November 15

What doesn’t kill you makes you live longer



minute Read 

Greenland sharks - live longer

Greenland sharks - 400+ years

Is it possible to live longer?

Yes, it is possible! There are elements in the environment that help you have longer lifespans. You’d think that having lots of food, warmth, and plentiful oxygen levels would help animals enjoy longer lives.

The truth is that the opposite holds: having food scarcity, cold environmental conditions, and hypoxic conditions gives animals longer lifespans. In today’s topic I want to demonstrate this cold fact for you: what doesn’t kill you not only makes you stronger, it makes you live longer.

Turtles and Quahog clams live longer

Some of you may know a turtle can stay weeks underwater under the ice without oxygen. It lives on its glycogen stores. When you break down glycogen into glucose and then into energy without oxygen, (aka anaerobic respiration). This system produces lactic acid, just like the lactic acid that develops in your muscles during a workout.

How does the turtle survive with a lot of lactic acid building up over weeks? It can’t be good for it, right? It has a perfect hiding place for all that lactic acid. It shuttles all the excess of lactic acid into its huge shell. 

Here’s another animal does OK even without oxygen; Our New England quahog clams burrow in the sand to escape predators. The clams can live up to 50 days without oxygen.

I mentioned food. How about living with less food or no food!!

An octopus mother can stay brooding her eggs for almost 4 1/2 years, without eating anything. A cave salamander  called a Proteus can live up to 10 years without eating. We can’t live 1 day without eating! Interestingly, many of those animal species live very long lives. 

Yes, what doesn’t kill you makes you live longer! A Proteus salamander can live up to 100 years. Some turtles can live 200 years. And Quahog clams have been found that are 500 years old. One famous quahog clam was found in 2006 off the coast of Iceland. It was 507 years old. It was named Ming as it was living during the Ming dynasty in China.

Unfortunately, not every creature is lucky if they deprive themselves. Remember those mother octopuses that watched their brood without eating for years? They die a few months after their eggs hatch.

Adversity helps animals live longer

Speaking of eggs, which is the chicken and which is the egg? Do animals live long lives because they have escaped death multiple times - as if they have 9 lives? Or is the adversity the reason for the longer life?  In reality, it seems that adversity that seems to be good for cells. Experiments on animals has shown that: 

  • Mice, flies, worms live longer when they are placed in hypoxic environments 
  • Monkeys kept on 30% less calories per day lived MUCH longer than monkey allowed ad lib food. Also, the monkeys eating less had less diseases of aging
  • In mice, changing the thermostat in their brain brought their core temperature down by 1/2 º C; they lived 20% longer

I know what you’re thinking. These are just experiments in the lab. But this is a lot of data from the field. Mussels that live in colder waters in rivers in Russia live 5 times longer than the same species of mussels that live in the warmer waters in Spanish rivers. Five times!!  I’d like to live twice as long as what I do now.

Yes, there is a lot of data from animals in the wild. For example, the deeper you go in the ocean, which means the colder, the less food, and the less oxygen there is, the longer life span for the animal.  For example, the Greenland shark shown above lives in the deep ocean (7,000 feet deep/2133 meters). It is estimated to live 400 - 500 years. What doesn’t kill you makes you live longer.

"Clean cupboards" hypothesis

What can we learn from our long-lived fellow creatures? Why does lower calories, temperatures and oxygen levels enhance longevity? One of the theories is the “clean cupboards” hypothesis: When you have less of what you need, your body scrounges for stuff in the cells to use and cleans out the messy cupboards. 

Scientists are trying to find a treatment in pill form that mimics those experiments in animals. In the meantime, you may want to consider eating less than you actually need some of the time; bringing the thermostat down in your home, or taking hikes up in the mountains.

Remember: what doesn’t kill you not only makes you stronger; it makes you live longer.

See original article with referenced articles: Three unusual reasons that help animals live incredibly longer lives

Picture credits: 

  1. Kondratuk Aleksei. Giant octopus Dofleini against the backdrop of turquoise sea. Actual under water Photo. 40 meters depth. Japan sea, Far East., 342482273.
  2. NOAA Photo Library. Deep sea fish. A Greenland shark (expl9984). This was the largest fish encountered during the Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition., taken on Aug 16, 2013.

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