Dr. Michael Fossel: The Cure for Alzheimers and A World Without Aging [OPP 168]

In this episode of the OPP I talk with Dr. Michael Fossel.  We have an amazing conversation about longevity, a possible cure for Alzheimers and other cognitive degenerative diseases.  Dr. Fossel is the author of The Telomorase Revolution and is the founder and former Editor in Chief of Rejuvenation Research.

He's best known best for his views on telomerase therapy as a possible treatment for cellular senescence in human age related disease.  Our conversation moves really quickly, and I get to ask how we include our longevity, his stack, personal work, and the potential for human trials into the reversal of Alzheimers.

Alzheimers is brutal and this is pretty big stuff.

P.S. We're still giving $10 off orders of our CILTEP single serve packets.  Use the promo code CILTEP4ALL at checkout!


  • Intro [2:30]
  • How does aging happen? [05:40]
  • What is telomerase? [8:00]
  • What are you working on now? [9:45]
  • What would a treatment reversing Alzheimers look like? [12:00]
  • What are we looking at in terms of increased lifespan? [15:45]
  • Are there any diseases that can't be reversed through therapy? [18:30]
  • Length vs Relative Length of Telomeres [21:15]
  • Telomere testing and efficacy [25:00]
  • Supplements helping with brain efficiency [31:00]
  • Stem cell and gene therapy [36:30]
  • What drew you into this line of work? [41:00]
  • Longevity goals [45:15]
  • How does cannabis fit into longevity? [53:00]
  • The future of telomerase [55:30]
  • Outro [57:15]

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Official Podcast Transcript

Sean McCormick: You're listening to the Optimal Performance Podcast. The OPP is brought to you by Natural Stacks, makers of 100% natural and open-source supplements designed to help you live optimal. For more information on how to build optimal mental and physical performance into your life, go to NaturalStacks.com.

I go at 6:00 AM every Tuesday morning and do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with a gi, and before I get to the workout, I take a 12 ounce coffee from Starbucks, and a MycoBOOST. I use it as a re-workout supplement, really, and I love it. With each of these episodes, I'm just going to cover really briefly one of the Natural Stacks products that I take.

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In this episode of the Optimal Performance podcast, I talk with Dr. Michael Fossel. Michael Fossel and I have a pretty amazing conversation about longevity, about a possible cure for Alzheimer's, as well as other cognitive degenerative diseases. Dr. Fossel is the author of The Telomerase Therapy, and he's the founder and former editor in chief of Rejuvenation Research. He's best known for his views on telomerase therapy as a possible treatment for cellular senescence in human age-related disease.

Our conversation is really interesting. It moves really quickly, and I get a ton of cool questions in there, including what can we do to increase our longevity, as well as what sort of things does he take as far as a supplement, what he's working on now, and human trials, potential for human trials into not only the improvement of Alzheimer's, but the reversal of Alzheimer's. For anybody who knows someone who suffers from Alzheimer's, it's brutal, and this is pretty big stuff. I hope you guys enjoy. As always, thank you so much for listening.

If you like these episodes, let me know. Give us a review on iTunes, send me an email personally, review it on Natural Stacks' website. Leave a comment. I really want to get in touch with more of you guys. Thanks for listening. Enjoy this episode.

You're listening to the Optimal Performance podcast, and I'm your host, Sean McCormick. It's the OPP. I'm a performance coach, a wellness entrepreneur, a blogger, a speaker, a biohacker, and it's my privilege to bring to you the leading experts in the field of performance, so let's dig right in.

Dr. Michael Fossel, thanks for joining us on the Optimal Performance podcast today.

Michael Fossel: My pleasure, Sean. Nice to have you, Dr. McCormick.

Sean McCormick: So I start out most of these with asking people what they've taken today. It's midday on a Friday, and I'm just sort of curious not what your general vitamin regimen is based on the flavor of the day, but what do you have in your system midday today?

Michael Fossel: Well, I just had an espresso.

Sean McCormick: Nice.

Michael Fossel: I had some blueberries, I had some [inaudible 00:05:13] today. Not much.

Sean McCormick: That's it?

Michael Fossel: Well no, I must've had something else. I probably had a little cereal with the blueberries. I had some milk. Not much.

Sean McCormick: Yeah. Keeping it trim and simple before a podcast. Let's start with this question, and I know it's broad, but I think it really does sort of set the stage. How does aging happen?

Michael Fossel: Well, let me say how it doesn't happen. Most people have the assumption that you just wear and tear, you rust, fall apart, get old, that's the way things are. And it is more complex than that, but that also makes it simpler in some ways because really the reason you age is not because of entropy or wear and tear, it's because you stop maintaining yourself. It's like having an old house, and the reason the house falls apart is not just because it's old, but because you stop caring for it. If I have a 200 year old house and I take care of it all the time and I take care of the paint, and the roof, and the electrical system, it'll last forever. But if I ignore the things, it goes to hell pretty quickly. So it's a matter of maintenance in a body.

To give you an idea of just the difference, if I look at your germ cells, the ova and sperm cells that result in us being human beings, those cells as a cell line have been around for about three and a half billion years. And they didn't age, they didn't decline. So you can't say that aging always happens. There are cell lines in which it doesn't happen. There are organisms in which it doesn't happen. It's not a question of wear and tear, it's a question of maintenance in the face of wear and tear.

Sean McCormick: Which makes the question, of course, how can we have better maintenance of ourselves? How do we keep ourselves healthy, besides not smoking, buckling your seatbelt, and having a positive attitude?

Michael Fossel: Yeah, it's funny you say that. You're right. Somebody once asked me how you can live a longer life, and I said, "Fasten your seatbelt. It may not be sexy, but yeah, you'll live longer." But you're right. All of things are things that just tend to increase your wear and tear, whether it's smoking or getting involved with head injuries in football or whatever you do. Those things increase the rate of wear and tear.

What you really want to do is keep up with the maintenance. There, we know the cells are capable of it, one, because it's true in the germ cell line, two, it is roughly true in the stem cell line, and three, we know in the laboratory when we reset the maintenance process, it works fine in human cells and it works fine in human tissues. We also now know that if we do the same sort of thing in an organism like a mouse, we can reset most of the maintenance processes.

So we know it's potentially possible. The way to do that, though, it to reset the pattern of gene expression, which brings us to telomeres, telomerase. Okay, so where are we going next, I think, Sean?

Sean McCormick: That's right! Please, continue, tell us about it.

Michael Fossel: Well, I think of genes as, in some sense, the instruments in a symphony orchestra. Some people have this feeling that as your cells get old, the genes fall apart. No, it's the same gene. Same genes you had when you were young, it's just they're playing a different tune. It's like having a symphony orchestra that could play either Mozart or Grateful Dead, and they're different tunes, but you can play them with the same instruments if you want to. The instruments aren't a problem. As you get older, it's not that the piano is out of tune, the violin strings are broken, it's not that your genes don't work, it's simply that they're being expressed with a different tune.

The conductor for that tune is the telomere, among other things. It turns out that if we tall the conductor, in this case the telomere, to play the tune it used to when you were young, it works fine. For example, if I take human cells ... back in 1999 this was done ... if I take human cells, re-extend the telomere, they go back to playing the same genetic tune they played when they were young cells. They work fine. We know that as of 2000, and this was true 2001, 2002, a whole series of studies, if we do this with human tissues, same thing. So you could take, for example, an old coronary artery, and grow young coronary artery tissue if you reset telomeres. Likewise, skin. Likewise, bone.

So the question is, "Yeah, you can do that in cells, you can do that in tissues, but can you do that in you and I?" The answer is, we didn't know. We suspected we could. It's only been in the last five years that we've had the technical ability to take this to human trials, so next year we will.

Sean McCormick: And what can ... I think running this out and considering the implication for helping treat Alzheimer's and degenerative cognitive diseases like this, what can you tell us about what you're doing now and what you're working on now? Because you're light years ahead of, I think, many people, and I think our listeners would be surprised to hear how far along you really are.

Michael Fossel: Well, we're going to start with Alzheimer's, and the reason is because it's sort of the high-hanging fruit. It's not the easy thing. Everyone thinks you can't cure Alzheimer's. In fact, when I talk to big pharma around the world and I talk to biotech companies, they're all hoping at best they can slow the disease process. I don't know any other company that thinks they can stop it or reverse it, but we're pretty convinced we can. We're confident we can actually reverse much of the cognitive decline and get people's brains back, in a sense, 'cause that's what happens in animals when we do this.

Again, we've predicted to be able to do this, but that's what the data shows. So we're going to start with Alzheimer's and run the human trials so that we can actually reverse some of the cognitive decline, that is, get memory back, get cognition back, and so forth. Then we're going to do two things. We're going to move on to other dementias, like Parkinson's Disease, frontotemporal dementia, a whole host of these things, vascular dementias.

But we're also going to move on to vascular disease in general. Most people in the world in developed nations tend to die of aging arteries, not aging brains, and both of them are serious. But the biggest killer really is aging arteries. You're thinking of strokes, heart attacks, aneurysms, peripheral vascular disease, congestive heart failure. The whole list goes on and on. But we have even better data that suggests we can go after that and make a difference in it.

So yeah, we're going to start with Alzheimer's because no one really can do anything about that, there's not a lot to offer, and then move on to vascular disease. When it comes to vascular disease, there are other alternatives. They're not very good. They're things like stent, statins, coronary artery bypass, grafts, heart transplants. Nothing that really stops the disease, it just sort of seems to help a bit. But we can do better than that, we can do much better than that.

Sean McCormick: And from the different treatments, I was doing research about potential supplements that actually they're antiaging medicine, and the list is gigantic. I mean, hundreds and hundreds of different supplements that people have tried, nicotine among them, licorice, leptin, [inaudible 00:12:07]. What would the protocol look like to actually have not just a slowing effect, but reversing effect? What would the treatment look like?

Michael Fossel: Well initially, we're going to do it a little bit different, but in the long run what it involves is a single shot, IV. Theoretically it could be give orally or intranasally. Really what we're doing is we're delivering a normal human gene that is essentially locked up in your cells, let it be expressed for a short time to reset telomere links and reset gene expression.

So initially in our human trials, it'll almost certainly be done what's called intrathecally. Think of it as a lumbar puncture, and epidural, subdural. But that has to do with some technical considerations we have initially. In the long run, though, we're looking at IV, and you're probably looking at sort of a booster shot, in a sense, every three to 10 years. A one-time treatment, not a three pills a day. No, it's a one time treatment.

Let me say, also, that diet plays a role, in a sense. You can be very unhealthy and have a terrible diet at age 20, and we may be able to give you the physiology in the body of a 30 or 40 or 20 year old, but that doesn't mean you should eat badly either.

Sean McCormick: Yeah. So is it akin, for those of us that are trying to wrap our brains around it, can we think of it like a vaccine?

Michael Fossel: Well, not in any technical sense, but in some sense, as far as getting a shot every now and then, it acts like one. Really what it's doing is resetting the clock within the cells.

Sean McCormick: Resetting a clock within the cells, right.

Michael Fossel: Yeah, it's not an immunization in any sense. But there are a lot of [inaudible 00:13:55], now that you mention it. I mean, if I think back about the history of polio, the first poli vaccine came out in 1954, and if I go back to 1953, one of the best-selling books in the U.S. was a book called Diet Conquers Polio. Well, diet didn't really conquer polio. On the other hand, it probably improved your chances slightly in terms of your immune system and so forth. You could understand why people were paying lots of money for the book and taking lots of dietary advice because there was nothing else to do.

But the same thing is true about so many other things that were available back then. People were trying oxygen, vitamin C, all sorts of things that sound like what we're trying to do these days for Alzheimer's. And I'm not going to say they don't work, but I'd rather have the polio vaccine than just stick with diet. I'm in favor of a good diet, but if [inaudible 00:14:42] polio vaccine versus best diet in the world, I'd still go for the polio vaccine because it'll prevent polio.

That's kind of where we are with Alzheimer's. Right now is, you bet, I'd try anything I could, certainly diet. But I think we can do a lot better.

Sean McCormick: Right, first things first. Make sure that you're doing everything that you can control from a dietary, exercise aspect, and then look at more exotic treatments, or even just exogenous treatments, stuff that doesn't involve diet and lifestyle.

Do you see, 'cause I'm trying to think about what the implications are if we can actually reverse cognitive decline and cardiovascular decline, reverse it, is it like in 10 years the average lifespan is going to just skyrocket, hockey stick growth? Is it reasonable to expect that in the next 10 or 20 or 50 years, that we, 'cause this goes into longevity, what are we looking at as far as increased lifespan overall?

Michael Fossel: Well, the honest answer is no one knows. But let me in clearer perspective. If I look back historically, if I go back say 200 years, for the average lifespan in a lot of countries 200 years ago was 25 years. There were people that lived to 100, but not many of them. The average age of death was 25. And if I go back 100 years, it was perhaps 50. And now it's about 75. Again, I'm roughing these figures. What we've done is increase the mean lifespan, but we've never increased the maximum lifespan. So if I went back 200 years, there were some people who made it to 120, but there weren't many. Now, there are a few more people, but there aren't many.

What we're looking at is changing the maximum lifespan. So the mean lifespan has always been something we can improve with diet, aging, avoiding violence, lots of things can improve ... seatbelt ... can improve your mean lifespan. But changing the maximum lifespan has never been done in human history, and yet, that's exactly what we're talking about.

Sean McCormick: Yeah. If you had to throw a dart at a dartboard to pick a maximum age, something that's reasonable, is it 120, is it 140? Who knows?

Michael Fossel: Yeah, again, just looking at the animal data, I don't see any reason we can't easily hit 150. But beyond that, it sort of depends on how well we can get this to work. More importantly, though, is being healthy to do this. There was a poll a couple of years ago that said to people, "If you could live to be 150, would you do it?" And most people said no, because they're thinking an extra 30 years in the nursing home, no thank you. And they're right about that. But that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about an extra 50 years being able to play tennis, dance with your granddaughter, go out and garden, wander the world. We're talking go to work, do things, enjoy yourself, not be in a nursing home.

Sean McCormick: Yeah. I think that's right. I think, yeah, that's a clearer picture to ask is how can I live like a 75 year old into my 120s, right? Into my 130s?

Michael Fossel: Or live like a 40 year old into your 120s.

Sean McCormick: Yeah, right. Man, I'm just trying to wrap my brain around that! When you share that information with people, does it blow their mind?

Michael Fossel: Yeah, so usually I don't put it quite so bluntly because, again, as I always say, theory is one thing, data is another. So rather than just talk about it, it's time to take it to human trials and see what happens.

Sean McCormick: Yeah. Are there any diseases ... you talked about what this is likely, Parkinson's and stuff like that ... are there any disease that you think cannot be reversed through the therapy?

Michael Fossel: Oh yeah. The first category that comes to mind would be things like inherited diseases, inherited genetic disease. There a lot of kids that die before age five because of an inherited genetic disease. This doesn't change that. With the exception of things like progeria, kids who at age five look like they're 75. This changes that.

But for adult diseases, if you're looking at things like trauma, if you're looking at things like infectious disease, not much of that changes. On the other hand, 75 year olds die a lot more rapidly than 25 year olds for an infectious disease. So what we're looking at is bringing the rate of infectious disease death back to that when you were younger. That doesn't cure infectious disease, it just makes your immune system act more like when you were younger. So anything that involves aging is something that we think will be amenable to this treatment. We're looking at age-related disease, purely, with the exception of progeria, which is a related problem.

Sean McCormick: Yeah, the anomaly. So cancer wouldn't fall, necessarily, into that category?

Michael Fossel: Well, that's an odd one. A lot of people in the literature that know better think that there's this trade-off, and if you extend telomeres you actually increase cancer risk. The data actually suggests that it's complex. Let me just say, it's complicated. But in fact, we can probably use the same approach and prevent many cancers, and it may be, in fact, useful for treating something cancer. That's an odd thing to say, but we've got reasons to say it.

Cancer is an odd one. In some cases, this may prevent cancer. I'll give you an example of this. One of the reasons that cancer goes up as we get older is that your DNA repair enzymes get turned down. There are four major families; every one of them gets turned down. So you're no longer repairing your DNA as well. So in the few minutes you and I have been talking, probably every cell in your body has had a DNA hit, has had some problem occur, and it's been fixed before, probably, I fix the end of the next sentence, it got fixed. But the rate of repair goes down with age. The consequence of those four different families of DNA repair enzymes all being turned down is that the rate goes up exponentially. This is true whether you're a mouse that lives two years, or whether you're a human that lives 80 years.

So what we're doing is resetting that rate of DNA repair, in that sense, that lowers your risk of cancer. But again, it's more complicated than that, like most things in life.

Sean McCormick: Yeah, right. Right, because cancer is a growing thing, it's a developing thing, and if you're looking at lengthening telomeres ... And I think that's an important point because one of the things that I heard you say a little earlier was it's not the length of the telomeres, it's the relative length of the telomeres. Can you explain that a little bit further for our listeners?

Michael Fossel: Yeah. Let me give you an example of this. There are varieties of mice that have telomeres that are literally 10 times longer than mine, and yet they have lifespans that are literally 40 times shorter than mine. An average mouse lives about two years, I live to be about 80 years, and yet they have longer telomeres. Why would that be? It turns out, it's not the telomere length that matters, it's the change in telomere length. Even then, it's not the change, it's what it does to gene expression.

Over a mouse lifespan, those cells, the pattern of gene expression gets turned down in the same sense mine does. They do it within two years, mine does it within 80 years. It's all controlled by the change in length of telomeres. So it's not the absolute telomere length. That doesn't matter worth a darn. What does matter, is what happens as that length shortens.

Sean McCormick: Yeah, and how it's expressed, like what it's doing.

Michael Fossel: Oh yes. To give you kind of a crazy analogy, back to the house. When I shorten telomeres, it's sort of like saying, "Stop repairing your house, stop repainting it, pay no attention to the fact that the pipes are leaking." All we're saying is turn up the maintenance rate again. That's what lengthening the telomere does, is it just says get up and start maintaining the place again so it does better.

Sean McCormick: Yeah, that's-

Michael Fossel: It's a maintenance problem.

Sean McCormick: Right.

Michael Fossel: Aging is a failure of maintenance. It is not just wear and tear. It's wear and tear in the face of-

Sean McCormick: And when you're not doing the maintenance, you're not protecting yourself from environmental stimuli, so you're more susceptible to catch something, you're ... yeah, the whole system is affected when you don't do the maintenance.

Michael Fossel: And again, as we said before, on the other hand, you can increase the rate of wear and tear by not exercising, by eating badly, eating a bad diet, by engaging in risky behaviors. All of those increase your rate of wear and tear. If I have light skin and go out and get sunburns every day, I'm sorry, you're increasing your skin aging. That's just the way life is. So we can increase the maintenance rate, but we still need people to pay attention to the rate of wear and tear, and not do stupid things.

Sean McCormick: Right. Easy to say, easy for you to say, asking people-

Michael Fossel: Well, you know, some people age fast, some people age slowly, and it's not just genetic, partly it's what they do in their life.

Sean McCormick: Right. Is this something ... 'cause we're really interested in self-measurement and self-experimentation to track so that we can improve and we know where our sort of pitfalls are. And the case of Elizabeth Parish kind of comes up in reading about telomeres and stuff like that, and because Elizabeth Parish was a CEO of a company that was researching this, she had access to these therapies. And in one of the write-ups, it talks about how she tested herself and she found that her telomeres were shorter than what they should've been for her age. Is that something, for those of us who aren't CEOs of research facilities and organizations, is that something that you maybe see coming down the line where people can actually test their length and make specific changes to their own life or lifestyle or medications that they can benefit from?

Michael Fossel: Well, the quick answer is no, it doesn't make a lot of difference. Again, it's complicated. Let me give you an example of this. You and I, if nothing else happened, are most likely to die of vascular aging. Okay? That has to do with the aging of our coronary arteries, for example. If I measure my white blood cells the same way Liz did or many people do with telomere testing, those aren't the cells that are involved in heart disease. Those are the cells that are your immune cells wandering around your bloodstream. So you're measuring the wrong set, that's one problem, and this comes up again and again in academic papers all the time. Somebody talks about liver cancer, and they measure your white cells. Wrong cells.

The second problem is that those cells actually are not ... How do I put this? You're sort of measuring them wrong. Here is a typical paper I see. Somebody says, "We took 50 people. We measured their telomeres," meaning in their white cells, "and then we put them on a vegetarian diet, we had them do meditation every day. We had them get a dog, we had them ... you know, anything that we could think of to make their lives better. And sure enough, in six months, they had longer telomeres."

Well, that doesn't prove a thing. It proves you're lower in stress. But the problem is, the telomeres you're measuring, you're not measuring the telomeres back in the marrow, you're measuring the ones that are circulating, and those don't wear down as fast if you lower stress.

For example, say right now you've influenza, you've got the flu that's going around. I measure your telomeres. They off-hand will be shorter than they would once you finish getting off the flu, because now your body's not churning around white cells anymore. So if I come back six weeks later after you've gotten over the flu, your telomeres will look longer. Well, doesn't mean that'll make you younger, it just means they're not getting churned over as much.

Here is an analogy. It would be like me saying, "Listen, 50 years ago, I went to a little block in the Bronx in New York, and I measured the average lifespan, or the average age people in that one city block in the Bronx, and it was 72. Now, I did some intervention. I did some urban planning, I built this, I gave tax breaks to that. Now I go back to the same block 50 years later, and the average age in that city block is no longer 72, it's 35." I did not make them younger. All it means is, they're not the same people.

It's the same things with your white cells. If I put you on a vegetarian diet, teach you meditation, and get you a dog, make you go out and exercise every day, that doesn't necessarily make you younger, you're just changing the white cells you're measuring. In the same sense, I'm measuring different people in the city block in the Bronx. 50 years later in the Bronx, a bunch of yuppies have moved in, they've had kids, they're starting little companies, and guess what? They got five year olds around in lace of World War II veterans. Nobody got younger, I'm just looking at different people. I certainly didn't make the entire country younger when I did that anymore than if I measure your telomeres and then put you on a diet, and so I made you younger as a whole body. It just doesn't mean that.

Now, it doesn't mean that meditation and vegetarian diets and exercise aren't good for you, it just means that articles that claim those make you younger aren't measuring the right thing. They're making it up. That's just not right.

Sean McCormick: What's the distinction between the surface white blood cells and the marrow white blood cells? Would that be a more accurate research point?

Michael Fossel: Oh yeah, it would be. I'm going to make these numbers up, but I'll give you an example of this. Let's say that right now, I measured the stem cells in your marrow, and that the average telomere length is, say, 10,000 base pairs. Okay? And I measure your white blood cells, and they're 8,000 base squares because they've divided a bunch of times. And in fact, you're under a great deal of stress, you've lost your job, your lover left you, you name it. You're under a great deal of stress. And those white cells outside in your peripheral blood stream are turning over. By the way, there's only a small percent that you're measuring out there because some of them aren't even in your blood vessels. So measuring an odd sort of sample, but they're dividing 'cause you're under stress.

Now I lower your stress, I come back in six months, and you're feeling a lot better. Now the peripheral white calls are 9,000 base pairs. They look like they're going up 1,000 base pairs. But now if I measure your marrow blood cells, they're at 9.9 thousand base pairs. So you're actually older if I look at the stem cell. But if I look at your peripheral cells, it looks like you got younger. No, you didn't, you just removed the stress, that's all you did.

Sean McCormick: Got it. So it obviously has a lot to do with external factors that are influencing the actual telomere length.

Michael Fossel: Okay, but let me say this. Say that you had a lot of money and patience, and what you wanted to do is measure your peripheral white cells, their telomere lengths every six months for five years, and there's a trend, there's a trend, so yeah, then that would be true. But that's not what most studies every do. They do two points, and they declare that they've made people younger. Maybe they did, but that's not what the data says.

Sean McCormick: Right. How many longitudinal studies are out there?

Michael Fossel: None that I can think of right away. They all tend to look at a couple of data points. Again, the problem is they're measuring the wrong thing. It's just like measuring the age of some block in the Bronx over 100 years or 50 years. It doesn't mean what they say it means.

Again, let me stress, my guess is that meditation, vegetarian diets, and exercise, all those things probably perfectly good for you, but that's not what the data shows.

Sean McCormick: Right. Do you think it's just sloppy research?

Michael Fossel: I think people don't think about what the white cells mean. There's a tendency to think, "If I measure your telomeres in your white cells, I measure your total body telomeres." No, you're not. Then most people are not aware of the fact that the white cells, depends on which side you're looking at, B-cells or T-cells, but they're dividing peripheral, so they're measuring the wrong thing. They're not aware of the complexity involved in the physiology. They just think it's a simple decline. It isn't.

Sean McCormick: Okay. Does that suggest that, 'cause I'm looking at all these astragalus supplements and what's available out there, is it still worth taking that stuff because it might have a general effect?

Michael Fossel: I think it is, and there you're looking at better data. I mean, there are at least three papers out, now there are couple more looking a some other odd cases, where we know that astragenol, for example, seems to have an effect over about a six month period, at least. You're measuring not just peripheral telomere lengths, but now you're measuring things like your response to insulin, your bone marrow density, your immune response when you stimulate the immune system. You're measuring things that actually make a difference.

I would say that the data that suggests that astragenol and the astragalosides have an impact on telomere length and aging or health are pretty good. Not overwhelming, not, you know, "Let's break out a bottle of champagne and, boy, that's ... " no, but they're pretty good. It's intriguing stuff, and it's the kinda thing we expect. I think that a number of us have a feeling that if you were trying to quantitate this, you would say that the astragalosides are probably about 5% as effective as what we want them to be, whereas the kind of thing we're talking about doing with human trials, now we're up at the 100% sort of a level.

Sean McCormick: Yeah. Do you take any sort of astragalus supplements or astragenol?

Michael Fossel: Yeah, I do. And you know, people ask me if it's really beneficial or if it's worth taking, and there are a couple of answers to that. One is, there is no overwhelming data that proves that it reverses aging, it just looks pretty suggestive. So one, you believe the data. Second question is, where did you get this stuff? Is it a reliable source or are they selling you snake oil? So the question is how good is the source?

The third question is even more important, which is how much does it cost? Now, if you're a billionaire and you've got some age-related diseases, it's definitely worth it because it doesn't cost much in that scenario, and they work. On the other hand, if you're on a fixed income and it's costing more than you've got a month, I'm sorry, it's just not worth your trouble, particularly if you're healthy in the first place. So trying to figure out whether this is worth it or not sorta depends, doesn't it?

Sean McCormick: Yeah.

Michael Fossel: Are you healthy? Are you rich? Have you got a reliable source? And does this stuff really work? It probably does, to an extent.

Sean McCormick: Well, I have to imagine that if you're extremely wealthy and also extremely interested in longevity, you're going to do just about anything, and if there's little or no side effects or side effects that you can live with and you're getting the top-notch stuff, you're probably going to live longer. I mean, that's just the way that it goes. But yeah, I mean, looking at some of the prices of this stuff, I mean, it's really expensive.

Michael Fossel: Typically, you're looking at a couple of hundred dollars a month, and it depends on what you mean by a couple of hundred, but yeah, and the dose. It's not cheap. On the other hand, it might work. So is it worth it or not? I don't know, tough one. That's like saying, "Is it worth having health insurance?" Well, if you're going to get sick, it's worth it. If you don't get sick, you've just wasted money. I don't know. Great question.

Sean McCormick: Right, there's no way to know. In your understanding of it, obviously if I go to the Chinese medicine shop and find some astragalus root, that's not going to be as good as a lab cultivated process extract or something like that, right?

Michael Fossel: Well, I know someone who did exactly that about 20 years ago, went out and measured some available astragalus roots found in Chinatown, for example, in at least two cities, and the answer was nope. There were no active ingredients. But you never know. Maybe you get just the right little shop, and you're okay, or maybe things have changed in 20 years, you don't know.

Sean McCormick: Right.

Michael Fossel: And nevermind the astragalus roots, there are a lot of things that people waste an awful lot of money on that probably have no effect whatsoever. They use that same analogy, again, back to polio, you know, in 1952, people did all sorts of things to keep their kids from dying of polio. Most of those things probably had no effect, but I don't blame them for trying.

Sean McCormick: Sure. Of those things that you know people are trying to take for longevity, what sort of things are red flags, doesn't make sense, they don't work for you?

Michael Fossel: Well, I sometimes think that the more you see of advertising, or the more it costs, the less likely it is to work. And that's certainly not really true, but you know, sort of the sarcastic element of me looks at life that way sometimes. There's certain truth to that.

There are so many products out there, natural products or otherwise that do things that nobody's going to advertise. For example, we know that if you tend to use vinegar in your hair every day, you won't get dandruff. But I've never seen anybody advertise vinegar as an anti-dandruff shampoo. Well, 'cause you can't really make money selling vinegar. Throw it out, then. You know?

That's the way life is. So people sell things that may or may not be useful. Astragalus root, or astragenol at least, probably is effective. But I think that most of the other things I see out there that people make claims for in aging, whether it's a skin crème or otherwise, probably don't. There are few exceptions where there's some data in favor of them, but most things it is just a claim.

Sean McCormick: Yeah. Where are you on stem cell therapy?

Michael Fossel: Depends on who's doing it. We know that there are some benefits that can be gotten from stem cells, but it sorta depends on where you get the stem cells, and how good they are, and what you've done to them to make them work better. Let me give you, again, the sort of sarcastic view of stem cells for a minute, just to sort of play the pessimist answer.

Sean McCormick: Please do.

Michael Fossel: Let's say that you're going in to use stem cells for your knees, but you're removing stem cells from your marrow to put in your knees. Well, let's see, I'm simply moving them from one part of the body to the other, why should I think they'll do any good? Well, the fact is, sometimes they do. You're putting marrow stem cells where they may actually do some good. But you've got to ask yourself why somebody's taking cells from my body, putting them back in my body, charging me a hole lot of money, and telling me I'm going to work better.

Sean McCormick: Oh yeah.

Michael Fossel: Again, it's not that simple. In fact, sometimes it does. But it's certainly not, just because you call them stem cells doesn't mean suddenly you've cured the disease. You really have to ask yourself, "What have they done to the cells? Where are they? What's the data that shows they work?" And there are probably a lot of people out there who are saying that they work and saying that they're doing these things, and they're not or they're being unsafe.

Having said that, yeah, I think there's an enormous potential for stem cells, and there are a lot of data that suggests that it can do a lot of good.

Sean McCormick: Yeah. How about-

Michael Fossel: It's a buyer beware sort of thing.

Sean McCormick: Well, and yeah, there's a theme here, which is there are no simple answers. Right?

Michael Fossel: That's pretty much it.

Sean McCormick: There is no magic wand. We can't speak in absolutes. What about for gene therapy?

Michael Fossel: Ll, we know that gene therapy, again, can do a lot of good. I mean, the classic case is spinal muscular atrophy. We just went through the phase two trials. And as you probably know, the New England Journal of Medicine had an article on the beautiful trial published last November, a couple of months ago. The company that did that, Avexus, just got bought by Novartis within the last week for $8.7 billion. Well, I'll be darned.

Now, that's different from saying it works, and the data shows it works. But if somebody's willing to fork out that much money for a company, that's pretty impressive. It tells you something's going on someplace. And in fact, again, the data suggests what's going on is that it works, you can actually cure some diseases.

I think what we're seeing is finally, after 20 years of intermittent gene therapy trials, we're finally seeing some very successful trials that are very impressive. In short, you can take a genetic disease in some children and cure it. Cure it, not just maybe make these people live ... No, cure it! So yeah, it's vert impressive.

Now, what we're talking about is a gene therapy too, although it's a very different kind of gene therapy 'cause we're not putting in a gene you don't have or substituting a gene and changing genes. We're just using it to reset gene expression, which is an odd case. Example, if I've got a kid with spinal muscular atrophy, what you want to do is give them a new gene. And you'd like that gene to stick around for decades and decades, not simply a couple of weeks or months.

We have a very different approach. We are perfectly happy if it gets expressed for a couple of weeks or months and then goes away totally, 'cause we're not trying to keep it in permanently. We're just trying to reset the clock. So it's still a different kind of gene therapy.

I did an editorial on this a couple of months ago. I pointed out there are about five different kinds of gene therapy depending on what you're trying to do. There are lots of kinds of gene therapy. Here is an example. There are some gene therapies now being used to treat what are called bacteria phages that actually attack bacteria. They're viruses that attack bacteria. The idea is to use gene therapy to actually build bacterial phages that cure bacterial OMAs. Rather than being given an antibiotic, you'd be given a bacterial phage, one that was tailored to your particular bacteria. So whether it's this, that, or another problem, they just change the gene and go after it. Great idea. Now, this doesn't mean it's gotten in the clinic yet, but it's an intriguing idea, and one of these multiple different kinds of gene therapy.

Sean McCormick: Huh. So what are the five?

Michael Fossel: I'm darned if I can remember them! No, one of them is that you want to go in and you want to actually put a new gene in, for example, sinal muscular atrophy. Another one is where you're actually rewriting the gene you've got. So you're using CRISPR technology to take the gene you've got and not replace it, just rewrite it. Another would be the bacteria phage example. Another one would be what we're talking about, using telomerase. And I can't remember what my fifth one was, but there are four right off the bat. They're all a little bit different in what they do or how they work, what are the side effects, what are their potential benefit, a little different, but they're all gene therapies.

Sean McCormick: Yeah. What drew you into this line of work? I mean, from your heart, you know?

Michael Fossel: It's kinda simple. What really drew me in was ... All right, years ago, it was probably 40 years ago, I was working with development of the nervous system. It very much impressed me. But I noticed that when I talked to professors, graduate students, medical students about the other end of life, about the nervous system not being built, but coming apart, people would shrug and say, "What do you expect? People get old. It falls apart." And I thought, "That's an awfully blasé attitude." I gotta say, it sort of, well it pisses me off when people sort of shrug and think it's something simple. That usually means they're not thinking very carefully.

So I began to wonder what was really going on with aging. And the more I got into it, the more I realized it was much more complex than I thought it was, much more complex than most people think it was.

The other thing that hit me was that there was sort of a blind man and the elephant phenomenon. There were an awful lot of people around who were focused, for example on free radicals, on mitochondria, or what are called age molecules, or a number of things they were focused on. But they were talking about different parts of the elephant. It wasn't that the people were wrong, but they thought that it all revolved around their particular part of the elephant. One person was looking at the tail, one at the ear, one at the trunk, and they were all making these different claims, but they were ignoring the rest of the elephant.

And for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how you put the elephant together. Until about 1990, 1991, when the first really good evidence came out about the role of telomeres and aging cells. Finally, I began to see how you could take all these disparate parts, the mitochondria, the DNA repair, the interactive oxygen species, the lipid cells, all of these things and put it together in one homogenous piece, and it fit, and the data supported it, as I say, at the turn of the century. Now, we can actually do it with animals. So that's what happened to me.

Sean McCormick: Was there a moment, do you remember the moment where you're like, "Oh my gosh, this is what I really want to devote myself to?

Michael Fossel: That's what I wanted to do in graduate school, but I couldn't figure out where you go. Every single thing I looked at seemed to be sort of a dead end that, as I say, no way to put the elephant together. For me, that big point where I went, "Oh my god, I see what's going on here," happened at a conference in Tahoe back in about 1992 or so when I first saw this remarkable data on telomeres because there were three things that happened. One is, I realized where you could put the elephant together. It all began to click and come together. Two, the data was superb. Things lined up. It wasn't sort of like a bunch of scattered points on a chart, people made claims about. No, no. You can look at it and see it; it just worked.

The third thing was that the guy who first was talking about this was a remarkably careful fellow, which I respect. He's the kind of guy that, you know, right now, Sean, you're wearing what looks like a black shirt. If somebody says to me, "What color is Sean's shirt," I would say it's black. He would have said, "I don't know, the side facing me is black. I can't tell about the back." You know? Very careful guy.

Sean McCormick: Yeah.

Michael Fossel: I liked that, yeah. So when he put the data up, he didn't say, "This shows so and so," he said, "Here's the data." Yeah, that's good, I like this. A lot of respect for that approach.

Sean McCormick: And you continue with that as well, right? It sounds like that's how you approach your research still.

Michael Fossel: Well, yes it is. If somebody says to me do I think we can cure Alzheimer's, I say, "Yeah, I think we can." But if somebody says, "Can you," the answer is let's see the data. We'll wait and see. We intend to, when we have the data, tell people the data, and not make grandiose claims about what we have done. We'll say, "Here's what the data shows. Look at that. Do what you guys think."

So yeah, if you ask me personally what I think, I think we can cure Alzheimer's.if you're asking me can we, the answer is wait till we get the data, you'll see it.

Sean McCormick: Right. How do you think about your own longevity? And do you have you and your brewer's yeast, and your seat belt when you drive, do you have a goal for yourself and your family?

Michael Fossel: A goal in what way, Sean? You mean just to stay healthy?

Sean McCormick: Yeah, I mean are you expecting ... 'cause I have goals for my wife and my kids and myself too. It's good to have goals, don't you think? Do you have a sense of what sort of lifestyle and physical health you will have into your 120s, 140s, 150s?

Michael Fossel: No, I take it day by day. But I will say this, I had a great grandfather who died at age 97. He was dating a younger woman, she was only 89. They say he was robbing the cradle. After a heavy day ... His wife had died of tuberculosis, so he was dating this younger woman. On the way home, he was speeding around a corner, an icy corner in his model T while he was trying to light a cigar at the same time, lost control, hit a tree. Yeah, that's a pretty good way to do it. You gotta go, that's all right, on a date, lighting a cigar, and speeding, you know? Apparently his younger girlfriend regretted the loss of the Model T.

Sean McCormick: Yeah, the one day, to take it one day at a time, that really is the way to go. I think that our listeners understand that. If eating [inaudible 00:47:14] gives them more energy and gives them better brain clarity, then they're going to do it, and they're going to develop a daily practice around it, you know?

Michael Fossel: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sean McCormick: And in that same way, if there's other supplements and infrared sauna use that we can do to take it day by day, then we should. How do you see ... I know that you're a daily meditator. Do you believe that that's going to keep your brain young, and smart, and sharp?

Michael Fossel: I don't know. And I mean that in a very honest way. I'll tell you, there are probably things out there that we can all do that make us healthier, and there are probably some things out there that actually are dangerous for us that we think would make us healthier. And there are a lot of things that don't make any difference at all. We all think we know the dividing lines between those things, and I think we don't.

Again, looking back historically, if I go back to about the 50s, everybody said you gotta give up butter and take margarine. Now we say the opposite. Back then you'd say, "Eggs are bad for you," and now we'd say, "No, they're not." My guess is that almost everything you can think of that you think is bad for you or good for you, all you gotta do is wait about 40 years, and somebody will tell you the opposite. Well, I don't really mean that, quite, but what I do mean is you have to be a little careful and not be quite so snotty about things.

Just because I'm absolutely convinced that A is good for you doesn't mean I'm right. Or absolutely convinced that B will kill you, doesn't mean I'm right. I may be right. There may even be data in favor of it, but you know, I've just seen too many things where we were so sure of ourselves, and then you wait 40 years and you find out everybody's convinced the opposite.

I even think about this sometimes in terms of politics. And again, I don't want to get into politics at all, but I do recognize that if we look back a generation, the things that people thought were good, we're horrified by now. And my guess is that a lot of the things that we feel are appropriate now politically or culturally, we'll look back and be horrified for.

Yeah, it's not that we shouldn't have ideas about what's right and wrong, I don't mean that. I just get a little nervous when we're darn sure of ourselves because, you know, wait 50 years, wait 100 years, look back, and you'll be embarrassed by something I did. I just know I did. The same thing is true in regard to healthy things. I'm pretty sure I know what's good for you, healthy. But I also recognize that I make mistakes, and so maybe. I'm just waiting for 50 years from now when I can tell everybody to take up cigarette smoking 'cause it's good for you, you know? No. But you see what I mean. I'm absolutely convinced that cigarettes are bad for you, and I think that's true, but, but, but, but ...

Here's an example, Sean. If I look back over the past 20 or 30 years at the data for coffee, I see one year where they say it's bad for you, the next year they say it's good for you. I've seen this data for strokes, for Parkinson's Disease, for blood pressure. And you know? I'm not so sure anymore. I'm just not sure. It doesn't mean I don't have opinions, I'm just not quite so enamored of my own opinions anymore.

Sean McCormick: I like that. Drink water, eat food. What's the ... I forget the author's name that came up with the dietary-

Michael Fossel: Eat Pray Love?

Sean McCormick: No-

Michael Fossel: Carry water and chop wood, the old Buddhist things.

Sean McCormick: No, it was ... I forget the researchers name, but mass longitudinal, long term studies about diet and food, and the dietary prescription for longevity and happy life is eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables.

Michael Fossel: Yes, right. And don't eat anything your grandmother couldn't pronounce, and eat things from around the outside of the grocery store, not the central aisles. Got it.

Sean McCormick: Drink water, manage your stress levels, and you'll probably live longer. You might not, but you probably will.

Michael Fossel: Probably. But still, you know, you never know. 50 years from now, people look ... Actually, I was going to say 50 years from now people look back and tell you the vegetarian diet is bad, you should eat more meat, particularly you should grill it. It's not that I believe that, but if you look back during the Civil War, they actually forbade the doctors from giving vegetables and vegetable juices to the healing patients. They wanted nothing but meat broth. Well, now we look at that a different way. So who's right? I know what I think, but again, I'm not so much proud of my own certainties anymore. Just wait 50 years, and see what changes.

Sean McCormick: Right. Read the data, and then wait 50 years, and then read the data again, and read some other data.

Michael Fossel: Yeah, we used to have new docs who had just been hired, they're just getting out of medical school and they come in and say, "This article last week was published proves so and so, so we should do this." My partner and I would look at him and say, "Yeah, but two years ago, they proved the opposite. Three years before that, they proved what you just said. Five years before that, they proved the opposite. So maybe it's true, maybe it's not." And I don't mean we shouldn't look at the data, I just mean sometimes the data lies, sometimes the data is not as clear as you thought it was, sometimes you're wrong. Get used to it.

Sean McCormick: Yeah! It's my own personal sort of interest, and I don't have opportunities to talk to people like you that often, once a week, but you know, what do you read? Are you interested in cannabis? Do you know much about the properties of cannabis? Are you a cannabis user? Would you cop to it if you were? What's your take on it?

Michael Fossel: I wouldn't cop to is if I was.

Sean McCormick: Good.

Michael Fossel: But I do know a great deal about it, both in terms ... Well, leave it at that. It's something, obviously, it; been an interest of mine since back in the late 60s when I started going to college. Yeah, interesting thing.

Sean McCormick: Yeah, fair enough. I think that we, just again on my soapbox for a second because I'm looking at these antiaging medicines, and it was a link from a link, from a link, and there's how many, hundreds, like I read before, from licorice and GCSF, garlic crushed, and ginkgo biloba, and I didn't see cannabis on here. I was so confused, like, I think we're going to look back in 10 years, especially in terms of longevity, especially in terms of just sort of general health and cancer fighting properties of cannabinols. I didn't see it on here, and I was like, "Well, I'm just going to ask him about it." I figured I would. If you could give us just any more information on your personal thoughts, I'd be super interested.

Michael Fossel: Well, my personal thoughts are I don't know and I doubt it. But let me put it this way. There are a number of documented risks, and that doesn't mean they're right, I just mean there are papers out on this. Not only, obviously if you smoke it, you can cause some danger to your lungs, your pharynx, stuff like that. And there are questions about long term memory problems, there are questions about immune function. On the other hand, I think most people are aware it tends to make most people a lot calmer, probably brings their blood pressure down.

One thing I will say about it, again sort of from a professional standpoint is, humorously but it's true, I've seen an awful lot of people in my medical practice when I was doing ER work for 25 years who came in who were violent, people who threatened me on PCP, on alcohol. There are nice alcoholics, but mostly they stay home. I only saw the unpleasant ones. So okay, I never, never saw somebody who had been smoking dope who threatened me. They may not remember their name, they may not remember their birthdate, but they were awfully nice people. So respective of violence, saying nothing of the ability to drive a car or navigate your way down a mountainside, but restrictive perspective of violence, I gotta say marijuana is, in some sense, an awfully nice drug compared to PCP, alcohol, cocaine, and a dozen other things I can think of right off the bat.

But that's in sort of an odd perspective. I just like it when people don't threaten to kill you.

Sean McCormick: That's a good thing in my book too. Yeah, we agree on that. Well, we kind of take this thing home, I know you're a busy guy and I don't want to take too much more of your time, what should people be on the lookout for? Obviously, if you could please give us your vitals, and we'll obviously link to it on NaturalStacks.com, show notes and so forth. But where can people find you? And what should people really be looking out for? What's really interesting that people should be taking note of?

Michael Fossel: Well, I think that all of medical care is about to change. If we're right about what we're about to do, we're about to be able to essentially wipe out many age-related diseases, and in so doing, lower the global cost of medical care probably by 90% or more. That's an extraordinary, extraordinary idea. Almost all the medical advances you can think of raise medical costs. We're looking at lowering them. And as I say, treating diseases we've never effectively been able to treat in the past.

If people want to know more about that, one, I'd recommend my latest book that's called The Telomerase Revolution. That's out in about seven languages and 10 global editions, and it's in paperback and probably Kindle. Yeah, I guess there's a Kindle edition too. So you can read that, The Telomerase Revolution, to give you an idea of what's going on. You can also follow my blog or my website, that's MichaelFossel.com, I think it is. You can take a look at that.

Leave it at that. We're going to see if we can take this through to FDA trials, but let's see what happens.

Sean McCormick: We'll be watching eagerly and cheering you on. Thank you so much for the work that you continue to do. I really have enjoyed reading your book. It's such a wealth of information, there's so much into it, and the way that you write, there's a sense of humor, there's a sense of realism that's really refreshing when it comes to medical books and stuff like that. So I really appreciate you. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Michael Fossel: My pleasure, Sean. Keep this up, and let's get together again in 100 years! Thanks Sean.

Sean McCormick: For additional insights and practical lessons based on this show, go to NaturalStacks.com. The Optimum Performance podcast is a Natural Stacks original. Our executive producers are Dennis Buckley and myself, Sean McCormick. Our producer is Christian Randall. OPP intro music by Odyssey. Additional music provided by That New Jam, a Randy McRandell production.


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