Iss Dich Jung | Frank Madeo | TEDxGraz
Translator: Sascha Haiss
Reviewer: Nadine Hennig
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
Let me start right away
with a heretical question.
Why should you study gerontology at all?
I think anyone funded by the taxpayer
should ask themselves
if they can possibly give anything
back in return to society at some point.
The answer is quite clear.
We now know
that the lifespan to be expected
at time of birth
is only about 25%
attributable to genetics,
which means there must be some kind of
environmental influences, dietary factors,
that have influence on the ageing process.
Why do we still know so little?
Why are we bombarded
with confusing messages
from those in the field of nutrition
that partially contradict each other?
Something everyone will remember:
15 years ago, it seemed the culprit
had been found, namely fat.
People thought that if fat
were eliminated from our diet,
we’d all become slim
and grow old in good health,
which led to the appearance
in American supermarkets
of ridiculous, mile-long shelves,
loaded up with various low-fat products,
which did nothing to change the fact
that Americans became
more obese year by year.
Then they said: ‘Ah no,
fat’s not the issue!
Which then led to strays into the likes
of the paleo diet, the low-carb diet,
the Atkins diet and so forth.
There’s always some new dietary fad
being announced with undue fanfare.
Where do these ideas originate?
They come about, I believe,
at least partially,
in that we allow
questionable journalistic formulations
to inflate singular anecdotal cases
to the level of scientific knowledge.
Here’s a typical example
for a single-case anecdote.
You all know this man.
In 1968, a widely read newspaper
published a new feature:
The top 10 most prominent death
candidates for the coming year.
Keith Richards was nominated
for first place for seven years,
then the newspaper
hit the end of the road.
Or this lady here, Jean Calmet.
The oldest human known
to have ever lived on Earth.
[She was] 122 years old.
I know, there are people around
claiming to be 600,
but can’t find their birth certificate
just at the moment.
Jean Calmet actually did turn 122,
and she stopped smoking at 117.
But she started again at 118.
Only to finally follow
the path of virtue at 120
and stop smoking for good.
She then died at 122.
What does this tell us?
Not that cigarettes are healthy,
rather it tells us
that ageing is very complicated,
and we need clear, meaningful statistics.
We need simple, experimental systems,
and we need to ask simple questions.
A very simple question
and a very simple fact
that is maintained in various countries:
Women grow older than men.
What’s the reason for this?
We now know.
It’s due to testosterone,
the sex hormone,
that is produced in the male epididymides.
There is a very simple evidence for this:
Castrated men grow just as old as women.
Now, everyone can decide for themselves –
whether that’s a viable path
Austria is a free country.
Don’t worry, there’s better advice coming.
Generally, we should be careful
not to confuse correlation with causality.
Sounds complicated, but can be illustrated
with normal questioning techniques.
Someone visits a 100-year-old
grandmother and asks,
‘What have you done differently
or eaten for you to have grown so old?’
Ah, this grandmother has smoked
ten cigarettes a day.
That must be the secret to her old age.
Perhaps the ten cigarettes
did not harm her,
or perhaps they did harm her,
and the grandmother may have
lived longer without the 10 cigarettes.
Even cold, hard statistics
are not always meaningful.
There is, for example,
strong statistical evidence
showing that people
who go on pottery courses in Tuscany
grow older than people who don’t.
It’s reproducible. Indisputable.
Is it to do with the Tuscan clay?
No, it’s because the people
have enough money in their pockets
to take care of themselves at their age
with their age-related diseases.
If, however, I put an additive
into the food of one group of lab animals,
and this group then lives 20% longer
than a control group
that didn’t receive this additive
but was otherwise treated
exactly the same,
then I have probably found
a causal factor in their diet.
And such experiments
have indeed been done.
I must tell you that the ageing
study community is very divided.
But where I agree with my opponents
is that regular fasting
prolongs your life –
and that works for
the most diverse organisms.
Take, for example, bacteria.
Here you see a graph
showing the lifespan of bacteria.
When they fast, shown here
by the dotted line,
then they live significantly longer.
The same applies
to yeast, worms, flies, mice
and just recently, two years ago,
it was shown in the US
that it even applies to apes.
The issue here is not about being slim.
It also holds for lovers
of rich cuisines.
This is a different experiment
that was done in the United States.
What was done here?
One group of mice was fed
with a high-fat diet,
a kind of McDonald’s diet,
whereby they got so many pieces
of cheese day and night,
that, who might wonder,
the mice became fat, sick,
and had severe fatty liver
and bad liver values.
A second group of mice
was fed the same amount of cheese,
except this group had intermediate breaks.
They were not allowed
to eat anything during the day,
but double the amount at night.
These mice were slim, healthy
and didn’t have fatty liver.
Even though both groups of mice
consumed the same number of calories,
both ate the same amounts,
one is sick and the other healthy.
What’s actually happening there?
A process called cellular self-cleaning,
or autophagy, is switched on.
Whenever you cease to supply food
to organisms or cells,
then the organism begins to break down
unnecessary components in the cell,
or damaged components,
in order to regain energy from them.
And that makes sense.
It looks like this:
You can see how garbage sacks
regularly form in the cell,
mainly surrounding scrap
that accumulates with age,
which then assimilates
with the [cell] ‘stomach’.
These components are chopped
into small pieces
and are ready to be used
as energy by the cell again.
By doing so, damage that accumulates
with age is kept within limits.
It’s just the molecular equivalent
of catharsis, or purification of the soul,
of which fasting people often report.
So, to bring this all together,
regular fasting prolongs life
in the most diverse organisms,
and it can probably be assumed
that this works for humans as well.
From this we learn that you shouldn’t,
as recommended in dietary magazines,
fight every little feeling of hunger
with about 20 small portions a day.
No, when you’re hungry,
you should tell yourself:
‘Maybe the autophagy
has just been started.’
Greet hunger like a friend.
This also makes
evolutionary biological sense.
What did humans do
for 99.99% of human history
when they were hungry?
Exactly, they went hunting.
We regularly go hunting
in the fridge when we’re hungry,
and that for sure goes against biology.
Now, we know, of course,
it’s already to be found in the Bible,
in Matthew, chapter 26, verse 41:
‘The spirit is willing,
but the flesh is weak.’
Paradise looks entirely different to us.
Here already shown by Jan Brueghel
in a depiction of a medieval paradise:
The three guys here are doing well,
they eat all day,
let themselves be served.
That is, you might say,
what’s wished for in the imagination.
With that in mind we began
searching for substances
that switch on the molecular
response to fasting,
even though the organism is eating.
This could be of interest to people
whose willpower is not strong enough
for an occasional fasting break.
And it could possibly save us from one
of the hardest crossroads of life.
The question is this: Can we switch on
the fasting response, the autophagy,
the cellular self-digestion,
even when we are eating?
We have examined many hundreds,
close to 1000, substances,
We have in fact found one,
which is called spermidine.
Spermidine is a substance that occurs
naturally in any organism,
but also decreases as the organism ages.
It is found most abundantly in the skin.
People in their thirties
already have significantly less
spermidine in their skin
If we now add spermidine to human cells,
you see the following:
This is a human cell,
the cell body, the cell nucleus.
We add spermidine to it,
and we see many thousands of these tiny
garbage sacks developing in the cell,
which clean up the scraps
that accumulate with old age.
Fasting cells would look
exactly like this.
And this works in
the most varied organisms.
Here, for example, shown
on part of a fly’s muscle.
So, we’ve found a substance,
that switches on the molecular
fasting response, the autophagy.
Does it mean that organisms
with it live longer?
The answer once again is yes.
You see here a typical
survival curve of a fly population.
These are simple drosophila, fruit flies.
They all die within 80,
about half are dead within 40 days.
Whenever we add spermidine
to the drinking water, here in colour,
the insects grow older and survive better.
We also know that human cells
that we have taken from donors ex vivo
survive about three times as long
in culture if we introduce spermidine.
Latest studies also suggest
that spermidine even prolongs
the lives of whole mice.
And it’s not only life expectancy
but also disease-free life expectancy,
as these mice are significantly
Of course, now you will want to know,
where spermidine is found?
As the name suggests,
it was discovered in sperm.
It appears there in high concentration.
But I can console you,
there’s a lot of spermidine
also in wheatgerm, fresh green pepper,
and a product made
from fermented soybeans,
which enjoys high regard in Japan,
the so-called ‘Natto’.
We then asked ourselves,
if spermidine helps
against ageing processes
by cleaning up the scraps,
does it then possibly also help
You must know that the common denominator
of all neurodegenerative diseases
is that protein junk accumulates
in the brain in old age.
We’ve indeed done
experiments in relation to this.
You would be surprised.
We did these on fruit flies.
Fruit flies also become forgetful
when they grow old.
They have more protein junk
in their brains when they grow old,
and the molecular mechanisms
responsible for memory
are very similar to humans.
Now you may well be asking yourselves:
‘How the hell did this guy
measure the memory of fruit flies?’
This is the experiment
that we did together with Stefan Sigrist
of the University of Berlin.
You take 100 fruit flies
and trap them here,
give them a scent they love:
and let them indulge themselves
in this plum scent.
Then you take the same flies,
let them advance into the next chamber
and give them another scent
they love, cherry.
We let them savour the cherry scent
while we give them a sugar treat.
Classic reward experiment.
Then take the same flies
and put them in here.
Then they take the lift down,
you see it here.
When they arrive at the bottom
you expose them
to the plum scent from one side
and to cherry scent from the other.
Where do they all go?
Obviously towards the cherry scent.
Except for these two, they’re idiots.
Or, let’s say, they have character:
I love my plum, and I won’t be corrupted
by such a disdainful reward.
Okay, that would be a facet of character
that increases with age –
not only in flies.
We found, in fact, that we could return
the memory capacity of the flies
back to their juvenile levels
by feeding them spermidine,
and that the protein accumulations
that had built up in their brains
were broken down again.
This means that spermidine
not only helps against ageing
but also ultimately against
other diseases associated with age.
This is important because we want
to extend disease-free life,
not just life expectancy,
since there’s no sense
in extending life spent in agony.
I don’t want to leave you
before giving you a few practical tips
on how you might stay younger.
Again, occasional fasting.
It’s not about losing weight.
By the way, there is already a group
of 20,000 people in Austria,
who eat one day and not the next.
That is the so-called ’10in2 Community’
under the leadership
of Bernhard Ludwig and Erwin Haas;
and they keep to it quite well,
which means it’s practicable.
Avoid sugar shocks.
It’s not about carbohydrates,
don’t seem to be dangerous at all.
It’s really about sweets.
It’s now established that sugar shocks
are enough to bring about diabetes,
even if you’re slim.
It is also known that sugar
can speed up the growth of tumours.
Here you see a worm
population ageing away.
After 30 days all are dead.
Small doses of glucose are enough
to cause a pro-geriatric effect.
That’s just one example,
it works similarly in all organisms.
Eat fruit and vegetables regularly.
with too many vitamin tablets,
or with vitamin tablets altogether.
It’s known that vitamin A
and vitamin E supplementation
can cause cancer.
That might not apply to Vitamin D.
During winter we might easily
suffer from low vitamin D levels,
since Vitamin D production
requires sunlight acting on the skin.
Exercise at least three times
a week for half an hour.
Cigarettes, despite the initial
cost you, according to epidemiological
studies, 10 to 15 years of your life.
In this online era,
give yourself time to relax occasionally.
The influence of praying
and blood pressure
on life expectancy is established.
Because monks live
almost as long as women.
People who drink alcohol in moderation
live longer than non-drinkers.
Wine drinkers live longer
than beer drinkers,
but beer drinkers still
live longer than non-drinkers.
Only drinkers of spirits
die earlier than non-drinkers.
People suppose it has something
to do with some substances.
No, no, it’s very simple.
If there’s a grease spot
on the window here,
I’d clean it off
with an alcohol-based solution.
Something similar probably
happens in our vascular system.
Fatty deposits, cholesterol-plaques,
could potentially be
dissolved away by alcohol.
That’s why alcohol, especially,
has a cardio-protective effect.
Having a partner or a family
is associated with longevity.
You shouldn’t live near a busy street.
You might be thinking
It’s not about
particulate matter, but noise.
The closer someone lives to a busy street,
the more stress hormones
there are in their blood.
Even if someone says,
‘I’ve got used to it.
I sleep well. The noise
doesn’t affect me.’
That’s not true, he still has more stress
hormones in his blood, which is bad.
Exposure to the sun should be limited
to avoid skin damage.
We now know that garlic
is good for metabolism.
Above all it lowers cholesterol.
We also know that onion and garlic
protect mice against infectious disease.
Incidentally, our grandmothers
already knew that,
when they tormented us with onion broth,
for sure not without good sense.
Several studies show that dark chocolate
can act to protect against dementia.
Just recently, a nice study came out
that showed that half a bar
of dark chocolate a day
can bring the ability to remember
of a 60-year-old
back to the level of a 30-year-old.
It’s thought coffee
may have similar effects.
However, there’s less data
There are studies that show it
to be true, and some that don’t.
It’s clear that coffee
protects against diabetes
thus maintaining your metabolism.
Coffee also is a great help
when fasting, as it triggers autophagy,
as we have been able to show
with Guido Kroemer from Paris.
A great, extensive study,
which involved 100,000 people
being examined over 15 years,
showed that people who eat
a handful of nuts every day are likely
to lower their probability
of death by 20%.
That is a hefty figure
to come from an epidemiological study.
It holds for almonds, Brazil nuts,
pistachios, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts,
pine nuts, walnuts, but not for peanuts,
which, botanically speaking,
are really legumes.
As nuts they are only pretenders,
they’re actually from legume pods.
So it doesn’t hold for peanuts.
The next point is a bit delicate.
Avoid the ingestion
of too much animal protein,
meat and dairy products,
but only if you’re between
45 and 65 years old.
A great new study shows
that if you ingest too much
animal protein between those ages,
you increase your risk of cancer
to as much as if you were a heavy smoker.
It’s not true for the years after that,
when animal protein is good for you,
and it’s not true, of course,
for growing children and teenagers,
who need animal protein,
and not for pregnant women
and those who want to become pregnant.
Avoid food dogmatism in general.
Whatever you do keep yourself trim.
knew this and said:
‘Objection, evasion, joyous distrust,
and love of irony are signs of health;
everything absolute belongs to pathology.’
This is Mr. Salvatore Caruso,
who has kept somewhat to this regime
and has reached 108 years of age.
He’s from my native region,
Calabria, from a neighbouring village.
He’s never got sick
and is doing very well.
He’s not a paradigmatic
isolated case, he’s no anecdote,
as he actually lives at a place
where exceptionally there are
many healthy hundred-year-olds.
He followed the nutritional rules
I gave you today.
Among all the experiments described,
we shouldn’t overlook one important fact.
Namely, that the main problem with ageing
never appears to be
a completely biological problem,
but rather one involving society,
and thus one addressed by psychology.
Old people aren’t left
to do much by themselves,
and that could be one
of the most fatal errors of our culture.
the greatest novel of world literature
one year before his death:
‘The Brothers Karamazov’.
A work which contemporary critics
praised for its youthful freshness.
Thank you for your attention.