By Marika Sboros
The title is one of Queen’s greatest hits: Who wants to live forever. It’s the annual conference of the Icelandic Health Symposium (IHS) in Reykjavik in September 2017. It brings together global experts in health and longevity.
They will reveal what science says about lifestyle for health and lifespan. They will gives talks on how your genes control your fate. And they will show how your species can achieve longevity in a way that harmonises with nature.
That’s the path to a long, sustainable future for both humans and the planet. And what better place to learn about that than Iceland? It is, says Icelandic cardiologist Dr Axel Sigurdsson, home to some of the planet’s strongest, healthiest humans.
Sigurdsson was a speaker at the IHS Foodloose conference in Reykjavik in 2016. It focused on low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) lifestyles. (Click here to access all the Foodloose presentations). It was a huge success. Expect no less from this year’s event.
Sigurdsson explains the reference to Queen’s hit song. Who Wants to Live Forever was used for the scenes in the film, Highlander. In it, Connor MacLeod endures his beloved wife, Heather, ageing and dying. He, as an immortal, remains forever young.
“The scenes are both tragic and beautiful,” says Sigurdsson in a post on his Doc’s Opinion blog.
“The passionate performance by Queen makes them a classic,” he says. “You feel strong sympathy for both Connor and Heather. He who has to continue living and say goodbye to the woman he loves; she who must bid farewell to life because old age and disease can’t be forever avoided.”
The lyrics of the famous Queen song fits in well: There’s no chance for us. It’s all decided for us. This world has only one sweet moment set aside for us
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The IHS approach is not that pessimistic, Sigurdsson says. It also does not target longevity only. It highlights the importance of being fit and healthy throughout life. Click here to register for the Who Wants To Live Forever conference on September 8, 2017
One of modern society’s greatest achievements is the dramatic rise in the average global life expectancy, he says.
“A baby born in the early 1900’s could not expect to live much beyond 50. However, people in many countries now live well into their 80s and 90s.
“Consequently, we have seen a major shift in the leading causes of death. There has been a corresponding increase in chronic diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
“However, most of us don’t only want to have a long lifespan. We want to be fit and healthy throughout the course of our lives.”
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As we move into this unprecedented era of human history, questions arise, he says. How far can we extend the human healthspan? What are the most effective ways to achieve longevity?
A focus of the IHS conference is on beating non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Infectious agents don’t cause these diseases. Therefore, you can’t “catch” them from others, says Sigurdsson. NCDs include cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases such as coronary artery disease and stroke. They also include chronic respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.
To a large extent, behaviour determines the risk of all these diseases, Sigurdsson says. That’s why doctors call NCDs “lifestyle diseases”. Factors that raise the risk include smoking, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and the harmful use of alcohol.
Progress in prevention and treatment of infectious disorders has also made NCDs the most common cause of death and disability worldwide. Estimates are that NCDs kill 40 million people each year. That is the equivalent to 70% of all deaths globally, he says.
On the panel of speakers is Dr Dominic D’Agostino. He is associate professor in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine. D’Agostino is also a visiting senior research scientist at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC).
His laboratory develops and tests metabolic-based strategies for among others, neurodegenerative diseases, brain cancer and metastatic cancer.
A focus of his research over the last decade has been the ketogenic diet and ketone metabolite supplementation. He has been investigating the anticonvulsant and neuroprotective mechanisms of these diets and supplements.
He has increased understanding of how brain metabolism shifts from glucose to ketones. Among the effects is to reduce neuronal ‘hyperexcitability’, oxidative stress and enhance brain metabolism.
Another speaker is Dr Satchidananda Panda, a professor at the Salk Institute in the US. Panda has authored nearly 100 scientific and popular articles on circadian rhythm in health and disease.
His discoveries are among Science magazine’s top 10 breakthroughs of the year. The book, Brain Trust, rates Panda as one of the world’s top 50 influential scientists.
His research has shown the impact of daily light exposure pattern and eating-fasting cycle on prevention and prognosis of diseases of ageing.
Also on the panel is Dr Rangan Chatterjee, the star of the new BBC One series, Doctor in The House. Chatterjee specialised in internal medicine and is a member of the Royal College of Physicians.
However, he did not want to spend his whole career seeing problems in one specialty. To him, the whole body is connected. Thus, it was a natural decision to move to general practice.
He realised that training was lacking in treatment for common problems patients experience. Among these are headaches, joint pain, gut problems, indigestion, weight gain, stress, diabetes and skin problems.
Chatterjee immersed himself in nutritional science. As a result, he came across new research that doctors were not using in conventional medical care. In his opinion, doctors are practicing medicine for acute care. Therefore, It is not as relevant for the new epidemic of chronic lifestyle-driven conditions.
Since then, Chatterjee has studied movement science, stress reduction, ancestral health and functional medicine. He has also completed a BSc Honours Degree in immunology. This is invaluable in navigating the new field of mucosal health and the gut microbiome.
Conference host is British physician Dr Tommy Wood, a speaker at last year’s conference. Before studying medicne at Oxford University, he completed degrees in natural science and biochemistry from Cambridge University. He is currently working towards PhD in neonatal brain metabolism at the University of Oslo in Norway.
Wood is also an experienced rowing and strength coach. He has written and lectured on the benefits of optimal movement for both health and performance.