Anti-Aging: Let Food Be Thy Medicine

Old age is a consequence of civilization; it is seen seldom in primitive societies and very rarely seen in wild animals. Although in this century the average lifespan of women and men has increased by 30% since the onset of industrialization and by over 300% since Neolithic times, we don’t exactly know how or why aging occurs. We do know that aging is a function of cells ceasing to divide. Some scientists speculate that any given differentiated cell can only divide a fixed number of times (as opposed to a cancer cell, which is undifferentiated, and theoretically immortal in that it continues, unchecked, to divide). The human body has more than 10 million, million (that’s 13 zeroes) cells, all of which are differentiated into nerve, muscle, adipose, etc., and are thus mortal. Given that we all die at some point, the objective now is to maximize the QUALITY of our lives and avoid controllable causes for pre-mature death.

Many of the precautions against premature death are well-known: wear seatbelts; eat a low-fat, high fiber, high complex- carbohydrate diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables; get regular, moderate, exercise; get enough sleep; love yourself and your friends; do work that makes you happy; don’t do drugs. It is worth repeating the low-fat part: low fat. To quote from an editorial published in 1991 in the New England Journal of Medicine, “the optimal intake of cholesterol is probably zero, meaning the avoidance of animal products… Most recommendations suggest that total saturated fats be reduced to about 10% of energy intake, but the optimal level may well be much lower…” Wow! Radical! The American Heart Association still recommends “cutting back” to 30% which is three times the amount eaten by societies with the lowest incidence of cardiovascular disease.

The causes for pre-mature aging are somewhat more obscure, but the very bottom line for optimizing longevity seems to be EAT LESS, and stay active. Three communities whose populations seem to enjoy exceptionally long lives are 1) the village of Vilcabamba high in the Andes of Ecuador, 2) the Hunza, a small territory in the Himalayas of Pakistan and 3) the Georgian province in the Caucasus Mountains of the USSR. Diets in these communities are low to moderate in calories, and the primary source of calories for all three groups is complex carbohydrates, suggesting a generous intake of fiber.

Classic studies were done by McCay and co-workers in the 1930’s with animal models that definitively proved calorie restriction increases life span. The mechanism may be via retardation of the development of degenerative diseases. Animals consuming high protein early in life and low protein with moderate calories thereafter had the longest life spans. It is also documented that food restriction also delays the appearance of lesions in infectious diseases. Obviously we are not talking starvation, which is extremely detrimental to health. However, once we reach a mature size it is appropriate to consider reducing total caloric intake as a way to spare our bodies the wear and tear of metabolism: digesting,assimilating and storing the amino acid, sugar and fat fractions of the food we eat. Juicing is an excellent way to consume high quality, partially pre-metabolized nutrients.

Given the general trend in soil mineral depletion with the advent of mechanized farming and pesticide use, it may well be advisable to take a basic vitamin/mineral supplement. It is especially important for vegetarians to supplement B12. All of us will benefit from consuming anti-oxidants (which protect against excessive free radical damage) such as the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, and C; and the micronutrients zinc and selenium — both co- factors in enzymes which break down by-products of peroxidation (cellular oxygen damage). All of the above (except B12) may be automatically accomplished by a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. Organic produce is preferable, especially for root crops such as carrots, onions and potatoes, which sit in the soil to grow. Avoid all forms of animal fat (there’s just nothing good about it) except fresh fish oil, which has been shown to significantly reduce inflammation and the damage incurred by tissue irritation.

Since we’re going to be eating less, it makes sense to ingest calories of the highest possible quality; that we minimize “empty” calories found in fast foods, processed foods and “junk” foods. It is easy to “fast” for 12 hours each day by not eating late at night. And don’t be afraid to “break-fast” with a salad or freshly pressed juice!