November 12, 2016

What's the Cause of My Recent Energy Surge? Maybe it's the New "Anti-Aging" Pill.

In my last post, I described my new routine -- trying to do stretches and exercises throughout the day. And on most days, I am also making the half-mile downhill walk I described in an earlier blog post. 

I'm an 87-year-old man who should have been diagnosed with Parkinson's 10 years ago. Most people my age – and most long-term Parkinson's patients – are usually just too tired to get the kind of exercise I’m enjoying these days.

I haven’t always had this kind of energy, either.

Several causes of past extended fatigue come to mind:
  • my “summer from hell” years ago,
  • my shingles attack last spring,
  • Washington’s record-breaking summer heat and humidity.

These past weeks of pleasant fall weather have certainly given me an energy boost, too. It just feels good to be outside.

So… the stretching, the exercises, the walking, and the autumn weather have all contributed to this recent burst of energy and activity. But there’s something else – the new "anti-aging” pill I started taking over a month ago. 

It's very strange for me to tout something like this. I’ve frequently urged others not to fall for the magic pill hype we occasionally hear from TV hucksters like doctors Oz and Mercola.

Yet here I am, promoting a dietary supplement I ordered online without a prescription. Here’s the pillbox description: "a daily health product designed to optimize and support your most critical metabolic systems," including
  • "DNA repair"
  • "cellular detoxification"
  • "energy production" and
  • "protein function." 

The pill is called “Basis,” the only product so far from Elysium, a new company. In “New York" magazine,” journalist Benjamin Wallace calls it "either the most sophisticated fountain-of-youth scam ever to come to market or the first fountain-of-youth pill ever to work."

I've read several articles about Basis and Elysium, and found Wallace's piece the best of the lot. Much of what follows is taken from that article.

If your Facebook feed looks like mine, you've seen ads promoting Basis as “the world's first cellular health product informed by genomics." 

Wallace comments:
​Under normal circumstances, a self-promoting nutraceutical with a dystopian name and the implied gift of life extension would be easily dismissible, akin to Reiki or juicing. Basis, which first became available last year, bypassed the FDA's screening process, and Elysium is effectively using its customers as human test subjects, sometimes reviewing their Fitbit and other health-tracking data to determine if the pill delivers on its promise -- or causes unexpected problems. 
​But what promise! Basis and the other pills that will likely follow in the next five to ten years are the fruits of a scientific backwater that has been working toward this moment for a quarter-century. These drugs and supplements are aimed to be a hack of the heretofore most intractable condition of human existence, the invisible countdown clock with which evolution has equipped our bodies. They just might postpone the onset of the most common afflictions of our dotage, from cancer to heart disease to diabetes to Alzheimer's. We won't necessarily enjoy longer maximum lifespans (though that's a possibility), but we very well might enjoy longer health spans, meaning the vital productive chunk of our lives before degeneration kicks in.​

Elysium's Dream Team
Is Basis just a gussied-up snake oil? My qualms faded when I saw the credentials of the people involved with this new product.

Elysium Health’s co-founder and chief scientist is Leonard Guarente, an MIT biologist and aging science pioneer. Last year, MIT named Guarente's lab the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Science of Aging Research. A Basis believer, the 63-year-old Guarente has been taking the product for two years.

According to its website, Elysium has five Nobel laureates on its advisory board. That team also includes other big names, like Mayo Clinic geroscientist Jim Kirkland and biotech pioneer Lee Hood.

Elysium's Unconventional Route
Guarente is convinced that the aging process can be slowed by tweaking the body's metabolism. But he says it’s nearly impossible to prove -- in any reasonable timeframe -- that drugs that extend animals’ lives can do the same for humans. Such an experiment could take decades.

So Guarente took the unconventional route of packaging the pills – developed after cutting-edge lab research -- as so-called nutraceuticals, which don't require the arduous clinical trials needed for FDA approval. Contemporary drug research by pharmaceutical companies is organized around addressing specific maladies. Since aging is a risk factor rather than a disease, pharmaceutical companies aren’t inclined to invest in the research and development of anti-aging drugs. And foundations tend to reserve their grant money for cancer, Alzheimer's, and the like.

The Background Research
Since the 1930s, scientists have recognized that calorie-restricted diets extend life in mammals. Now geroscience -- the study of aging and age-related diseases -- is experiencing a growth spurt. There’s an accelerating race to develop compounds that might trick our bodies to suppress hunger, reducing caloric intake and thereby extending our lives. This idea is the premise of Basis.

The Wallace article cited above provides a good summary of the research.

Basis and Me
I started by ordering a one-month supply of Basis for $60. The instructions recommend taking two pills every day.

I finished this initial supply over a week ago. Sufficiently pleased with the results, I ordered a six-month supply, which reduced the price to $45 per bottle.

Right from the start, I felt that Basis boosted my energy and stamina. But I know that those of us with Parkinson's are particularly susceptible to the placebo effect. The cool autumn weather is no doubt playing a part in my Renaissance, as are my fairly regular half-mile walks. But I still feel that Basis also is contributing. 

Meanwhile, this past week, I've begun to sense that Basis and my 5-HTP (the serotonin-boosting supplement I've been taking for years) may not be getting along. I'm making an appointment with the psychiatrist who specializes in evaluating medications. I've worked with him before and I will be interested in his take on the meds I'm taking.

I'm also pleased that I have a contact in the Elysis organization to consult with.

So the jury is out. Stay tuned.


JM said...

I look forward to your future comments, John. I've read a lot about Elysium over the past several months and don't know what to make of it. The scientists on the advisory board are indeed impressive, but the science supporting the supplement is lacking. You're right about the outrageous costs of FDA approval. On the other hand, marketing a drug to human subjects as a "neutraceutical" doesn't change the fact that customers amount to unpaid subjects in a haphazard and uncontrolled drug trial. And yet, and yet... "Oh brave new world!" -- Please do keep us posted.

John <3

John Schappi said...

I agree with your reservations, JM. If I were younger or just starting out on the Parkinson's disease downward path, I might wait for more supporting evidence re Basis. But given where I'm at, I figure it's worth giving Ba
sis a try now.

system trader77 said...

I have PD and one of my symptoms has been difficulty sleeping. 5-HTP seems to work admirably to remedy that - too well, really. I am currently experimenting to find the right dosage. What are you experiencing that leads you to believe Basis and 5-HTP do not get along?

John Schappi said...

I've been using 5-HTP for years. Like you, I find it helps with sleep. It also wards off constipation. My problem with it in recent years is that the carbidopa in my carbidopa levodopa ER enhances the bioavailability of 5-HTP similar to what it does with levodopa. This can result in big spikes in my blood pressure.

So as my dosage of carbidopa levodopa has gone up over the years I've had to reduce my 5-HTP. I now take only half of a 50 mg pill at bedtime. I frequently take one fourth of a pill during the day when my frequent blood pressure monitoring shows a drop in the numbers.

Basis also seems to help with sleep. I thought for awhile that taking both Basis and 5-HTP was making me groggy the next day. But that seems to be easing now. I'll keep on with the monitoring of my blood pressure and my sleep patterns.

I still feel thaT Basis is enhancing my energy supply

Anonymous said...

I'm always doing PD research for a friend, and came across your blog. I found this post on Basis, something I started taking about 10 days ago. Glad to hear you've had good results. I don't sense anything different yet, but even if it's a placebo, I'll take that! I'm 77, don't have PD, but the usual aches and pains of aging. I did quite a bit of research before choosing Basis and really liked the expertise of the Board.