Sam Rose, CN MS
John’s father died of a heart attack at the age of 58. There was no warning. One morning he didn’t wake up. Worried that the same fate awaited him, 32-year-old John came to see me. “I can’t understand it’, he said, ‘my grandparents on both sides lived into their early eighties. Why should my father die so young?” I told him there is no simple or conclusive answer to that question. Still, I wanted to know more about his father and examine the differences between the pattern of his life and that of the grandparents.
As it turned out, John’s father was a first generation American. Each grandparent was born in Japan (home to some of the longest living people on earth) and had come to this country as a child or young adult. Although his parents maintained the eating habits of the “old country”, John’s father chose to adopt a western lifestyle, high in processed and refined foods, fatty foods, sugary and salty foods.
I explained to John how this fit the pattern observed in many first generation Americans who pay a price for giving up the habits that kept their immigrant parents healthy. We took a look at John’s habits and found that he too was headed for trouble. I convinced him to make several key changes in his life and designed a program that he followed religiously for 4 months. Today, John has lost 20 pounds. His cholesterol level has gone from 230 to 180 and he has more energy than ever. By eliminating several of the risk factors for heart disease John has improved his chances of living a long and healthy life.
The human body is a miracle of design. Upon conception and during gestation the genetic blueprint for its construction and maintenance is encoded into every cell. Provide an optimum environment and a steady supply of raw materials and the 75 trillion cells in your body should keep you going for a long time. How long? Current thinking among researchers on aging holds that we humans are engineered to last between 100 and 120 years depending on our genetic potential.
There is evidence that our cells are genetically programmed to divide a given number of times in their lives. Like an alarm clock that is set to go off, the cells in our bodies are pre-set for termination. A chromosome called a telomere acts like a fuse, shortening each time a cell divides until there is none left and the cell dies.
But normal, programmed cell death, known as apoptosis, isn’t so cut and dry. For example, telomeres have the ability to regenerate, leading many to believe that length of life is not predetermined and unalterable. Consider the remarkable experiment conducted by Dr. Alexis Carrell at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. Dr. Carrell took small pieces of heart tissue from a chicken embryo and immersed them in a nutrient solution. Each day the solution was changed to remove cellular waste and provide fresh nutrients. Amazingly, the chicken heart tissue lived for 29 years until it died one day when an assistant neglected to change the solution. These results suggest that a steady supply of nutrients and a clean internal environment can dramatically increase the lifespan of cells. Dr. Carrell went as far as to say, “ The cell is immortal. It is merely the fluid in which it floats that degenerates.”
Dr. Carrell’s results lend credence to the theory, held by many alternative practitioners, that nutritional deficiency and internal toxicity weaken our defenses and set us up for a premature end. To ensure a long and healthy life, it is just as important to eliminate toxins as it is to provide our bodies with optimum nutrition.
Chief among the current theories of why we age is the free radical theory. Created by poor nutrition, pollution, stress and normal metabolic processes, free radicals are unbalanced molecules that are missing an electron in their outer shell. So desperate are they to obtain an electron, they will attack healthy cells in the body in order to regain their stability. Every cell in your body is bombarded by roughly 100,000 free radicals a day. Antioxidant enzymes are able to neutralize and repair 99.9% of the damage. However, thousands of cells remain wounded each day. The theory suggests that this cellular damage accumulates over time until the destruction reaches critical mass leading to tissue death. Author Jean Carper, in her book, Stop Aging Now!, suggests that by the age of 50, about 30% of our cellular protein has been oxidized into rusty junk by free radicals. It is this losing battle with free radicals, so the theory goes, that accelerates aging and all its unpleasant consequences.
The fact that it can take decades for free radicals to do their damage is testimony to the power of our natural antioxidant systems. Each system produces an antioxidant that protects specific tissue by giving up an electron to a hungry free radical. Theoretically, our antioxidant systems should be able to keep free radicals under control. But the numbers of free radicals generated by modern life far exceed the neutralizing capacity of our antioxidant systems and eventually, our cells become permanently damaged by the continuing chemical attack.
In centuries past it may have been possible to obtain adequate antioxidant protection by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, but these days our elevated requirements cannot be met with food alone. This is where supplemental antioxidants can make a big difference. At the very least, your supplemental regimen should include Vitamins C, E and beta-carotene, the minerals selenium and zinc, COQ10 and marine or flaxseed oil.
As Americans continue to gain weight, there is compelling evidence that eating less may be your most powerful strategy for living a long life. Several studies of mice, rats, fruit flies and monkeys, conducted over the last 65 years have found that a 30% reduction in calories consumed lead to a 30% longer life. Dr Roy L. Walford, gerontologist and a professor of pathology at the UCLA School of Medicine, has found that mice fed 50% fewer calories live nearly twice as long as mice on a normal diet. These mice also had more energy and experienced less frailty and disease.
According to Dr. Walford and other researchers on aging, human life expectancy and health would also improve on a low-calorie, nutrient-rich diet. If the results in animal experiments hold true for humans, a 30% reduction in calories would produce an average life span of 98 years and a 50% decrease in calories would lead to an average life expectancy of 114 years. Interestingly, both these figures correlate with the currently held view that the human body should last 100 to 120 years.
On the Japanese Island of Okinawa, there are more people over the age of 100 than in any other population. These people eat 17 to 40% fewer calories than other Japanese and suffer 30-40% less degenerative disease. Again, it appears to come down to free radical activity. Fewer calories eaten require less oxygen to convert those calories into energy, which produces fewer free radicals. According to researchers, restricting calories by as little as 10% can cut down on free radical production.
Chart the health curve of the average American. It rises sharply in the first few years, peaks in the late teens or early 20’s then slowly begins to decline through the 30’s and 40’s. By the mid-50’s, “age-related” conditions begin to take their toll and the last 15 to 20 years of life are suffered in rapidly declining health. Not a pretty picture. Learn how to protect yourself from the onslaught of free radicals and you can achieve a square health curve in which you attain a high level of health, maintain it throughout your life and die at 100+ as your genetic program runs out.
Most of us will not die of old age. We will succumb, prematurely, to a degenerative disease created by free radicals. According to a recent Surgeon General’s report, degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and arteriosclerosis account for 80% of the deaths in our country today. These diseases are not, in the view of many researchers, separate entities. They are more likely the expression of free radical activity interacting with genetic disposition to shorten the life span of nearly every one of us. In fact, virtually all our maladies are the result of free radical induced accelerated aging. Reduce the free radical activity in your body and you will not only live longer, you will improve the quality of your extended life.
It is a commonly held belief that, through advancements in medicine, the average American’s lifespan has been significantly lengthened over the course of the last century. But in truth, if you factor out the number of deaths at birth, Americans are living only 18 months longer today than they would have in the year 1900.
Surely, we can do better than that.
Sam Rose, CN MS is a licensed and certified nutritionist and owner of Rose Nutrition Center in West Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310-473-8835.