Ponce de Leon couldn't find it. Alexander the Great couldn't find it. F. Scott Fitzgerald could only imagine it.
Human beings have been searching for the Fountain of Youth since the beginning of recorded time. Yet to date, despite the booming, multi-billion dollar anti-aging industry's claims, a recent study published in Scientific American flat-out warns consumers, "there is no truth to the fountain of youth."
"Fifty-one scientists who study aging have issued a warning to the public: no anti-aging remedy on the market today has been proved effective."
Resveratrol, a substance found in red wine, might just make these scientists eat their words someday, but the elders among us might not be around to give it a try.
In January, a story on CBS' 60 Minutes called resveratrol "the fountain of youth in a glass of wine". Since then, the media has been buzzing with stories about resveratrol. It's been featured on Dr. Mehmet Oz's TV show, in the New York Times, on CNN, and NBC. You've probably seen ads all over the internet for products claiming resveratrol as the main ingredient, all intended to grab the consumer with promises of slowing down the aging process.
According to researchers at The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State Univeristy, resveratrol has not proven effective in humans due to its rapid metabolism and elimination, giving it low bioavailability in the human body. But the products keep coming to market and billions of dollars will be made.
In case you've been on another planet for the past few months and haven't tuned in to the buzz about it, resveratrol is a substance found in red wine with high concentrations in the skin of the grape that appears to protect the grape from invading bacteria and fungi.
Researchers believe it might also have the potential for extending life in humans by preventing a number of age related diseases, such as damage to blood vessels, lowering "bad" cholesterol and preventing blood clots, all of which are factors in heart disease, a major cause of death among people over 70.
Dr. David Sinclair, a Harvard medical school researcher, spearheaded the research on resveratol. In 2003, while studying the genetic components of aging, Sinclair discovered that resveratrol could mimic the effects of calorie restriction, CR, extending the life span of yeast by 70%.
Later testing showed resveratrol slowed aging in roundworms and fruit flies. Other studies in Italy showed that large doses boosted the life span of short-lived fish by over 50%.
Most research on resveratrol has been conducted on animals, not people. Research on mice has indicated it might help protect them from obesity and diabetes, both strong factors in heart disease. Mouse studies also hinted at resveratrol's ability to induce basic metabolic changes, similar to those of CR.
But here's the kicker: according to Mayo Clinic studies, to get the same dose of resveratrol used in mice studies, a person would have to consume 100 to 1000 bottles of red wine a day! Now you can see why companies are trying to convince consumers to take their product instead. But save your money! No matter how convincing the pitch, the scientific jury is still out on whether or not resveratrol works in humans.
So clearly, that glass of red wine you're having with dinner tonight isn't going to turn back the clock. But Sirtris Pharmauceuticals, a Cambridge, Mass. biotech startup, co-founded by Sinclair and Dr. Christoph Wesphal, is gambling they're on the right track in their research with resveratrol. If you're interested in their theory about how resveratrol works, read more here.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, let's face it. We're all growing older. Until the elusive fountain of youth is discovered, and we can pop a pill to recover our youth, how can we stay young in spirit even as the body grows old?
While there are no magic bullets, scientists and health experts agree there are certain lifestyle choices and behaviors that help keep the body fit and mind clear. Eating a plant-based diet, restricting caloric intake, stoping smoking, daily exercise, yoga, and meditation are a few well known paths to extending health and well-being into old age.
These methods may help prolong a youthful body, but what about a youthful spirit? How do we attend to the being part of human? I'd like to suggest another avenue to accessing the fountain of youth. Eckhardt Tolle wrote a book about it called The Power of Now.
Human beings are not oriented to "Be Here Now," as Ram Dass counseled back in the 60's. If we were, we would discover that life begins anew in every moment. Each breath is a doorway to discovering something new, no matter how many years have piled up on the calendar.
Aside from the physical challenges of aging, the spiritual challenge is to find within ourselves the ability for self-renewal. Or as Dr. Stephen R. Covey calls it in his perennial best selling book, The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, Habit #7, "Balanced self renewal or sharpening the saw." Growing older is not the same thing as growing old. One has to do with chronology. The other has to do with attitude.
Old happens when we stop being curious about life. When we lose our appetite for adventure, and settle for a life that's familiar, we've already started the trek down the backside of the mountain.
Before the economic crisis, people could expect to retire at age 65, and perhaps live out another 20 or 30 years. Today, because of economic necessity, more and more people continue working well beyond the age of retirement. How do we stay inspired and motivated when the body says "slow down" and the bank account says "keep going?"
Maybe the magic button we're looking for is the one that when pressed, responds with a resounding "Yes!" How do we find that "Yes!" button? How do we continuously renew our lease on life and expand our potential for truly being alive all the way to the finish line?
Here are 7 ideas for self-renewal :
1. Consider yourself a student of life- consider that what you already know is like a drop in the ocean compared to what there is yet to learn. What is there for you to learn right where you are, wherever you are? What can you learn about the things you think you already know? When we believe we already know all there is to know about any thing, learning stops and decay begins.
2. Spend time in wonder- Rediscover the beauty of flowers, sunsets, music, art, children, literature. Have you looked at an orchid lately? Or a Bearded Iris? Have you watched how free and spontaneous children are? Have you been to an art museum lately and pondered the great masterpieces? Have you watched the sun set over the ocean or behind the mountains and waited for that last moment of daylight to slip out of view? Have you looked up into the night sky, pondered the stars and considered how small you are, yet you're the center of everything?
3. Let yourself be moved- Allow life to transport and expand you. Let it open you, touch you, move you to tears. Let yourself feel the pain of unmet longing, unshed tears. Go ahead and shed them. Let the tears remind you you're alive. Let them clear away the veil of doubt and cynicism and give a new window from which to experience the wonder of life. Be moved to tears at the magic and mystery of it all. Life is so much bigger and grander than you can possibly imagine.
4. Extend love- Love is who we ARE. It's what we came to give and receive. Holding back on giving love doesn't mean you'll have more to give. Love doesn't work that way. In fact, you'll have less. The more we give, the more we have to give. I have a feeling that love must be one of those magic ingredients in that ever elusive fountain of youth.
5. Focus on contribution- Find a cause and serve it. Find a need and fill it. Find a community organization, a church, join a support group, volunteer at a hospital, help clean up the environment. There are endless ways to serve and endless needs to be served. A life lived focused solely on one's own comfort and convenience is simply too narrow, too small for the life you came to live. You came to live a larger life, to touch other lives besides your own.
6. Learn your unique song and sing it- Here's a miracle: There is no other you and there never will be. Yours is a song that only you can sing. If you don't sing your unique song, if you don't bring your voice to the choir, the universe is missing a voice in the grand chorus of beings. Find your voice, however long it takes. Find the portal to your full self-expression. If your song is best sung in the kitchen cooking, cook your song. If your song is best sung in the garden, garden your song. But whatever the case sing it, cause you're the only one who can.
7. Expect miracles- Life is a continuous mystery unfolding. You have never been who you are this very moment. Step into the mystery, get your feet wet. Miracles are waiting to be discovered. Expect them and you'll find them, sometimes in the most unlikely places. Remember, the Chinese symbol for "crisis" = danger plus opportunity. Look for the opportunity inside crisis and you might just find a miracle.
Here's a brief video from Stephen Covey about celebrating your 80th birthday. Who do you want to be when you're 80? What do you want people to say about you on your 80th birthday?
I'd love to hear your ideas for staying young at heart, for keeping your passion for life alive. When you face challenges, how do you keep going while maintaining your sense of joy and aliveness?
Please share your thoughts and ideas below. I endeavor to reply to as many comments as possible, so check back here if you want to read my reply. And while you're here clicking buttons, select the Become A Fan button to receive automatic updates each week. For personal contact, I can be reached at www.judithrich.com.
Thanks so much for being here!
Dr. Judith Rich is a writer, speaker, corporate consultant, personal and executive coach. She is writing her first book, When The Shift Hits The Fan: How To Thrive In Uncertain Times. Her website and personal blog, Rx For The Soul, can be found at www.judithrich.com.