Interview with Sue Armstrong
This is monocle reads on Georgina Godwin, and today I'm speaking to sue Armstrong Science writer broadcaster and a foreign correspondent. He's worked everywhere from Brussels to South Africa. She's been a consultant writer for the World Health Organization for more than twenty five years and written extensively on all areas of health and science. Her latest book is borrowed time the Science of how and why we age. Sue Welcome to the program. Thank you very much and be with you if we could start with a really basic question what is aging? You say it's a really basic question. It's a very good question but I mean, that's it's really difficult to know because there lots of different definitions and they keep changing over the years. Very interesting. Actually some people say, Oh, it's dying from the inside out some people say it's genetically driven. Some people say it's just wear and tear some people actually even go far as to say aging is a disease and I remember the first time I heard somebody say that I wrote my eyes and thought. Oh goodness. It's like everything else like birth and things like that. The scientists are coming in and medicalising the whole thing. But in fact, I came round to seeing their point of view on that to quite an extent by the end of my interviewing and so on. But basically, it happens to all of us but one of the great mysteries of aging is the fact that you look at a whole range of different species in so many different lifespans including some creatures. which seemed to be almost immortal things like that it'll hydra that we used to find when in pond water and look at under the microscope and sort of early biology lessons and so on. I'm to be almost immortal. So it's to a great extent. It's a mystery and there are still quite a number of different theories of what exactly it is. So let's look at the impact that it has on the body and the diseases that is ultimately responsible for. Yes I think going back to this whole question about what is aging. This also comes down to the diseases I think the definition that's most or the explanation that's most widely accepted at the moment is one called. The disposable Soma theory, which basically translates into ordinary language as built in obsolescence, and how it works is this that it takes an awful lot of energy and resources to build and maintain a body such as and in the end nature doesn't care about US individuals are tall nature. Whole purpose is to ensure the survival of the species, not us as individuals, and so most of the effort goes into ensuring that our Jones sells the sperm and the are immortal and can get passed on from one generation to the next and our bodies nature's invested in the sort of. Mechanisms for repair and maintenance to keep us going to we've grown up being able to pass on our genes and bring up the next generation nurture the next generation to it's on its feet, and then after that may Chazan got too much use for us and the repair mechanisms in our body, which is I say are extremely expensive in terms of resources and so on. Resources would have been very difficult to come by in our earliest for our earliest ancestors, those sort of rundown, and it is the gradual loss of maintenance inefficiency of maintenance and repair that seems to be at the root of aging. So now, a lot of the research seems to be lumped in with pseudoscience, snake oil cosmetics, and so on. Why do you think that is? Well I think. That's been a terrible problem for Gerontology, the actual science of aging because it is lumped in and it's got to be stigmatized by the snake oil salesman and saw and I think very basic this since time immemorial I mean, if you look back over centuries, people have always wanted to find the Elixir of youth and I think to a certain extent. It's that life is so rich and sweet. That people can't bear the idea of dying and a also as a as a species. We're fairly arrogant. We don't like to think that we are awful and I think it's it's been the search for immortality. This has given the Gerontology a bad name and you know it's it's really it's really a very sad because aging is massively important because you were just asking a minute ago about the diseases. Of Aging, and as I said earlier, there's some people actually call aging itself disease, and this is because the diseases that we know that we recognize very much age related things like heart disease and dementia and cancers, and diabetes, and strokes, and frailty the single biggest risk factor for all of these these diseases that we recognize very much as diseases voltage is the aging process itself. It's literally sort of. Wearing away of the body that gives rise to these diseases, and so you could save the diseases of old age are in a way just the sort of points on a spectrum, the most the most obvious and severe points on a spectrum of what is a generally debilitating and pathological process, which is the aging process.