How Long Do You Want To Live?
Far from a lucky role of the genetic dice,
looking more and more like the result of a healthy lifestyle.
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.
How Long Will You Live?
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.
It’s Not All In The Genes
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.
Why We Age
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.
Are You Eating Yourself Into An Early Grave?
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
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
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
Squaring the Curve
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 email@example.com or 310-473-8835.