Here’s the optimistic theory advanced in June 1937 (Popular Science Magazine):
- Dr James E. Kendall, the British scientist who advanced the startling theory that “heavy water” might prolong life
Is “Heavy Water” the Fountain of Youth?
Add ten years to your life!
That is the fascinating hope held out to men and women by a magic new fluid called “heavy water,” according to Dr. James E. Kendall, head of the department of chemistry at Edinburgh University, Scotland. Discovered only six years ago, it may soon be sipped by everybody, he foresees, as a means of prolonging the human life span.
Heavy water boils at a temperature three degrees higher, and freezes at a temperature seven degrees higher, than the common variety. Unlike the tasteless water you are accustomed to drink, heavy water has a sweetish flavor.
Would heavy water prove an elixir of life, a deadly poison, or a neutral substance like ordinary water? Daring experimenters have swallowed small amounts of it without ill effects. But mice fed with relatively larger quantities of the mysterious liquid died, as did tadpoles and small fish placed in tanks of it. Why? Nobody knows for sure, as yet, but chemists have discovered one significant clew. Many chemical reactions, they have observed, take place more slowly in heavy water than in common water. Thus heavy water may “apply the brakes” to life processes, with more or less effect according to the amount consumed.
- Increasing amounts of “heavy water” have been sipped by Prof. Klaus Hansen to test its effect
Here is the basis for Dr. Kendall’s bold idea. By taking carefully regulated quantities of this heavy water, perhaps an elderly person could “throttle down” his internal mechanism thereby making it last longer by preserving it from all unnecessary wear and tear!
“In other words,” Dr. Kendall says, “the person drinking heavy water would be living only half as fast as the person drinking ordinary water. Doubtless, this would have drawbacks to men and women of working age, but it would be a positive boon to those in the Indian summer of life, who have retired from active work and wish only to enjoy the fruits of their labors.
“The heavy-water drinker’s reactions would probably be slowed, and possibly his mental processes also, but who wants to be fast at sixty? Fantastic as this development may sound. I believe than within the next ten or fifteen years drinking of heavy water by those who have passed sixty, as a means of prolonging the ‘reward years’ of life, will be commonplace.”
One formidable obstacle to be overcome, he admits, is the cost of producing heave water. Scarcer than the rarest wine, it once
sold for $300 a teaspoonful, and even today the same outlay will buy only a couple of glassfuls. At the current price, a year’s supply for drinking purposes would bankrupt a millionaire.
- This complicated apparatus at Columbia University, produces the mysterious liquid by electrolysis. It was in this laboratory that “heavy water” was discovered six years ago
And here’s the current thinking, as per our friends at Wikipedia:
Effect on biological systems
Heavy water is the only known chemical substance that affects the period of circadian oscillations, consistently increasing the length of each cycle. The effect is seen in unicellular organisms, green plants, isopods, insects, birds, mice, and hamsters. The mechanism is unknown.
To perform their tasks, enzymes rely on their finely tuned networks of hydrogen bonds, both in the active center with their substrates, and outside the active center, to stabilize their tertiary structures. As a hydrogen bond with deuterium is slightly stronger than one involving ordinary hydrogen, in a highly deuterated environment, some normal reactions in cells are disrupted.
Plants stop growing and seeds do not germinate when given only heavy water, because heavy water stops eukaryotic cell division. With over 50% of deuterium in the water molecules, plants die. Experiments conducted by Skladnev, Mosin et al. show that microorganisms can live in 98% heavy water.
It has been proposed that low doses of heavy water can slow the aging process by helping the body resist oxidative damage via the isotope effect. A team at the Institute for the Biology of Ageing, located in Moscow, conducted an experiment to determine the effect of heavy water on longevity using fruit flies and found that while large amounts were deadly, smaller quantities increased lifespans by up to 30%.
I first came across this idea many years ago, in a the science fiction novel “The Time Masters” (1953) by Wilson Tucker.
This rather interesting novel starts out with a detective plot as the protagonist is hired to find the missing wife of a scientist. It quickly develops, however, that both the detective and the wife have a surprising, and extremely ancient, past. They are survivors of a spacecraft disaster thousands of years ago. The detective had come from a planet where heavy water was normal and without it he was prematurely aging – indeed, he was showing signs of age after a mere 10,000 years!
“It was a peculiar kind of water, natural enough if one remained on the island during his lifetime, but really quite rare if one visited the other islands and discovered how unusual it was. It was a water with certain, special qualities not found in very many other places that the ships visited. Hence, those ships must carry huge stores of it to enable them to make complete round-trip voyages without refilling the tanks. The water of the other worlds was drinkable in emergencies — yes, but it was water of a drastically altered nature which failed to yield the mineral qualities necessary to sustain the lengthened life span. It was a poor substitute which, if one were forced to rely on it alone, would not sustain life the natural span. It was, in short, a thin liquid to prolong life a short while — nothing more. The natural water of the island on which one was bom and raised was needed for a healthy life.”
The girl had been sitting very quietly, listening to his voice and watching his profile against the nickering fire-light. Now she said, “So Gilgamesh became a sailor. Despite the dangers to the mariner, despite the need for the peculiar water of his home world, he became a sailor. And he was shipwrecked.”