raising her hand to comment. I somewhat bluntly said that I would rather hear from anyone but her, which was apparently confusing to people who weren’t aware that we knew each other. I was wanting to hear the unvarnished objections to the idea of cryonics which CR Society Members might have. I did not mean to hurt Brenda’s feelings, and I blame myself for not discussing my expectations with her beforehand. I did, nonetheless, allow Brenda to speak a couple of times.

It proved to be hard work getting CR Society Members to explain whatever objections they might have to cryonics. One fellow expressed his belief that not enough is known about the mind to know that cryonics can preserve it. I replied that the mind is based on the synaptic “connectome” and that minds recover from low-temperature surgery in which there is no electrical activity in the brain. Another fellow wanted to hear the experimental evidence that cryonics patients have been revived, to which I could only reply that cryonics is dependent on technologies which do not yet exist, and that revival seems inevitable to me if technology continues to progress and the anatomical basis of mind is preserved. One man believed that dogs had already been cryopreserved and revived, but I corrected his misconception by stating that the dogs have only been revived from cooling down to just above the melting temperature of water. When someone said that most businesses don’t last long, I replied that it is a mistake to compare the durability of cryonics organizations to efforts to start a diner in a location where the success is uncertain. One woman raised the overpopulation issue, which I noted is no more a plausible threat than the danger that too many people will practice Calorie Restriction. I added that the same logic would ban all medical research, especially research into preventing infectious diseases.

Although there were not many objections, neither did I hear much enthusiasm for cryonics. Perhaps they were stunned by an unfamiliar idea, and it takes time for resistance to be overcome. I had been hoping for some sign-ups. I had placed Membership forms on the literature table. It was as if they had no objections to cryonics, but still weren’t interested. Which left me thinking that I shouldn’t have asked for reasons why they think cryonics won’t work, but instead asked for reasons why they won’t sign-up.

A number of people complimented me on the quality of my presentation. But during subsequent discussions with CR Society Members at the conference, I heard further objections to cryonics. One CR Society Member told me that he hoped my presentation would motivate him to sign-up for cryonics. He said that he had mentioned cryonics to his mother several years ago, but she was freaked-out by the thought of being reanimated in a strange and alien world. Since then she had become demented, and he thought it would be wrong to foist cryonics upon her while she is in that condition.

Another CR Society presenter spoke of his project to develop an eco-friendly farm with local barter and community-building that would be sustainable through the disastrous global warming and prolonged depression he was expecting. His bleak vision of the future of technology left no possibility for cryonics, but at least he corrected himself when he started to say “cryogenics”.

Another fellow I spoke with later was concerned that cryonics organizations could not survive in light of the acrimony he saw between Members. His biggest concern, however, was that people of the future would be vastly superior, and treat him with contempt or worse upon his revival. A female CR Society Member told me that she is restricting calories entirely to increase her health-span, not her lifespan. She does not think that life is very good, and she has the hope and belief that the afterlife will be better.

Over lunch, one fellow suggested promoting cryonics as a means of cutting the astronomical health-care costs that so many people incur in their last year of life. I replied that any association of euthanasia with cryonics or any hastening of death on the expectation that cryonics may work would be disastrous for cryonics — and all the moreso if done as a cost-cutting measure.

I had difficulty moving around in the conference room due to the tables and my wheelchair, which made it difficult to chat with people during breaks. I had a similar problem during meal breaks. Whether I would have gotten a better understanding of why no-one seemed eager to sign-up for cryonics if my mobility had been better remains to be seen. I would think that after years of giving presentations about cryonics I would become blunted to lack of interest, but each such experience remains uniquely poignant and disappointing.

I learned much from the scientific presentations, but I won’t attempt to summarize very much. I was, however, very impressed by the extent to which a linkage was made between the blockage of the insulin/IGF-1 pathways in lower organisms and the practice of calorie restriction by humans. There is evidence that protein restriction may be the essence of calorie restriction, and that low protein diets are associated with reduced levels of IGF-1, but only when protein is less than 12% of macronutrients. Increasing insulin sensitivity seems to be the key to extending lifespan, yet although exercise is the most powerful intervention increasing insulin sensitivity, exercise does not increase lifespan.

Stephen Spindler and Luigi Fontana are scientists who have a long and intimate relationship with the CR Society. Both were speakers at this conference. Luigi in particular has been conducting studies on the physiology of long-time calorie restriction practitioners, and the benefits that are seen in the risk factors for various aging-associated diseases. He has published many studies of this research:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21402069

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21841020

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724865/

http://ajpheart.physiology.org/content/294/3/H1174.long

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2829867/

A DVD of the presentations is being made by the CR Society, and will be available for sale within a few weeks, I expect.

Many people in the life extension community follow some kind of diet. Historically, caloric restriction (CR) has been the most popular and most discussed option. Other popular diets include the Mediterranean diet and the Paleolithic diet.  In one sense, comparing these diets is like comparing apples and pears. The emphasis of caloric restriction is on how much we eat (given adequate nutrition) and the other diets are more concerned with what we eat. People who follow certain diets may also have different aims. In the case of CR, life extension. In the case of the Mediterranean diet, preventing and delaying cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. And many who adopt a low-carb diet are (initially) motivated by securing sustainable weight loss.

Assuming that diet plays some role in longevity and disease, it is rather obvious that cryonicists should take a strong interest in choosing the right diet. As it looks to me, there are a number of important considerations.

1. The most important aim of a diet for cryonicists should be to avoid, or delay, neurodegenerative diseases. Extending your life and ending up with advanced Alzheimer’s Disease is worse than dying young and being cryopreserved under circumstances that optimize preservation of personal identity.

2. The choice to follow a particular diet should work for your genotype. Admittedly, nutrigenetics is a very young field but there is a growing recognition that human evolution has not stopped since the start of agriculture and that different populations respond differently to certain diets. And even within these populations we should expect individuals to respond differently to diet.

3. A decision to follow a certain diet should be based on empirical evidence, not on intuition, abstract theories, or thought experiments. In the case of choosing diets, this  means identifying a diet that has shown a favorable ratio of good outcomes in experimental studies, and humans in particular.

Putting this all together, it seems to me that a low calorie diet remains the most defensible choice for most cryonicists because it has been studied longer, studied more extensively, and has the most robust favorable outcomes. CR also seems to stand out favorably in that there are relatively few studies that find detrimental outcomes and its benefits seem to embrace many species and populations. Another advantage of CR is that it can capture all the important goals that life extentionists seeks from a diet: longevity, weight loss and prevention (or delay) of neurodegenerative diseases.

It may be the case that many of the benefits of CR actually come from a reduction of carbohydrates. But one of the problems with a paleolithic diet is that it may be more beneficial for certain populations than others. As Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending demonstrate in their seminal book The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, human evolution did not stop when hunter gatherers started agriculture, and some populations are more adapted to agricultural products (such as milk) than others. Another concern about the paleolithic diet is the controversy surrounding saturated fat. For life extentionists who carry one or two copies of the ApoE4 gene, a diet high in saturated fat may actually increase the probability of Alzheimer’s disease. Others dispute this and recommend a diet high in (saturated) fat to prevent dementia.  In light of this uncertainty, the most prudent course of action may be to incorporate the emerging evidence against carbohydrates into a CR diet without emphasizing saturated fat.

There is an ongoing debate whether the longevity benefits of CR will be as great in humans as in lower species but the evidence so far seems to be that there are at least benefits in terms of delaying the onset of age-associated diseases. Whether these benefits are conferred through a change in gene expression or because they reduce the amount of chemicals that can participate in pathological events is not clear, but our incomplete knowledge about the mechanisms involved should not deter anyone from following CR. As I currently see it, the role of ongoing research into nutrigenetics and other diets should be to further calibrate and refine a low calorie diet to optimize it for a specific individual and to further delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases.

CR seems to come closer to being a universal diet than other diets but it may be contra-indicated for some people, such as certain athletes and extreme ectomorphs. There are also cases in the life extension community of people who pushed it too hard (or neglected good nutrition), offsetting all the gains from the diet, or even endangering their own health. A diet that does not make a person feel good, is generally not a diet that is good, let alone one that can be sustained over time.  The aim of a diet should not be to conform to an impersonal set of recommendations, but to monitor your own response and increase the chance for personal survival.

03. July 2008 · Comments Off on Living with children while practicing calorie restriction · Categories: Health · Tags: , , , , , ,

“The only thing that retards aging is calorie restriction. As genetic studies go forward, we’ll find out why.” Roy Walford

Our society in America currently as of 2008 has more overweight people than average-weight people.  ‘Healthy weight’ Americans consist of only around 40% of the population, according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the ‘CDC’.  The amount of children considered overweight has grown alarmingly in the past decade, to the point now where 1 out of every 3 children in the US is considered overweight the Academy of Pediatrics and Adolescent Health said in 2006.  One Gallup Poll survey from 2003 showed that out of 215 million US adults 20% felt they had been discriminated against in their workplace for their weight.  This figure was only slightly less than the 25% percent of smokers that felt discriminated against in their workplace for their smoking and due to anti-smoking laws being passed in society.  Interestingly only 25% of the US population at the time of the poll were smokers, and 43% were considered overweight—demonstrating that smokers are generally scorned by the American public more than overweight people.  Today in ’08, smokers are still treated with more open hostility than are overweight people.  A smoker in a public place is harming other people’s lungs with their smoke, an overweight person is only harming himself or herself and this is generally seen, as it should be, as free will.

I agree that overweight people have the right to be overweight, if they are happy with it—but what about the children?  Many doctors pressure parents to help their children lose weight, for the sake of the child’s health and since overweight children have a much higher chance of being overweight adults. Excessive weight has been shown in countless studies to cause many health problems from diabetes, gallbladder disease, high blood pressure, gout, cancer, heart disease and stroke to name just a few.  I myself spent 6 years being 185, to 245 pounds on my five foot ten inch frame, very overweight.  Six months after the last of my three pregnancies, when I was 26 years old—I was two hundred and five pounds and sick of being so big, my eyesight was worse than when I was in my teens, my left knee constantly sore, I was tired and felt unattractive so I started to look at diets.  I’d signed up for cryonics when I was 21 years old and in a high risk pregnancy so I’d read some of the life extension sites and had seen calorie restriction mentioned as the only known thing to extend life, as compared to hormones, supplements and exercise.  At 25, I was looking at all the fad diets, and remembered what I had read about calorie restriction—I ordered the book ‘Beyond the 120 Year Diet’ by Roy Walford.  I was intrigued when it came, my 205 pound self read through the book three times, ear marking and highlighting certain passages—looking up more information on-line. I then got the software so I could track my calories and most importantly what vitamins and minerals I was taking in each day so I would not be malnourished.  Over six months I kept a food diary, used the software to plan my meals and I lost 85 pounds.  At 120, I felt like a new person—to my friends and family I looked like a new person, my knee pain went away, I had more energy and I even passed my drivers license test without my glasses—my eyesight had improved to near 20/20.  I experienced first hand the health benefits of losing weight, and most importantly I did this while my children were young.  If I had raised them, eating the way I had been while I was overweight—they too may have had problems.  Instead, I showed how to work to accomplish a goal and as I learned about nutrition, they learned about nutrition as well.

It would be unethical for a child to be on calorie restriction, as it would stunt their growth. My children would eat mega-muffins (like ‘lab chow’ for humans) for snacks (with chocolate chips so they’d eat them yet still get the protein, vitamin and minerals of a complete meal) but my children have never been calorie restricted.  I taught them that being hungry is ok, and actually good for you but they know about what different vitamins do, and how our bodies use them—they know how to evaluate the nutritional qualities of a meal. We have meal times together at our dining table, and along with our normal conversations of the day, we will comment on the nutritional qualities of the food—in this way over time they are learning.

I feel that I set an example to them of how they could be if they want when they grow up.  Each of my three children right now at ages 11, 9 and 6 have different views on food, one of them eats more healthy than the other two currently.  I do not chastise children for their food choices, or praise one in front of the others, I will just say what I would and would not eat.  We do not have hydrogenated oils, artificial dyes and preservatives, fried foods, or highly processed foods in our home.  We do have healthy deserts for the children such as ‘Healthy Choice’ brand ice cream bars, carrot cake (for the vitamin A), raw walnuts and dark chocolate – mom just does not eat dessert, dad will however and the children do as well.  I can practice CR easily while living with my family, and not impose it upon them—as a parent I hope that as they grow they will always make healthy choices.  I don’t know if any of them will choose CR, but I’m happy that I modeled losing weight and then healthy eating over the years.

One does not have to be practicing calorie restriction to teach children about nutrition.  All children need to be taught about proper caloric intake, the importance of healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.  They should know what vitamins and minerals do in the body, there are sites on-line such as Nutrition Mission, Monster Nutrition or the USDA My Pyramid Blast Off Game that can help you teach them.  There are great nutrition books for kids like The Edible Pyramid, The Race Against Junk Food, or Dr. Seuss’s ‘The Things You Can Do That Are Good For You’.  Those books are all for the early elementary aged child, and are good to read with a picture book of the inside of a human body. Reading a book to your child enables you to engage them in conversation and find out what they think, you can fill in gaps in their knowledge.  The best thing you can do though for your children, is simply to practice healthy eating and to talk about it from time to time.

Feedback on this article is encouraged at the Immortality Institute forum.

02. July 2008 · Comments Off on Teaching futurism to children and teens · Categories: Cryonics · Tags: , , , , , ,

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” Plato (BC 427-BC 347) Greek philosopher.

Of course, children are the future. Some children are planned, their parents very much wanted them. Their parents wanted to see what their loved one would look like combined with their own genes, they wanted to create their own offspring: love, care for them and guide them—be proud as they grow.  Some children are accidents, their parents weren’t ready or something went wrong in their lives and they must let others care for their children.  In any case, that child ends up being raised—sometimes by loving grandparents, aunts or uncles, sometimes friends that can adopt them, sometimes a loving adoptive couple or sometimes a successive string of foster care and modern orphanages.  Humans, with the longest period of infancy and growth into maturity of any species, create babies that must be cared for for years and even guided throughout life in some ways after they become adults.

For the most part the education systems of the industrialized nations are functional in that they cover the basics: reading, writing, science, and arithmetic.  There is systematic guidance in the form of counselors in schools once a child becomes an adolescent and help is given for the child to develop into their adult career.

Guardians want the best for their children, for them to be happy and successful as they become adults, for them to give back to society through their contributions.  Guardians love their children very much, but at some point as that baby grows—the child first adores their guardian then the child looks to its peers, and its society’s ‘popular culture’ as to how they should style their life.  Guardians/parents/loved ones do what they can to show what they think the right way in life is, and in the end the child internalizes bits and pieces from all they have read, studied, learned and observed—and they decide what kind of life they want to lead, what kind of person they want to be.

Sometimes they choose the religion, social status or business of the loved ones who raised them.  Sometimes they build radically different lives, as they become themselves.  No matter what, they become the future.

What is a futurist to do to inspire the next generation?  An adult who believes that someday humans will end aging, that nano-technology and free energy will alleviate some of humanities inequality and suffering wants to share these things with children to inspire them—how can they do that?  An adult who is a transhumanist, an extropian, a cryonicist, someone who spends their time thinking about the extreme far future, and how to help humans get there wants children to grow up to care about the same things. These futurists feel passionately that their children, or children they know—should feel the same excitement about the future.  Just as if you strongly believe in the truth of a religion, or the excellence of a business, or the love of a country or place—you share what you know.

Children thrive on the truth.  When you tell a child what to believe, and give negative consequences for not believing what you say ‘using force’—that child internalizes that you are not nice, don’t care about them—and are ‘mean’.  When you share what you believe with a child, that engenders trust on their part and lets them open up and share what they in turn believe. When you share what you believe, and your own excitement with what you think could happen in the future—it opens the child’s imagination, it stimulates their own hopes and lets them express their fears. Children want to be listened to, each wants to feel that they are important–that they have genius, that they are special. The adult that educates them, in the classroom or the home, must remember that each child has genius and that the way to acknowledge that so the child feels it—is to encourage them in their interests.

A futurist can share sci-fi books such as Stephen Hawking’s new book for children “George’s Secret Key to the Universe”, or a transhumanist adventure based on what is seen as possible by scientists now –like my book “21st Century Kids”, but they still must encourage the child’s own loves, even if they are radically different.  The important thing is to give them the ideas, read to them about the vast amount of time we know of in history and in the future.  What will happen in a million years? What happened a million years ago?  What do you think would happen to you if cryonics worked?  What could you do with a robotic body?  Do you think aging should be ended?  You can guide them, debate with them, and share your own views—but realize that they will be developing their own, and all of us humans have differences.

There is no age that is too young to engage in a conversation about the future—to have Earth history time-line posters on the wall, to have charts showing the size of the universe, to broaden a child’s outlook—make them realize they might have a chance to see the far future.  It is one more balanced way of educating them, along with the language they are being raised in, the history of their culture, basics in math and science—to give them the out-look of the extreme far future.  When that baby has passed through the wonder of childhood, and is a teen struggling with coming to terms with being themselves and an adult, you can still engage them in conversations about things you read in the news from the transhumanists, life extensionists, artificial intelligence sites—it is a wonderful way to transcend the popular culture that teens live in, the culture of now-–of fame and beauty.  Engaging in conversation with them, listening to their responses, their views, makes them feel like they have genius.  Talking about the future, and what experts now see as possible, helps the developing teen to keep in mind something bigger than their current problems. Talking about the future, inspires young children, stimulates their imagination—and then as they grow and become young adults, they’ll still have that foundation within to call on as they must make important and sometimes painful life decisions.

If you are raising children or you know young children, share with them what you think about the future and ask them their views, find their genius and they’ll always have that with them in their life.

Feedback on this article is encouraged at the Immortality Institute forum.

01. July 2008 · Comments Off on Shannon Vyff on teaching children about the future, caloric restriction, and cryonics · Categories: Cryonics, Health · Tags: , , , , , ,

Over the next three days Shannon Vyff will be guest blogging for Depressed Metabolism. Shannon Vyff is a practicing caloric restrictionist, Alcor member, and Methuselah Foundation supporter. Shannon also volunteers for her local Unitarian Universalist Church and La Leche League group.  She lives with her three children Avianna, Avryn, and Avalyse, and husband Michael (all Alcor members) in Austin, Texas.

She is the author of the book 21st Century Kids, which is “an adventure into the future of two children who are re-animated 200 years from today.” She is also author of the essay ‘Confessions of a Proselytizing Immortalist’ in The Scientific Conquest of Death, a publication by the Immortality Institute.

Shannon will be blogging on “Teaching Futurism to Children and Teens,” “Living With Children While Practicing Calorie Restriction,” and ” Teaching Children About Cryonics.”