Why Die?

At 80, Miller Quarles figures he should have 100 good years left. And Houston's apostle of life extension is determined to find them.

Linus Pauling is dead, but Miller Quarles is not discouraged.
Quarles is finishing off his LuAnn Platter at the Luby's on Fondren, picking the skin off his baked fish and complaining he's too full to eat more than a bite of his whole wheat roll. He generally likes cafeterias, he says, because "you can see what you're getting," but he's disappointed that this Luby's hasn't stocked skim milk since he asked for it on his last visit. The vegetables are good, and he's downed his spinach and broccoli. He'll settle for half the pumpkin pie, leaving the crust because "it's full of grease and white flour." Just when the 80-year-old's concern for his diet appears wholesome, he dumps three packets of sugar on top of the two lime wedges in his ice water. "Supposed to drink a lot of liquids, and this makes it tastes better," he explains. As Quarles stirs the sugar, he returns to his topic. Typically, Quarles is talking about death. But unlike some in his age group he's not talking about who died recently, or who's on the Reaper's waiting list or when he might be expected to sleep the big sleep. No, when Miller Quarles talks about death, he has one thing in mind: how to postpone it.

As Quarles views it, the question is fundamental: do you want to die sooner, or do you want to die later? Quarles has already found his own answer to this question. He's certain he wants to die later, much later. Say about 100 years later. And he's sure that an elongated life will happen, if not for him, then for many who will live long enough to see science solve aging. Actually, he refers to the task as "curing the old age disease."

Of course, Miller Quarles isn't the first to have a passion for stretching the human life span to cover centuries instead of decades. In the Middle Ages, some European nobility drank the blood of virgins to help maintain their youthful vigor. Quarles isn't quite that enthusiastic, but his anti-aging obsession isn't just the idle daydream of an octogenarian either. He's put up a $100,000 reward in a certificate of deposit for any scientist who discovers a way to reverse, or at least stall, the march to the grave, and he's formed the Curing Old Age Disease Society (COADS), an organization that presently claims 170 members. And to spread the anti-aging word, Quarles writes a monthly column that runs in about six free publications that are published locally in La Porte and Deer Park and outside the state in Florida and California.

With all the energy and time he's dedicated to his mission, the death of Pauling

was a blow to Quarles, both personally and professionally. "When Pauling died, it was the first time in 20 years I cried," he says. A two-time Nobel Prize winner (one in 1954 for chemistry, one in 1962 for peace), Pauling taught Quarles physical chemistry at Cal Tech back in the 1930s, and the two had recently exchanged correspondence. They shared not only a passion for science, but also a preoccupation with living as long as possible.

Publicly, Pauling was best known for his promotion of vitamin C as a way to cure the common cold, but within the scientific community he was credited with using quantum theory to explain the fundamentals of chemical bonding. He also uncovered the genetic basis for sickle cell anemia and almost beat James Watson and Francis Crick to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. In his later years, Pauling's work turned in part to life extension, with a 1986 book irresistibly titled How to Live Longer and Feel Better. Pauling made it to 93 before succumbing this August 19 to prostate cancer. Quarles, 14 years Pauling's junior at the time of his mentor's death, has also had prostate problems, but says that after a few "roto-rooter" procedures to trim back the often troublesome male gland he's feeling fine. An earlier transient ischemic attack -- something of a mini-stroke -- has not recurred, but the memory of it has him popping half an aspirin a day as a precaution. Aside from these routine glitches, Quarles boasts of being "healthy as hell."

Even so, Pauling's passing seems to have steeled Quarles to his task. Though he ambles about in a manner that brings the word "spry" to mind, Quarles knows the clock is running. No matter how fine he feels, he's still 80. But as the finish line approaches, slowing the pace is not on his agenda. He takes tennis lessons on Saturdays, plays several matches on Tuesdays and Thursdays and does a kicking and chopping karate workout about once a week.

Much of what Quarles does to stay in shape is just common sense. He never smoked, he rarely drinks, he hasn't done recreational drugs and he watches what he eats, sticking to modest portions of a traditional diet. If his regimen could be boiled down to phrase, it is this: watch your diet, do lots of exercise and take lots of vitamins. Yet his vitamin intake isn't bizarre or magical. As an early disciple of Pauling, he took four grams a day of vitamin C, but a few years back he jacked it up to eight grams a day. Also on Pauling's advice, he's taking a daily dose of two grams of L-lysine, an amino acid believed to be helpful in preventing heart disease. Other daily doses include 20,000 units of beta carotene as an anti-cancer antioxidant and a 100 milligram dose of B-complex. He takes chromium picolinate three times a week to help maintain his muscle mass and a dose each of zinc and selenium once a week.

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