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Book Review: Chasing Life by Sanjay Gupta

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Will we someday be able to replace or regrow our major organs whenever they wear out, giving us the ticket to "practical immortality"? If so, will any of us now living be able to take advantage of such a future? In Chasing Life, CNN medical correspondent and Time columnist Sanjay Gupta, MD, offers a complete look at what we know today about extending life, and some potentially mind-blowing technologies that could completely change our perception of a normal human lifespan.

While the book uses the "immortality" hook to get you interested, in truth the vast majority of its pages are dedicated to what you can do right now to maximize your years. You won't be surprised to find out that exercise and a good diet can add years, while getting fat and getting diabetes or smoking and getting cancer aren't exactly helpful. If Gupta doesn't cover a ton of new ground here, he does cover a lot of ground, offering the latest findings on combating cancer, the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of supplements, the upside of being upbeat, the wonders of wine and dark chocolate, the potential benefits of limiting calories, and the myths and realities associated with artificial sweeteners, cell phones, cooking with Teflon, and microwaving plastic.

Yes, you may have already read some of this in the papers, but unless you're a real health junkie, Chasing Life is a good place to get it all straight in one appealing package. (One fact completely new to me has to do with the benefits of upper body workouts to  stave off pneumonia, a common killer in our later years.)

Fascinating yet too short for my tastes are the book's sections on upcoming technologies or what the fringe is already experimenting with. Gupta discusses the potential use of stem cells to slow aging and even grow new organs, research into "longevity genes," using viruses for good versus evil, and nanobots unleashed in our bloodstream to clean things up and repair DNA damage. Gupta relies quite a bit here on the vision of inventor and author Ray Kurzweil, who believes that if we can just live long enough, rapidly-advancing scientific achievements may give us the chance to live forever.

Is immortality "on the horizon," as Gupta puts it? That's definitely up for debate. But, at worst, Chasing Life gives you the best information currently known on increasing your odds of living a long, vital life.

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