Exploring the Frontiers of Anti-Aging Medicine: An Interview with Dr. Marios Kyriazis
Author of Mavericks of Medicine: Conversations with Creative and Controversial Thinkers who are Changing the Future of Medicine
Marios Kyriazis, M.D., is both a clinician and a researcher in the field of anti-aging medicine. He has made significant contributions in the science and application of anti-aging medicine, and he is considered one of Britain’s leading longevity specialists. Dr. Kyriazis is one of the world’s experts on the subject of how carnosine effects the aging process, and his research into the effects of this mighty amino acid dipeptide have revealed how it can offer a number of unique and substantial health benefits.
Dr. Kyriazis has a postgraduate degree in Gerontology from the King’s College, University of London, and another in Geriatric Medicine, granted by the Royal College of Physicians. He is also a Chartered Biologist and a Member of the Institute of Biology for his work in the biology of aging. Dr. Kyriazis is the founder and medical advisor to the British Longevity Society, and he is a certified member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. He is also an adviser to several other age-related organizations.
Dr. Kyriazis has extensive experience with nutritional supplements and anti-aging drugs. He is the author of several books on these subjects, including The Anti-Aging Plan, Stay Young Longer—Naturally, The Anti-Aging Cookbook, The Look Young Bible, and Carnosine and Other Elixirs Of Youth.
Dr. Kyriazis lives in Hertfordshire, England. I interviewed him on November 6, 2004. Dr. Kyriazis has a warm and thoughtful manner about him. We spoke about the best ways to slow down the aging process, his research and clinical experience with carnosine, and how just the right amount of stress can actually benefit our health.
David: What do you think are the primary causes of aging?
Dr. Kyriazis: When I think about the primary causes of aging, I divide them into two groups—fifty percent genetic and fifty percent environmental. From the environment we get free radicals, glycosylation, and hormonal changes. At the moment I don’t think there is anything that we can do about the genetic part, but we can of course influence the environmental part of aging. So I am working in clinical medicine to offer ways of counteracting the environmental causes, or the environmental basis of aging.
David: How do you differentiate between the biological symptoms of aging and those bodily changes that are actually caused by one’s belief about aging?
Dr. Kyriazis: It depends at what level one looks. I am more interested in the clinical level, although I have done biological research as well. I think there are different ways of looking at it. Biology will start with the molecules and the cells, and say this is an age-related phenomenon, a disease-related phenomenon. From my point of view, I see individual patients. People usually come to see me because they have an age-related illness. So they come with, say, heart disease, or a prostate problem, which are age-related. Then when we expand on the actual causes of their problem, they want to know more and find out about other age-related processes which may affect them. So it is a combined thing. I don’t necessarily make a distinction myself in my work.
David: What do you think are currently the best ways to slow down, or reverse the aging process and extend the human life span?
Dr. Kyriazis: I offer a combination of different therapies affecting the entire body. For example, I recommend antioxidants and anti-glycator drugs or supplements. Apart from the ordinary vitamins and nutrients, I recommend carnosine, DHEA, and other hormones, depending upon whether the individual is deficient in those hormones or not. I also recommend a nutritional lifestyle and exercise—but not ordinary exercise. It’s a combination of different unusual exercises (which I discuss in my book, The Anti-Aging Plan), plus mental and sense exercises as well.
I try to make it easy for the individual to follow this, because many times people think that it’s much easier to just take a tablet or a capsule, rather than change their lifestyle. But I think it is very important to find a way to motivate the individual to change their lifestyle. So, in other words, it’s a combination approach of different things all working together. Some people say, oh take four different supplements, or four different hormones, and you are covered. I don’t agree with that. I think that there are so many different aspects of aging, and that we need to use different treatments, a multi-pronged approach. So that’s what I say to my patients.
David: Can you talk a little about some of the beneficial effects your patients have had with carnosine supplements?
Dr. Kyriazis: Yes. I think I was the first person to use carnosine for anti-aging purposes. Carnosine has been around for quite some time, and athletes used to use it to enhance muscle and performance. But I began using it specifically for anti-aging back in 1999. And the first person who took carnosine under my guidance still takes it today, five years later, and everyone says how young she looks generally. Her head hasn’t got a single grey hair—not one—although she’s now 48 or 49. This corresponds with experiences we have had with other patients. In other words, they generally look younger. Their hair grows better, and it stays black, or whatever color it is, but not grey. Many people experience increased energy. Mental performance, memory, and other brain functions improve as well.
But I always say to people that carnosine is not something that you can notice yourself. It’s something that works inside the body over the long-term, over ten or twenty years to prevent all the different age-related processes and damages that happen. I see carnosine mainly as a preventative treatment, not so much as an immediate treatment for some specific disorder, or to be noticeable. It doesn’t immediately produce noticeable effects, although there are ways of doing different biochemical tests, blood tests, and so on that show an overall improvement over the years.
I use carnosine on patients who are normally healthy, who don’t have a disease. For example, I don’t use it on people who have muscular dystrophy or other muscular diseases. I think some people take it for that, but I don’t know whether it works or not. So it is difficult to differentiate and see a noticeable improvement on a healthy person. It’s much easier to notice if somebody is ill and he or she gets better after taking it. But this supplement is mainly used by healthy people in the long-term.
David: Can you talk a little about carnosine’s anti-glycosylation effect, and how it protects the body from dangerous cross-linked, oxidized proteins?
Dr. Kyriazis: Everybody thinks that free radicals and oxidation are the main causes of aging, but there’s another important one, which is glycosylation, and this happens all the time. It is due to glucose or other molecules attaching to proteins. This causes cross-linking and “advanced glycosylation end-products” or AGEs. I would say that this causes more damage to the body than free radicals, and carnosine prevents this damage in different ways.
First of all, it prevents free radical attacks because it’s an antioxidant. But it is also an anti-glycosylator. In other words, it prevents the proteins from being cross-linked. If two proteins that are not supposed to attach to each other become attached and combine together, then they become useless. That’s what happens in cross-linking, and carnosine prevents that. Carnosine is like a shield that protects proteins. So when two proteins come together, they don’t attach to each other. They remain free to function normally.
So the first stage is that carnosine prevents glycosylation in the first place. The second stage is that if glycosylation has already happened, if the two proteins have become cross-linked, carnosine will facilitate the removal of these useless proteins. Actually, our body is trying to eliminate abnormal proteins all the time, but with aging this rate of elimination slows down. Therefore, we have an accumulation of abnormal proteins. But carnosine speeds up the rate of elimination, so all the junk material we have in our body gets eliminated quicker.
There is also some evidence that carnosine can actually break the existing bonds between the two cross-linked proteins. So if the proteins have become attached to each other, and they are cross-linked, in some circumstances carnosine can break the bond and allow them to be free again, and to function normally. So carnosine has three different benefits in addition to being an antioxidant.
David: What kind of dosage do you recommend a healthy person take?
Dr. Kyriazis: I started with fifty milligrams a day, but now I recommend a higher dose—perhaps about two hundred milligrams a day. I know that some people use a thousand or more milligrams a day, but I don’t see the reason for that. I think about two hundred milligrams a day, in association with other supplements, should be enough for a healthy person.
David: What are your thoughts about using N-Acetylcarnosine eye drops—which breakdown into carnosine in the eye—as a way to protect the health of one’s eyes?
Dr. Kyriazis: This is also a very promising development. I was involved with advising the different researchers at the companies that are now marketing acetylcarnosine. The things that carnosine does as a tablet don’t work as well as when it is used as an eye drop. But acetylcarnosine as an eye drop is quite resistant to the enzymatic processes that break down carnosine. Carnosine is broken down by the enzyme carnosinase, and if we give carnosine eye drops it would soon break down before it can have a chance to work properly in the eye. But acetylcarnosine is resistant to carnosinase, therefore it is not easily broken down in the eye, and it remains around to produce its effects. But acetylcarnosine as a capsule or a tablet in the body is not as effective as simple carnosine in tablet form. So we have this difference between the two. One is effective as a tablet but not as an eye drop. The other one is effective as an eye drop but not as a tablet. This is due to the enzyme carnosinase in the eye, which breaks carnosine down easily.
David: What sort of benefit does acetylcarnosine have on the eyes?
Dr. Kyriazis: It helps the eye in different ways. Most importantly, acetylcarnosine helps patients who have cataracts. There’s quite a lot of research showing that carnosine not only prevents the formation of cataracts, but most importantly it reverses existing cataracts as well. So it can be used as a treatment for existing cataracts, and one can actually avoid the need for an operation. This is something that not many people know. But I think it’s a very good development, and now it’s being promoted all over the world. I was in Russia a few days ago, where we had a seminar examining the beneficial effects of acetylcarnosine on cataracts. There are also benefits with other eye diseases. For example, it helps people who suffer from glaucoma or macular degeneration. It also helps people who wear contact lenses, or people who work in front of the computer and get tired eyes or itchy sore eyes. It has been shown that acetylcarnosine eye drops work very well to prevent all these eye conditions.
David: In general, what sort of relationship do you see between stress and health, and how can a certain degree of physical or mental stress—such as through caloric restriction—actually benefit our health?
Dr. Kyriazis: This is based on the concept of hormesis. Hormesis means that after mild stimulation different biochemical processes are activated that try to repair the mild damage that happens to the body, and in trying to repair this damage they also repair any coexisting age-related damage. So we are able to activate this process by different means so that our body will then repair the damage on its own. And research shows that we can activate it with different things—like putting an experimental animal in high-gravity conditions, high temperature, or increasing radiation. But these concepts don’t apply to human beings.
Concepts that do apply to human beings are stress and stimulation by, say, calorie restriction, or by certain physical exercises, mental exercises, or by keeping the body active in different ways—by keeping it alert, by not following certain routines, by constantly changing one’s lifestyle and keeping the body constantly stimulated. This activates hormesis which repairs damage in different parts of the body. So although people say stress is bad for you, I think what they mean is that excessive stress is bad for you. Mild stress isn’t bad for you, and, in fact, mild stress is beneficial. I don’t think that people who try to avoid stress altogether are doing themselves any favors.
I think that we should keep ourselves mildly stimulated all the time. And looking forward to the future, we are working with some of the scientists who developed the concept of hormesis to develop a type of mechanical stimulation. For example, putting human beings into something that is equivalent to a fairground ride, where they go into increased acceleration, which simulates hyper-gravity, or mildly increased radiation through a sauna. This would be like a small booth, and when people go in, it is very hot. But instead of having only heat, in addition you have mildly increased radiation. So people go and have their sauna, their steam bath or whatever, but there is also background radiation to stimulate their hormetic mechanism. And that would be commercially available, but at the moment it’s not. It is still under investigation. But apart from ordinary stress and stimulation there could be mechanical ways of stimulating hormesis.
David: What advice would you give to someone who is looking to improve their mental performance?
Dr. Kyriazis: I would recommend a combination of constant mental stimulation, mental exercises, with supplements or drugs that have been shown to improve mental performance—like hydergine, ginkgo biloba, vinpocetine, and bacopa. Bacopa is a Ayurvedic medicine Indian plant product. I recommend you use this with acetylcarnosine and Alpha Lipoic Acid. I think it’s important to try to alternate the treatment, to not have the same treatment all the time. For example, for one month, have a combination of ginkgo biloba with Alpha Lipoic Acid. The next month have vinpocetine with Vitamin E. Then the next month change it again, and keep rotating the treatment. Don’t have the same treatment all the time. And have that in association with brain exercises, like I mentioned in my book. There are different exercises that stimulate different parts of the brain. Some stimulate the left side of the brain, and others the right side. Other exercises stimulate memory, coordination, learning, and observation.
David: What sort of relationship do you see between one’s mental state and their physical health?
Dr. Kyriazis: I think one’s mental state is very important. It has been shown that there is quite a distinct relationship between the way we feel and the way our body behaves. People who have a positive outlook on life, who engage in positive thinking, and are always cheerful have higher degrees of different immunoglobulins. In other words, their immune system is working at peak form, and that prevents not only infection, but also cancer and different age-related processes as well. If our immune system is working at full power, then we don’t age quickly.
There has been research on people who engage in positive thinking about their cancer, particularly breast cancer, and the studies have shown that the more positive these people are the more likely they are that they’ll be cured, and the less likely that the cancer will come back. That has to do with the immune system. Positive thinking and having a positive attitude stimulate the immune system. For example, I had a patient who was always thinking positively, and seeing the positive side of life. She developed breast cancer, and she was always saying that the cancer is not going to win, she will win. And she managed to survive against all odds by only the power of her mind. All the doctors were saying that she won’t survive further than three months, or six months, and she survived five years. I believe that was because of her positive attitude.
David: You discuss a number of alternative health therapies in your book, The Anti-Aging Plan, such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, biofeedback, homeopathy, and herbalism. What sort of advice would you give to someone who is interested in exploring some of these alternative or complementary therapies?
Dr. Kyriazis: It is quite difficult to give scientific advice, because I don’t think there is quite a lot of research supporting each of those therapies in relation to aging. There may be research supporting therapies in relation to age-related diseases. For example, hydrotherapy is very good for people who have arthritis, sore joints or sore muscles. If they went into a course of hydrotherapy, aqua-aerobics, or something like that, they would benefit exceedingly. But there isn’t any research examining the effects of these therapies on the actual aging process itself, so it is more clinically-oriented than biologically-oriented.
I also say to people that if something doesn’t work for them then they should try something else. Don’t give up. There’s always an answer to something. There is always a treatment to our illness. Something that works for somebody else may not work for you, or the other way around. Sometimes one’s friends may experience a benefit from using a particular therapy, but that doesn’t mean that it’ll work for you too. Up to a point, I tend not to base my advice on published research—because I think that sometimes the individual may experience benefits even if there is no scientific research behind the therapy at all. In other words, science has not caught up yet with the benefits that these therapies have to offer.
So, basically, I recommend that—in association with your health practitioner—you find a therapy that is suitable for you and try it for, I would say, around two months, more or less. Something like that. If it works, continue it. If it doesn’t work, leave it and try something else. The very fact that you are exploring different therapies is a form of mental stimulation, which contributes to mental health and brain health. So keep looking. Keep searching.
David: What are some of the new anti-aging treatments that you foresee coming along in the near future?
Dr. Kyriazis: I think one of the most promising is a crosslink breaker. It’s a drug called Alagebrium, and it’s manufactured by Alteon Corporation in the States. This has been shown to actually revert age-related damage—not only prevent it, but revert it, because it breaks existing bonds between the crosslinked proteins. This has been used now in reverting blood pressure, because glycosylation causes thickening of the arteries, and thickened arteries result in high blood pressure. Because this drug reverses glycosylation, that means it also reverses blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke—before the damage happens. But it is mainly used for reversing and curing blood pressure—not just masking symptoms, but actually curing blood pressure. So that’s one drug.
We have other therapies with stem cells, which are also commercially available. They cost quite a lot of money, but they are becoming available, both in the States and in other parts of the world. They are actual stem cells by injection, like the new treatment for wrinkles called Isolagen. This is based on stem cell research, on taking blood from your own body, or cells from inside your mouth, growing them, and then injecting them back into the body to reverse wrinkles.
So basically there are quite a few things on the horizon which would become not only available but also accessible to many people, because they won’t be as expensive as they are now.
David: What are you currently working on?
Dr. Kyriazis: I have several projects, but the main one that I’m working on now is to try to devise more exercises, and look into the scientific basis of stimulation and aging, like we discussed before with hormesis. I’m trying to see what else we can find to stimulate the body, to work against aging. There is quite a lot of research showing that different forms of stimulation from mental exercises, mental stimulation, or living in an enriched environment has a positive beneficial effect on several biochemical and anatomical changes, both in the brain and in the immune system. So I’m trying to get a clear understanding of these mechanisms, and come up with clinical ways, patient-oriented ways, for making use of these benefits.
David: Is there anything that we haven’t discussed that you would like to add?
Dr. Kyriazis: I always recommend for people to try and explore their own therapies. Try to find new things, new therapies, and new avenues. Keep an open mind, and a positive mind. And accept your age. If somebody is forty or sixty or seventy, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether they have the characteristics of youth—which is strong muscles, clear memory, a good immune system, and a good sex drive. If you have all these characteristics, and you’re happy, then so be it. It doesn’t matter how old you actually are. I’m not so much involved with or interested in cosmetics, although I have done quite a lot of research in that area. But I don’t think the way one looks is important. I think the way one feels is important. So if you feel happy, active, and full of energy, then that’s fine. It doesn’t matter how you look.
Lara Pizzorno is a member of the American Medical Writers Association with 25+ years of experience writing for physicians and the public, Lara is Editor for Longevity Medicine Review as well as Senior Medical Editor for SaluGenecists, Inc. Read more...
Lara Pizzorno, MDiv, MA, LMT
John Morgenthaler has been active in the field of nutritional medicine since 1986. Today, John travels the world looking for breakthrough nutraceuticals and anti-aging therapies. He also continues to publish cutting-edge nutrition and medical science books and periodicals. Read more...
John Morgenthaler, Publisher