Sep 24, 2023 - Health

Inside the longevity industrial complex

Illustration of a hourglass with a DNA strand in place of the glass

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A slew of podcasters are building massive followings and businesses online by exploring the human curiosity about living longer.

Why it matters: Enthusiasm for the topic has grown in recent months as streamers and celebrities elevate the field, which once was confined largely to niche podcasts and books.

What's happening: Longevity has long been a fantasy of wealthy entrepreneurs trying to invest their way into a breakthrough money hasn't been able to buy.

  • But the rise of direct-to-consumer media — podcasts, social platforms and streaming — has helped to bring those discussions to the masses.
  • Netflix last month debuted a new series, "Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones," which chronicles unique communities around the world where people live extraordinarily long lives.

By the numbers: The global longevity and anti-aging market is projected to reach $183 billion by 2028, according to business intelligence firm Grand View Research.

How it works: A relatively small circle of longevity podcasters reinforce one another's reach. Their work then finds its way into the mainstream, feeding the public's insatiable appetite for content about living longer.

Case in point: The most successful longevity podcaster is Andrew Huberman, an associate professor of neurobiology at Stanford.

  • With over 10 million followers across social media, Huberman has become one of the most popular podcasters in the country. His show, Huberman Lab, consistently ranks in the top 10 most-listened-to podcasts in America, per Chartable.

Between the lines: Huberman often cites other longevity podcasters, including Peter Attia and David Sinclair, bolstering their followings and businesses.

  • Sinclair, Attia, and others have all made the New York Times bestseller list.
  • Some of the country's most popular podcasters, including Joe Rogan and Dax Shepard, also feature their work.

Reality check: Beyond commonly understood lifestyle practices — a healthy diet, consistent exercise, social interaction, adequate sleep — some scientists say there's not much out there that's proven to be effective in extending how long someone can live healthily.

  • "Once you get outside of that, there's not a lot that is crystal clear," said Matt Kaeberlein, a biologist at the University of Washington whose research focuses on aging.

But there's a lot that can be done to prevent people from getting sick in the first place, he said: "While life expectancy is plateauing in the U.S., health span is shrinking. Health care access is a problem. But even people with good health care are missing out on simple things that could be fixed by and large."

  • The focus on extreme longevity is misguided and can be a distraction from what is currently or soon to be available, he added: "If we can target the biology of aging and give one or two more decades of healthy life span, that is a huge deal."

What we're watching: Some longevity podcasters tend to hawk similar products and work with the same group of advertisers, including LMNT for hydration, Athletic Greens for nutrition and athlete-focused supplements from Momentous.

  • Wellness marketing schemes have long been a concern of the FTC, which issues fines for false commercialization, or misleading messages, in ads.
  • In April, the FTC warned nearly 700 marketing firms pushing over-the-counter drugs, homeopathic products, dietary supplements and functional foods that they could face civil penalties if they couldn't back up their product claims.
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