Tune in, switch off - An age old battle

19th February 2010 at 00:00

I thought old age was the price paid for a long life. But longevity on the cheap was the pursuit in Horizon: Don't Grow Old (BBC Two). Apparently, the study of ageing is a young field and preventing it is probably the modern equivalent of alchemy. One scientist described growing old as like having multiple sticks of dynamite inside our bodies, all on different-length fuses. I have laid off the firey foods just in case.

Another scientist, determined to stick around for a century or two, discussed "telomere shortening". I couldn't tell my telomeres from my tonsils, but I just grasped the fact that you need long telomeres for longevity. If you need long hair as well, I'm done for.

Calorie reduction is supposed to keep mice young, so a couple of Peter Pan wannabes in their sixties, determined to clock up 120 years on earth, had been starving themselves for years. They weighed their portions and weighed in their torsos with the fierce attention to detail you usually only see at an airport check-in desk. They definitely had nothing to declare.

Their secret was a large breakfast and small lunch. Dinner was just a walk in the park. They could simply have chained themselves in a dungeon to make the torture authentic. I would rather desert the planet before dessert arrives than miss out on life's main course - a decent meal.

David Sinclair, with $270 million to invest in the search for eternal youth after selling his company, cunningly bypassed starvation pains by finding a drug to mimic the effects of not eating while still stuffing himself normally. He was taking something untested called resveratrol. I would volunteer to spread it on my fish and chips, too, if it meant avoiding radishes.

Anorexia was followed by tanorexia in The Truth about Tanning (BBC Three). If you want to forget youth and go straight for ageing, a daily sunbed will bring wrinkles and crinkles galore. Girls Aloud star Nicola Roberts, formerly tanned but now a whiter shade of pale, shone light on the pitfalls of sun exposure, urging addicts to break free.

We saw girls in Liverpool, the UK tanning capital, burning malignant melanomas into their skin in the many unregulated salons that promise beauty but deliver death. With 2,000 fatalities a year, melanomas are the fastest growing form of skin cancer. Nicola's alabaster hue was proof that, for the naturally light, white is right.

Hardcore tanner Tom dreamed of being olive skinned. Months of ultraviolet rays - 15 times stronger than the midday sun - had given him the complexion of a radioactive goldfish. Tom used injections to stay the colour of an amber traffic light. These had the side effect of causing erections. So it wasn't all pointless.

His challenge from Nicola, a sunbed-free month, sent him swigging the bottle in depression. His skin may have been in for repair but his liver was now in a toxic stew. As for his telomeres, it's probably better not to know.

Ray Tarleton is principal of South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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