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Science of the Fountain of Youth

Cosmologically speaking, humans and all other animal forms of life (here on Earth) don't live very long. We can thank for this fact to the evolutionary design of life based on organic chemistry we are all made of. We came a long way from the point in history when evolution started to boost our development from hunter-gatherers into today's dominant species. But do we live longer today than before? Despite common belief and compared to our ancestors who lived in the past dozen of millenniums, the life span of humans today, enhanced by miracles of modern ways of living which in short list include improved health care and nutrition, better sanitation, access to clean running water and immunization, is not dramatically extended, if at all.

Yes, the life expectancy (average life span of entire population) of the ancient times was way shorter than today but this statistical data was misleading for the fact of the vast number of people in distant past who died very young due to high child mortality caused by numerous deaths of young people who didn't survive all the hazards of deadly diseases and various infections and epidemics. But many of those who experienced adulthood, actually lived to a ripe old age. If we exclude life expectancy from the table and check couple of known people from, for example Roman history, emperor Tiberius died at the age of 77 while empress Livia, wife of Augustus, lived until she was 87 years old.

At the dawn of third millennium, if we are talking about lifespan globally, it is estimated to be around 75 years in average. Depending on the quality of life in our societies, this number is a little higher or a little lower but in retrospective, the rise of our civilization and all the benefits of the scientific discoveries 'only' managed to notably reduce large number of deaths among young population but not to extend individual life span itself. As it seems, significantly prolonging our carbon-based life with all we know today is a hard nut to crack.

The science of 'Why do we age?' is pretty much explored to the level that organic chemistry of invoking both, aging and death are identified and well known. In the cell's power plant within hundreds to thousands of mitochondria surrounding nucleus, in the process called cell respiration, food we consume and oxygen we inhale are transformed into energy needed for cell to operate. Unfortunately it's the same process whereby various harmful products are discharged and released as a waste product. Mitochondria uses oxygen and simple sugars to create the cell's main energy source ATP (adenosine triphosphate), while byproducts' oxidative oxygen molecules in turn damage the adjacent mtDNA. Overtime, accumulation of mtDNA damage reach a certain threshold value and damages the cell inevitably. The cell responds with a reproductive process in which by using DNA instructions in nucleus duplicates itself and a new cell continues the work of the previous doomed one. Unfortunately, the number of duplications are limited until telomeres or the protective cups at the end of chromosomes runs out. If we add intracellular and extracellular aggregates of various molecules that are no longer useful and potentially harmful but accumulated everywhere, what we get in result is aging, potential various diseases and ultimately death.

By knowing all this, we don’t have to be rocket scientists to pinpoint exactly where the mythical water of the fountain of youth should operate. There are about 100,000 trillion mitochondria in human body and it is obvious that the Holy Grail of the modern medicine lies within research of how to either deal with cell's oxidative stress along with accumulation of junk molecules or to find a way to bypass mitochondria altogether and deliver ATP directly to every cell on daily bases and reduce consuming food and inhaling oxygen to bare minimum.

The history of fountain(s) of youth are most likely connected to spa waters rich in mitochondria friendly substances. For just an example, one of mitochondrial byproduct is hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), a strong oxidizing agent, and to deal with it's negative reaction to cells, human's body is producing anti-oxidant Glutathione peroxidase (GPx) in order to break hydrogen peroxide into harmless water. To produce it, organism needs glutamine, glycine and cysteine and those are usually present in sulfur-rich water and food, also in ingredients rich in selenium and certain amino-acids etc. Of course, this is just an example of one anti-oxidant dealing with just one oxidant, but the list goes on. There's a possibility that once in the past existed a spa spring with a combination of anti-oxidant ingredients that was just perfect to maintain all the toxins below dangerous levels for those who drank it regularly. Maybe it still exists somewhere on the surface of Earth waiting to be found. Of course, if found, swimming in it wont work. It would require to drink it on daily basis and probably only effective combined with certain diet.

On the other hand, administrating ATP directly to the cells via bloodstream, if such mechanism is possible, seems to be more complicated than I previously thought, due to the fact that mitochondrial production and behavior is not actually passive. Mitochondria don't just produce it but also deliver it to the right site within the cell. In different cell types mitochondria behave differently, and resemble to small bacterial hive-like lifeform - they are mobile, constantly change shape and even merging/separating with other mitochondria or construct chains for the efficiency of what they do while administrating ATP where it is actually needed. Unless the fountain of youth is full of intelligent nanobots with the ability to replace trillions of mitochondria in human's body, preventing aging in the near future this way resembles more to science fiction than anything else. 

To conclude with some wisdom, the magic fountain or scientific pill with certain ability to significantly enhance human life span is still out of reach. To find the Holy Grail, it seems, we would definitely need one or more breakthrough discoveries that we are still missing, but with each new scientific discovery we seem to be getting closer every day.

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