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Centenarian Consciousness: A Paradigm Shift for Healthy Longevity

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

Although molecular biology has made significant advances in identifying genetic and epigenetic markers of aging, the interventions offered are the usual suspects known for more than 40 years, including lifestyle change, exercise, meditation, cognitive behavior therapy, and supplements, as well as short-term benefits from the most advanced biomechanical procedures based on reductionist models of aging. Although most of the treatments offered may be beneficial, none is sufficient for sustainable biological age reversal. Knowing that, in general, these interventions can be contributory in reducing and reversing the wear and tear of aging, what would be the point of using sophisticated biological markers to prescribe what we already know works?

Additionally, while research with animals may be relevant in understanding the reductionist biological mechanics of longevity, meaning-making humans require much more than learning how to prolong the lifespan of rats. The greatest effector of human longevity is how our biology responds to the cultural interpretations we give our experiences. There is no magic bullet to be found because we are bioinformational fields where our choices of affordance (available options to determine action) and attribution (available options to determine cause) contextualize meaning with corresponding cultural psychoneuroimmunological responses.

But before proceeding with the paradigm shift I am proposing, based on my extensive work with healthy centenarians (100 years and older), let me interject Thomas Kuhn's caveat about hurdles for new models that defy dogmatic attachments of conventional science. Disdain is the initial reaction from reigning intelligentia, followed by doubt informed by mounting evidence that questions established theories, and finally irrefutable acceptance leading to a paradigm shift.

While the physicist Max Planck asserted, science advances one funeral at a time, I replace this somber prediction with, science advances one missing link at a time. As it relates to longevity research and its applications, the missing link is what I call centenarian consciousness: the meaning-making perceptions and emotions I observed in healthy centenarians, beyond their cultures.

For the past 25 years I have investigated over 250 healthy centenarians worldwide, including the Blue Zones and beyond. First, as ethnographer, to observe their unique ways of perceiving their world and their corresponding salient emotions. Then as neuropsychologist and psychoneuroimmunologist, to determine how their perceptions and emotions respond to stress and inflammation: the two main culprits of aging. After observing their patterns of culture (collective norms, rituals and mores), and more importantly, their unique outlier ways of behaving and emoting, I identified culture-independent attributes that I eventually defined as centenarian consciousness.

I found 4 unique perceptual modes in how they interpret time, aging, health, and self-valuation, and 4 salient emotions in response to their world including gratitude, generosity, curiosity, and admiration. Although these 8 constituents are culturally flavored, they stand out in their unique expression as if these centenarians were intuiting an intrinsic wisdom, beyond their cultures, to defy aging.

To the best of my knowledge, the centenarian mapping of their meaning-making I discovered, is a missing link in the longevity research community and clinics. Although they correctly concentrate on biological markers, lifestyle, genetic, and epigenetic profiles, the deep neuropsychological meaning-making of the cohorts they study is sorely missing. I propose that without parameters that include the perceptual and affective interpretations of the world, gerontology in general, and longevity research in particular, are missing the biology of meaning-making consciousness that strongly affects the process of growing older.

For the reasons I outline here and in my books, I define growing older as the passing of time, and aging as the interpretation of cultural portals that define how our biology should respond to the passing of time. To evaluate my model, I constructed a questionnaire, Centenarian Consciousness Index (CCI), that measures the loading of the unique perceptual and affective factors that I found in centenarians. We then correlate the respondents' profiles with their biological markers of aging. Most important, after evaluating the correlations, we can teach biocognitive methods to reverse biological age and incorporate a life of centenarian consciousness at any chronological age.

While I am aware of how conventional interventions can be designed to treat specific conditions, nevertheless, they address the consequences of behavior without considering how the meaning-making perceptions and emotions affect the clinical findings. By meaning-making I am not referring to the conscious decisions people make in life to affect their health, but rather to the default mode network (DMN) that determines behavior based on habitual patterns and their triggering contexts.

The DMN, discovered by Marcus Raichle (2001), is the regions of the brain that remain activate when shifting from focused tasks to daydreaming, musing, and making plans. There is recent research showing how the DMN, rather than an automatic pilot taking over when we go off task to ponder, it is the cultural meaning-making terrains that strongly influence our interpretations of our internal and external world. Consequently, these deep meaning-making networks can obstruct conventional interventions to reverse biological age. Analogous to teaching meditation for stress reduction to someone with negative deep-meaning precepts from one or more of the 8 constituents of centenarian consciousness.

In my clinical work, I developed methods to identify how DMN precepts surface to affect behavior, and how to change the patterns that habitually respond to contexts. Rather than replacing the conventional behavioral interventions I critique here, I suggest that integrating my centenarian consciousness model increases the effect and precision of correlations with biological markers of aging. I should note however, that although exercise, meditation, psychedelics and other methods, temporarily disconnect from DMN, there's no evidence that they change the deep meaning-making parameters that sustain behavior.

We are currently conducting a pilot study with 50 semicentenarians and centenarians to determine their biological age (GlycanAge markers) and correlate their biomarkers with my Centenarian Consciousness Index (CCI) and provide methods for reversing biological age. For more information please contact us.

The Missing Link

For more comprehensive details read The MindBody Code

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