Below is an excerpt from the May 2015 edition of GINNED! Magazine about Anno Kent Dry Gin. Every month, Craft Gin Club members receive a bottle of amazing small-batch gins accompanied by GINNED! Magazine which is full of features about the gin, the distillery and loads of fascinating features.
When devising the slogan to carry their new distillery, Andy Reason and Norman Lewis harked back to their careers as researchers creating medicines in pharmaceutical companies, a type of organic chemistry magic most of us will never understand. Anno Distillers now manifest “The Spirit of Alchemy” in their drinks made from processes not that dissimilar from creating medicines. In fact, the basis of their chemistry background evolved from the ancient practices of alchemy, practices shrouded in mysticism and whose objectives did not stray far from timeless human endeavours such as the quest for gold for eternal life.
The first objective is relatively well known. We often think of alchemy as the search for the recipe that would transform everyday base metals into precious types such as gold.
The second objective, even more elusive, is not as prevalent in the popular mind today. But for millennia, from soothsayers and wizards to botanists and doctors, we have sought the key to immortality. Where as the stories of the Fountain of Youth and the Holy Grail are widespread, what is less known is the objective of alchemists to discover the elixir of life, a magic potion that grants the drinker either eternal life or eternal youth.
For Andy, Norman and their scientific research colleagues, this ancient myth is closer to a reality than ever today. Labs around the world are developing drugs that may hold the alchemic key to everlasting life.
ETERNAL EXISTENCE EX-ELIXIR
The world’s most outspoken proponent and vocal expert on the likeliness of humans living well past the current perception of a 120 year ceiling is the Englishman Aubrey de Grey. Grey’s research focuses primarily on “regenerative medicine”, or drug treatments that help to restore tissues and rejuvenate the human body. In January of 2015, de Grey told the Guardian that “There is an increasing number of people realising that the concept of anti-aging medicine that actually works is going to be the biggest industry that ever existed by some huge margin and that it just might be foreseeable.”
But anti-aging has not always been related to drugs. Several scientific studies in previous decades are thought to have cracked some of the mysteries of aging without the studies’ subjects drinking the elixir of life.
The oldest known method, Caloric restriction (CR), consists of just what its name indicates - the limitation of the intake of calories in the body. As far back as the 1930s studies on lab rats showed that those in the test group that consumed a significant proportion less than the control group, which ate to satisfaction, lived longer. Over the years, similar studies showed similar effects on fish, yeasts, worms and even monkeys.
The verdict, however, is still out when it comes to CR as an effective means of expanding lifespan. During World War II a study was conducted on human males in which the test group restricted their calories by 45% during six months, sticking primarily to food high in carbohydrates when they did eat. CR showed to have positive effects such as decreased blood pressure and resting heart rate but also caused negative effects ranging from depression to anemia. Furthermore, a 2012 article in the scientific journal Nature printed the conclusions of a study that commenced in 1987 demonstrating that a test group of rhesus monkeys that restricted caloric intake by 30% did not live longer than the control group and that they were more susceptible to illness.
Another non-elixir-related study conducted at Harvard Medical School actually reversed the aging process on its test mice. The study focused on the reproduction of cells, particularly a specific part of chromosomes called telomeres. Normally, each time cells divide, telomeres, which are like a cap on the tip of chromosomes, become shorter until the moment when they can no longer function and the cells die, a process which is believed to be major factor in aging. In the Harvard study, genetically engineered mice without the enzyme telomerase, which causes telomeres to become shorter, lived unhealthy lives and aged rapidly until they were injected with the enzyme, at which time they not only became healthier but showed signs of reverse aging including the repairing of damaged tissues and the generation of new neurons.
Similar studies have not been conducted on humans but it is believed that such a method could significantly raise the risk of cancer since telomerase automatically switches off as we age to prevent cells from growing out of control. Currently, scientists continue to study the method in hopes that it will lead to a means of tissue regeneration that will help aged humans to live healthier - and theoretically longer - lives.
One of the stranger methods of finding the elixir of life was published in 2014. Three separate groups of scientists working on mice came to similar conclusions when injecting the blood of younger mice into their elders. The young blood reversed characteristics associated with aging such as reduced memory and learning capabilities, muscle strength and even general brain functions. The scientists are expected to begin trials on humans in the coming years. But they’ll have to find another means of doing so than those they used on the mice: the young and old mice in the study were literally joined at the hip. Incisions were made in each of the pair and were left to heal in a manner that connected them so that they shared their blood supply.
THE MEDICINE OF IMMORTALITY
Considering we’ve learned to successfully separate Siamese twins, we’re not likely to begin reversing the process to extend the lives of our elders (whist making the lives of our youth significantly less, well, youthful). To avoid any unnecessary incisions, other scientists are researching how medicines could extend lifespan.
One researcher at the American non-profit Mayo Clinic, James Kirkland, told the Guardian that he knows of 20 drugs that have shown to extend the lives of mice including six drugs whose effects have actually been published by scientific journals, an element of the industry that renders the studies’ results as highly significant. Although the drugs seem to have had the desired results overall, just one drug is not a panacea. Some work to slow the aging of certain parts of the body while neglecting to halt the advance of others.
For example, Kirkland noted that one drug called rapamycin, which is a primary focus of scientific anti-aging studies, did not slow down age-related ailments such as cataracts. But that does not mean that rapamycin could contribute to helping humans live longer.
Following a 2006 study in which rapamycin showed to expand the lives of yeast cells, doctors turned their attention to mice and found that mice that ingested the drug increased their total lifespan by up to 25%. What’s more, the mice subjects in question began treatment at the approximate human equivalent of 60 years, meaning that there is hope of beginning aging treatment on humans at later life stages, a hope that was closer turned to reality by study on elderly people in Australia and New Zealand that showed rapamycin to boost their immune systems.
Some drugs meant to treat human diseases have also been found to expand life cycles. For instance, a drug called metformin, the world’s most widely used diabetes treatment, was shown in 2014 to significantly slow the aging of worms in a laboratory. Belgian researcher Wouter de Haes, the 2014 study’s lead, explained, "As they age, the worms get smaller, wrinkle up and become less mobile. But worms treated with metformin show very limited size loss and no wrinkling. They not only age slower, but they also stay healthier longer.”
One of the most promising drugs in the quest for a medicinal elixir of life is resveratrol, a compound found to mimic the effects of Caloric restriction explained above. Building on previous studies that showed age-defying qualities in mice similar to those of rapamycin, scientists in 2013 tracked the path of resveratrol’s effects, discovering the specific proteins with which it reacts as well as that it boosts mitochondrial activity, thus increasing a cell’s energy. The study’s lead commented, “Now that we know… where and how resveratrol works, we can engineer even better molecules that more precisely and effectively trigger the effects of resveratrol.”
This seeming superdrug is actually not a drug at its origins: resveratrol is a naturally occurring plant chemical in the family of polyphenols. It is found in nuts and fruits, most notably grapes and even more specifically, fermented grapes. Red wine in particular holds high concentrations of resveratrol and is the force behind what some refer to as the “French paradox”, the confusing reality that despite having diets high in fats and sugars, French people remain relatively healthy into old age and have a low frequency of heart disease.
In fact, the oldest person ever to have lived was French. Jeanne Calment lived to the sprightly age of 122, from 1875 to 1997. Calment displayed amazing youthfulness well into old age, continuing to ride her bicycle until she was 100, deciding to explore the sport of fencing beginning at age 85 and living unassisted on her own until 110. Despite her longevity and apparent good health, Calment smoked until she was 117 and ate one kilo of chocolate per week.
Perhaps her saving grace was indeed an elixir of life, an elixir that also furthers the evidence supporting the French paradox. Accompanying her cigarettes and chocolate, Calment drank healthy rations of port wine loaded with resveratrol.
This is not to say you should abandon your Anno Kent Dry this month in favor of a bottle of Bordeaux. But perhaps Andy and Norman, in all of their experimentation, could come up with a gin with a grape spirit base. A mixture of resveratrol and health-boosting Kentish botanicals may just be the real elixir of life.