We don’t know exactly what these supplements are doing. None have been through rigorous clinical trials. “You don’t know how they are interacting with each other … I’m worried that we don’t know what they are doing.” says Barzilai.
Evelyne Bischof of the Shanghai University of Medicine, who was also at the meeting, shares some of the same concerns. Bischof is trained as a medical doctor; after specializing in oncology and internal medicine, she turned her attention to longevity medicine. Today, she offers personalized treatments that she hopes will extend the health span of her patients in the US and China.
She has treated people who have become ill after taking longevity supplements. “They came to me almost in kidney failure in their 30s, because they jumped on a very high dose of supplements and it was just not good for them,” she says. people found that their biological age—according to the clocks—went up after taking supplements. “Even though these are supplements, they might cause harm,” Bischof says. “It’s not advisable to [take supplements] as a self-experiment.”
Even if a supplement does make a person feel better, those effects might vary over time, Bischof adds. Our bodies might react differently depending on whether it’s day or night, summer or winter, or even as we age.
That being said, Bischof herself is self-experimenting with potential longevity treatments. “It made sense for me,” she says. So is Barzilai. He says he is doing so “as a scientist”—he’ll have blood tests taken before and after trying anything new, he says. “I want to maximize my health, so I’m experimenting with some things that I don’t care to talk about,” he says. “And by the way, I’m doing it with a doctor.”
The longevity doctor will see you now
Bischof is one of a small but unknown number of physicians specializing in longevity medicine. Her patients range in age. She says she sees fit people in their 40s who are looking to “optimize their performance”—be that physical or cognitive performance—as well as older individuals who have more health concerns. Bischof performs a host of tests on her patients, and says she takes a detailed look at their health records, blood results, physiological test scores, body scans, and even genetic tests to get an idea of their overall health.
She also relies on the use of biological clocks—tests that measure a biological trait and use it to estimate a person’s biological age, or how close they are to death, rather than their chronological age. Bischof then attempts to make sense of all of the data and turn it into some kind of recommendation for each patient, which might include lifestyle changes, supplements, or medication.
It isn’t a case of typing all the data into some computer program that spits out a result, says Bischof. “There is no proper algorithm yet that will tell me … what to do with the patient,” she says. “It’s still something that is happening in my head.”