Who doesn’t want a longer life, a younger body, a greater sense of wellbeing? 

Treatments like stem cell injections, CBD oil, and even DIY fecal transplants prey on these desires, leaning on “scienceploitation” to rope in new patients. 

“Scienceploitation” is a term that I’m borrowing from A User’s Guide to Cheating Death. Host Timothy Caulfield explains that scienceploitation is “the exploitation of real science to sell questionable products to a vulnerable public.” The prevalence of scienceploitation gave me pause, at first, about even starting the work we’re doing here at Longevity Advice

It was a topic that J.P. and I discussed at length before starting on this project, and we fundamentally agreed that we would only deal with content emerging from verifiable science and verifiable experts—experts who have spent their careers exploring the science of aging, who believe life extension is a noble pursuit, and who are working hard to expand the field.

The top five longevity Ted talks for 2020 with attentive audience
The top 5 longevity Ted talks for 2020

With that in mind, I was careful in selecting the top TED talks about living longer (I do include TEDx talks on this list). I decided to only review speeches given after 2015. I also limited my recommendations to avoid too much overlap in terms of covered topics, and disqualified speeches with fewer than 10,000 views as of September 1, 2020.

These parameters ended up excluding a number of well-known names and TED talks that would have otherwise made this list. Honorable mentions are included at the end of this post. The talks below are organized by speakers’ last names. 

Top TED Talks about life extension

1. The science of cells that never grow old

Elizabeth Blackburn’s Ted talk about life extension

Speaker: Elizabeth Blackburn
Speech Year: 2017

Elizabeth Blackburn may have retired soon after delivering this speech, but her contributions to research on telomeres and the enzyme telomerase continue to fuel an incredible amount of contemporary life extension thinking. This 2009 Nobel Prize winner uses the first half of her speaking time to cover the function of telomeres (the “caps” at the end of chromosomes) and telomerase (an enzyme that replenishes telomeres) in cell aging. From there, she elaborates on some of her research with psychologist Dr. Elissa Epel. The two researchers tracked caregivers and discovered that the cortisol that comes from chronic stress leads to shorter telomeres. Her work is accessible, and I recommend checking out “The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer,” which is one of our top picks on our upcoming round-up of best longevity books. 

The takeaway?

Being “worn down” functions at the cellular level. If you chronically perceive yourself in a stressful situation, you can shorten your own lifespan. But if you can reframe your stressors as challenges worth overcoming, you can limit the rate of cell damage as you age. 

Notable quote

“If you typically see something stressful as a challenge to be tackled, then blood flows to your heart and to your brain, and you experience a brief but energizing spike of cortisol. And thanks to that habitual ‘bring it on’ attitude, your telomeres do just fine. So, what is all of this telling us? Your telomeres do just fine. You really do have the power to change what is happening to your own telomeres.”

2. What will humans look like in 100 years?

Juan Enriquez’s Ted talk about prosthetics

Speaker: Juan Enriquez
Speech Year: 2016

From arm slings to artificial hips to pacemakers, prosthetics have long improved the duration and quality of human life. Enriquez covers the history of prosthetics and where prosthetic research is headed now—to not just replace something missing or misfiring in an able-bodied human, but to enhance the replaced “part” in the process. Enriquez argues that the answer to his core question, “Is it ethical to evolve the human body?”, is an emphatic “YES!” He believes that advanced prosthetics have been and will continue to be key to the survival of humanity, and sets out to advocate for their use today. He includes direct gene editing as a part of where science should head in the future. 

The takeaway?

The potential for enhanced humans is here. 

Notable quote

“Somebody might actually want to have a prosthetic voluntarily.”

3. Gene Therapy To Engineer Healthy Longevity

Liz Parrish’s longevity Ted talk

Speaker: Liz Parrish
Speech Year: 2019

Liz Parrish is controversial. As the owner of BioViva USA Corp, a company “dedicated to improving healthy human longevity through bioinformatics,” she’s perhaps best known for taking part in a gene therapy trial without FDA approval.* Parrish discusses her company’s research into gene therapy to combat aging and promising findings seen in animal trials. Frustrated with the slow pace of research bridging from animal to human trial, Parrish explains her decision to use herself as a test subject. 

The takeaway?

Regulations prohibiting life extension research makes the whole process painfully slow. 

Notable quote:

“We have enough animal data and we have enough people dying without access [to these therapies.]”

* Naturally, Parrish’s decision to self-experiment was not embraced by the scientific community. Please note that TED released the following statement on her speech: 

“Please do not look to this talk for medical advice. We’ve flagged this talk, which was filmed at a TEDx event, because it appears to fall outside TEDx’s content guidelines. Gene therapy remains an emerging field of study. The speaker’s claims only reflect her personal views which are not corroborated by scientific evidence. TEDx events are independently organized by volunteers. The guidelines we give organizers are described in more detail here: https://storage.ted.com/tedx/manuals/tedx_content_guidelines.pdf

4. The secret to living longer may be your social life 

Life extension Ted talk by Susan Pinker

Speaker: Susan Pinker
Speech Year: 2017

What is a better predictor for a long life than smoking habits, body weight, and exercise habits? Pinker shares an amalgam of research, including her own, that shows that social bonds and “community integration” are the two most important lifestyle factors that correlate with long lives. She also covers the science behind why these relationships with others must be in person, not over a Zoom call or flurry of text messages. 

The takeaway?

Prioritize your daily in-person social interactions to increase your likelihood of living a long life, especially casual interactions with neighbors. 

Notable quote:

“Building in-person interaction into our cities, into our workplaces, into our agendas bolsters the immune system, sends feel-good hormones surging through the bloodstream and brain and helps us live longer. I call this ‘building your village,’ and building it and sustaining it is a matter of life and death.”

5. How young blood might help reverse aging. Yes, really

Longevity Ted talk about young blood

Speaker: Tony Wyss-Coray
Speech Year: 2015

Can blood be the secret to living a long life? Wyss-Coray shares his findings about the role blood plays in aging. Using his findings in mice as an example, Wyss-Coray shows how blood taken from younger specimens reverses aging when given to older mice, and has the opposite effect on younger mice when the roles are swapped. He then concludes with information about his human trial at Stanford, in which he is attempting to use a similar process to treat Alzheimer’s patients. His work is still ongoing, though promising studies suggest he’s headed in the right direction. 

The takeaway?

Blood from young donors may have rejuvenating, anti-aging properties.

Notable quote:

“Maybe we discovered that the Fountain of Youth is actually within us, and it has just dried out. And if we can turn it back on a little bit, maybe we can find the factors that are mediating these effects, we can produce these factors synthetically and we can treat diseases of aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.”

Longevity Ted talks honorable mentions

While narrowing my search for the best TED talks about longevity, I came across several speeches from celebrities in the life extension field and popular talks that would have easily made this list… if they had given their speech after 2015 or garnered more views. Because I wanted to keep the science fresh and shy away from indie talks (which may make the next update!), I omitted them from this list. With that said, I still think each of these are worth a watch.

Have you watched any of these longevity TED talks? What did you think? Are there other life extension TED Talks that should be on this list? Let me know what you took away from these presentations in the comments below!

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4 Comments

  1. Veronica

    Yes! I love these talks. Liz Parrish has been inspiring me for 5 years with her “Can Do” attitude! The science her company is doing at Rutger’s University is amazing and her patient advocacy may save millions of lives. She has published scientific papers and has the best advisory board in the field, yet trolls and stalkers continue to harass her and her company. A sign of brilliance indeed. This work may save our lives!

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