Is Aging a Disease?

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Aging is arguably one of the most important unsolved problems of humanity, yet less than 0.1 percent of the federal research budget is spent on understanding the aging process.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

For decades, one of the most contested questions in gerontology has been whether or not aging itself should be considered a disease. But aging is natural, the counterargument goes; so, it can’t be a disease. Yes, but so is getting an infection, and we call that a disease. But aging is universal. Yes, but everybody gets the common cold too.

If you ask people whether they think a variety of conditions should be classified as diseases, you get an odd mix. For example, alcohol dependence is considered a disease, but nicotine dependence is not. Interestingly, the lay public is more likely to view aging as a disease than doctors, despite medicine’s historical penchant to medicalize everything. Who could forget drapetomania, the mental “illness” afflicting slaves who escaped plantations? Masturbation was considered a disease, complete with grizzly surgical solutions. Homosexuality was officially labeled a disease within my lifetime. Yet, medicine is hesitant to label aging an ailment.

What does it matter what we call it? A rose by any other name wilts just as fast. The hope is that disease classification would lead to greater resource allocation for aging research, just as the recent declaration of obesity as a disease did for obesity research. Aging is arguably one of the most important unsolved problems of humanity, yet less than 0.1 percent of the National Institutes of Health budget is spent on understanding the aging process. Even though aging may be the leading cause of disease and death, only four out of 14 general medicine textbooks have a chapter on the subject, and five of 14 didn’t appear to address aging at all. The science of aging appears to have been “relegated to a limbo reserved for impractical projects or eccentric whims not quite worthy of serious scientific … consideration.”

Why doesn’t Big Pharma invest in what would certainly be a blockbuster drug? Why spend the money on research when it can be spent marketing all the unproven anti-aging products they already sell? Many of the leading lines of dietary supplements are owned by drug companies. They’re the ones selling “cosmeceuticals” and “age reverse” skin creams. Drug maker Sanofi even partnered with Coca-Cola to come up with a “beauty drink.” They’re already making money hand over fist preying on the public’s gullibility and desperation for anti-aging products. Why waste valuable marketing money on proving anything actually works?

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

For decades, one of the most contested questions in gerontology has been whether or not aging itself should be considered a disease. But aging is natural, the counterargument goes; so, it can’t be a disease. Yes, but so is getting an infection, and we call that a disease. But aging is universal. Yes, but everybody gets the common cold too.

If you ask people whether they think a variety of conditions should be classified as diseases, you get an odd mix. For example, alcohol dependence is considered a disease, but nicotine dependence is not. Interestingly, the lay public is more likely to view aging as a disease than doctors, despite medicine’s historical penchant to medicalize everything. Who could forget drapetomania, the mental “illness” afflicting slaves who escaped plantations? Masturbation was considered a disease, complete with grizzly surgical solutions. Homosexuality was officially labeled a disease within my lifetime. Yet, medicine is hesitant to label aging an ailment.

What does it matter what we call it? A rose by any other name wilts just as fast. The hope is that disease classification would lead to greater resource allocation for aging research, just as the recent declaration of obesity as a disease did for obesity research. Aging is arguably one of the most important unsolved problems of humanity, yet less than 0.1 percent of the National Institutes of Health budget is spent on understanding the aging process. Even though aging may be the leading cause of disease and death, only four out of 14 general medicine textbooks have a chapter on the subject, and five of 14 didn’t appear to address aging at all. The science of aging appears to have been “relegated to a limbo reserved for impractical projects or eccentric whims not quite worthy of serious scientific … consideration.”

Why doesn’t Big Pharma invest in what would certainly be a blockbuster drug? Why spend the money on research when it can be spent marketing all the unproven anti-aging products they already sell? Many of the leading lines of dietary supplements are owned by drug companies. They’re the ones selling “cosmeceuticals” and “age reverse” skin creams. Drug maker Sanofi even partnered with Coca-Cola to come up with a “beauty drink.” They’re already making money hand over fist preying on the public’s gullibility and desperation for anti-aging products. Why waste valuable marketing money on proving anything actually works?

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Doctor's Note

My new book, How Not to Age, is all about aging, and you can get your copy now from your local public library or wherever books are sold. If you haven’t seen them yet, check out the book trailer and my new presentation. (As always, all proceeds I receive from all of my books are donated to charity.)

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