Death by NeglectDecember 2005
By William Faloon
The people in the photograph on this page all had a common problem. Despite being the most powerful group in the world at the time, they did little to protect their own lives. As a result, they all died.
Before the 1960s, few people even thought about the idea of radically extending the human life span. As medicine evolved, however, people began to realize that the length of their own lives is highly dependent on the rate of scientific progress. Those in the federal government who control the funding of medical research have a great deal of influence over the extent to which scientists are able to challenge aging and death. Regrettably, government leaders have paid scant attention to protecting Americans from the ravages of aging.
The recent failure of a federal agency (FEMA) charged with protecting Americans from the consequences of Hurricane Katrina cost many lives. The failure of the government to provide adequate funding for life extension research over the past decades has had even more catastrophic consequences. It has been a major cause of the suffering and deaths of millions of people.
The annual budget of the National Institutes of Health, which is in charge of most government-funded research, is only $27 billion, a mere 1.09% of all federal outlays.1 The annual budget of the National Institute on Aging, whose mission is to fund research on aging, is only a little over $1 billion, of which only a small fraction actually funds biomedical research designed to combat the aging process.2
The National Institutes of Health conducts in-house research and awards grants to non-governmental scientists who work on projects aimed at the prevention and cure of diseases of aging such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.3 The problem is that our elected leaders and the bureaucrats they appoint fail to understand that the number-one cause of lethal disease is aging itself. The result is woefully inadequate federal funding to combat aging. Such funding would undoubtedly accelerate scientific progress towards the achievement of much longer, healthier lives for us all.
It was not until the 2004 presidential election campaign that our political leaders debated embryonic stem cell research—one of the most promising life extension sciences—and this occurred only because of controversy over the procurement of stem cells from embryos.4-9 Thus far, the result of this debate has been reduced spending by the federal government in this field.10 One result of the breakdown of government funding of embryonic stem cell research has been that the United States has lost its lead in this field to nations such as the United Kingdom, South Korea, and Singapore.11-15
Despite the fact that politicians face the same age-related diseases as the rest of us, they remain, for the most part, oblivious to the prospect of their own mortality.
Lyndon Johnson’s Premature Death
An example of a president who could have used his political power to save his own life was Lyndon Johnson, who died of a heart attack in 1973 at the age of 64.
President Johnson had a long history of heart disease, and was seen popping nitroglycerin pills during speeches to control his angina pain. Doctors knew that President Johnson’s coronary arteries were becoming increasingly occluded, but the medical establishment and the FDA did not believe that diet had any relationship to heart disease.
The FDA went so far as to make it illegal for companies to promote changes in dietary fat consumption as a way of protecting against heart disease. The following is an FDA proclamation from the December 12, 1959 Federal Register (that the FDA reaffirmed on May 18, 1964):
“The role of cholesterol in heart and artery diseases has not been established. A causal relationship between blood cholesterol levels and these diseases has not been proved. The advisability of making extensive changes in the nature of the dietary fat intake of the people of this country has not been demonstrated.16
It is therefore the opinion of the Food and Drug Administration that any claim, direct or implied, in the labeling of fats and oils or other fatty substances offered to the general public that they will prevent, mitigate, or cure diseases of the heart or arteries is false or misleading, and constitutes misbranding within the meaning of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.”17
President Johnson could have put a stop to these destructive FDA decrees that effectively censored what food companies could say on their labels. In a market liberated of politically motivated regulatory restrictions, the scientific truth could have emerged in a way that would have given heart disease patients vital information to alter their diets. Lyndon Johnson probably never even knew that consuming the wrong kind of fat was worsening his condition.
Interestingly, the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush issued a news release in May 2003 advising that Americans should consume more omega-3 fatty acids and less trans fatty acids to protect against cardiovascular disease.18
In today’s world, Lyndon Johnson would have undergone a coronary artery bypass operation or would have had a stent surgically implanted into his narrowed coronary artery. Former President Bill Clinton’s life was saved last year after he underwent emergency bypass surgery. Vice President Dick Cheney is now 64 years old, and has been able to continue working because of stents implanted into his occluded coronary arteries.
Coronary artery surgery was in its infancy when President Johnson needed it most. Had Lyndon Johnson used his vast powers to increase funding of research into the nation’s number-one killer—heart attacks—he could have lived decades longer and saved the lives of millions of American citizens in the process. Had he also greatly increased the funding of anti-aging research, his grandchildren might live hundreds of years longer.
New “Manhattan Project” Urgently Needed
In 1939, the Nazis began developing an atomic bomb. By 1941, the Germans were leading the race and had a heavy-water plant, high-grade uranium compounds, a nearly complete cyclotron, capable scientists and engineers, and the greatest chemical engineering industry in the world.
In June 1942, physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer was appointed to direct the United States’ own top-secret nuclear program, dubbed the “Manhattan Project.” America knew it needed to build an atomic weapon before Germany or it would lose the war.19
By 1945, America was building the first nuclear bombs in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The engineering that went into designing, testing, and building the first nuclear bomb is almost impossible to comprehend, yet the United States accomplished this incredible feat in just three intense years.
Germany’s efforts to build a nuclear bomb failed for a variety of reasons, including internal struggles, a major scientific error, and the devastating effects of total war on German soil. Unlike Americans engaged in the Manhattan Project, the Germans never had a clear mission under continuously unified leadership.
As in Germany in the early 1940s, however, today in America there is no unified government leadership dedicated to radically extending the healthy human life span. The result is half-hearted attempts to fund disease-oriented research, with little coordination and virtually no sense of urgency. America needs truly visionary leadership to mount a national effort to gain biological control over our aging bodies. This leadership should provide unprecedented funding to life extension scientists and encourage the private sector to do the same.
Considering that 6,000 Americans die every day from age-related disorders,20 Life Extension cannot understand why the population does not rise up and demand that a new Manhattan Project be established for the specific purpose of curing aging.
A New Kind of Politician
On the cover of this month’s issue is a photo of Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. Life Extension does not endorse politicians, but what Gov. Huckabee is doing for the health of the citizens of Arkansas is unprecedented and should be emulated and pushed further throughout the United States.21
Citizens of Arkansas have among the lowest life expectancies in the US.22 They suffer epidemic levels of type II diabetes and cardiovascular diseases that are specifically related to poor dietary habits, cigarette smoking, and sedentary lifestyles. Gov. Huckabee was a personal victim of the traditional Arkansas diet, becoming overweight and suffering from diabetes at an early age.
Instead of accepting a disabled, shortened life span, Gov. Huckabee dramatically altered his diet and lifestyle to lose more than 100 pounds and reverse his deteriorating health. He is now at a normal weight, is free of diabetes, and has more energy than ever.
Using his political power, Gov. Huckabee initiated a broad-spectrum prevention program that mandates body mass index measurements for schoolchildren. Parents are sent a health report card and provided with nutritional counseling. Vending machines with sodas and snacks in elementary schools are now prohibited.
Gov. Huckabee’s diabetes intervention program requires Medicaid patients to attend a diabetes education center. The results have been reduced blood sugar and blood pressure levels and a lowered incidence of depression among diabetic patients in Arkansas. Gov. Huckabee has instituted exercise breaks instead of cigarette breaks for state employees. He restricts cigarette smoking within 25 feet of the entrances to state buildings. State and public school health insurance now pay for smoking-cessation programs and nicotine patches for all state employees and Medicaid patients.
The proactive approach Gov. Huckabee is taking to address Arkansas’s most vital problem—the health of its citizens—is discussed in this month’s feature article. While Gov. Huckabee’s actions are admirable, they still do not go far enough. In addition to taking steps to improve the health of Americans, we need major funding to develop anti-aging therapies that will, eventually, enable us all to remain healthy and active for centuries!