UltraLongevity: How Our Own Immune System Ages Us

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Mark Liponis a few weeks ago, just before the publication of his latest book, UltraLongevity, The Seven-step Program for a Younger, Healthier You. Dr. Liponis is the medical director of the ultra-expensive Canyon Ranch spa overseeing some 200 doctors, nutricienists, movement therapists, etc. He has the kind of urbane bedside manner that you would expect from someone ministering to some of the wealthiest women in the country.

Although Liponis is a dedicated medical practioner, I was bracing myself for some hyped up silliness along the lines of Dr. Perricone's "eat wild salmon for breakfast and buy my vitamin C cream". However, UltraLongevity is a serious book (apart from the slightly hokey references to dancing) that attempts to make some new scientific research accessible and actionable.

The surprising premise of UltraLongevity is that if you want to control the aging process, then you have to manage one thing: your immune system. The first part of the book is a lucid and accessible explanation of what this really means. From the very first sentence, Dr. Liponis is making the point that aging has nothing to do with getting older. Aging is caused by our own immune systems attacking us. And all the conditions that seem to be byproducts of getting older - such as Alzheimer's, stroke, and heart disease - are actually caused by an immune system that is overreacting.

Conversely, people who live to be over 100 have immune systems that resist hyperactivity. As we age, the more organ-specific anti-bodies (produced by the immune system to attack the organs themselves) are found in our bloodstream. The immune system attacks our own organs because, as we get older, it is being exposed to new and different things. So some of the antibodies that are trying to fight a virus could also end up reacting with our own organs. An important feature of living to be 100 is the absense of organ-specific anti-bodies.

The immune system has evolved to protect us from threat. Apparently, it is also proactively responding to the perception of a threat - by sensing emotions, for example. So the idea is to take control of the immune system so that it only strikes when needed. Dr. Liponis has a seven-step program to do this:

1. Learn how to breathe properly

2. Healthy eating

3. Get plenty of sleep

4. Exercise (sorry Doc, the dance thing doesn't work for me)

5. Be in a loving relationship (at the very least with a cat)

6. Create a soothing environment

7. Optimize the performance of your internal environment (through vitamin supplements, etc.)

By the way, I took the book's quiz "How Fast Are You Aging," and scored a 68 (which apparently means that my immune system is my friend).