Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach

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Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach is a 1982 book (ISBN 0-446-51229-X) by Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw that popularized the life extension and smart drug movements.[1][2]

The book discussed free radicals and the idea that they cause aging, and how antioxidants were said to partially prevent the damage they do.[3] The book suggests causes of aging and ways to slow them, with material on improving health and various aspects of the quality of life.

One notable feature of the book was several full-page pictures of its male and female authors, Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw, striking bodybuilding poses and showing off some impressive muscles for "sedentary research scientists," which they claimed was due to the "growth hormone releasers" they took daily.


In the 1992 documentary Never say die: The pursuit of eternal youth, Antony Thomas interviewed Pearson and Shaw, and criticised the anti-aging movement as misguided.[4] A review in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) by researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health advised that “Some of the "health" advice contained in this book would be humorous if it was not so dangerous” and that “Potential readers of this ridiculous book would be wiser to take only the antacids—as we felt the urge to do after the realization that we had spent $22.50 on an unscientific, impractical, and potentially dangerous health fraud that literally made us ill.”[5] Biogerontologist Dr. Roy Walford wrote, "gerontology has always been the happy hunting ground for faddists, charlatans, pseudoscientific fringe characters, and just misinformed enthusiasts with 'ready cures' for aging. ... Pearson and Shaw are among this long list of enthusiasts. ... Most of the Pearson/Shaw book relies on this lower-order category of evidence, and upon the testimonial posturing of Pearson and Shaw themselves."[6] In a discussion group posting, biogerontologist Dr. Steve Harris, MD criticizes the book, offering an example of one the authors' "screwups:"

I managed to track one of their references to the (supposedly) somniferous effects of inositol back through some of the primary literature they'd cited (loosely) in the back of the chapter. Wups, guess what? They'd been reading a paper on natural ligands of the benzodiazepine receptor, and confused inositol with inosine (helped out by [Carl] Pffeifer's [sic] claims that inositol is sleep inducing). Inosine actually HAS some demonstrated Valium like effects in some animals (birds), but to this day you're going to see inositol in sleep remedies.[7]


  1. ^ See Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion, by Brian S. Alexander, New York: Basic Books, 2003, ISBN 0-7382-0761-6, pp. 5–6.
  2. ^ Bishop, Katherine (1992-06-11). "FDA fears smart drugs could pose stupid risks". Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  3. ^ Fiely, Dennis (1993-09-16). "'Biochemical bad boys' - Possible causes of disease, free radicals, may have met their match". Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  4. ^ Mann, Virginia (1992-08-17). "The often gruesome search for perpetual youth". The Record newspaper. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  5. ^ Stare, Fredrick J.; Aronson, Virginia (November 23, 1983). "Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach". JAMA. 250 (20): 2862–3. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03340200094043. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  6. ^ Walford, Roy (2000). Beyond the 120 Year Diet: How to Double Your Vital Years. New York, NY: Four Walls Eight Windows. pp. 21–23. ISBN 9781568581576. 
  7. ^ Harris, Steve. "Re: Whats up with Pearson & Shaw". Retrieved 2 June 2012.