Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine ● Longevity Nutrition

Interconnectedness of Everything

A raging river, swollen past its banks reveals standing pools of water as its fierce vale of rapidy froth recedes.  Those little forest pools, as if by magic, warm slightly then give birth to a new cosmos of flying life in the air.  Insects become food for the birds and the keepers of the flowering plants.  Mosquitoes become pests to some but Gods to the parasites and viruses that they hold sacred in the proboscis.    The fresh supply of newly evolved viruses, brought to us by the birds arriving from the other hemisphere. The mixing of blood, potentially across all creatures,…birds, elk, beaver, coyotes, humans. The sharing of viruses, Earth’s great force behind the Evolution of DNA.

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Human beings constantly strive to be more than what we think we are.  We look outside of ourselves for the next thing to make us smarter or younger, stronger or live longer.  This yearning has given birth to the multi-billion dollar industry of nutritional supplements.  We are subject to a continuous stream of advertising and information on the next great discovery.  If you drink this berry juice from the Amazon you will live longer!  Take this new antioxidant discovered in these roots from some exotic part of China!

What are we really discovering?  That the fruits and roots and herbs and leaves that come from our Earth are good for us? These are not new discoveries.  The discovery is that these foods are what we should be eating!  From red wine to tobacco, amazing health-giving qualities can be found in any real food that we consume.  The ancient civilizations like China and India have known this for hundreds if not thousands of years.  Their diets have evolved to the point that their day to day meals are their medicine.   

Let’s take the seemingly miniscule example of folic acid.  Its name is derived from its source, foliage.  One study after another has shown the incredible health-giving benefits of folic acid.  To name a few:  reducing the incidence of birth defects, reducing the incidence of lung cancer in smokers and several other types of cancer, reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease, and increasing fertility in both men and women. I can’t tell you how many women I have seen for infertility who became pregnant within a month of two of taking large doses of folic acid along with B6 and B12.  Folic acid has perhaps a couple hundred biochemical functions in the body.  One of the more interesting is its ability to turn genes off by giving up (donating) part of its chemical makeup known as a methyl group. (many other vitamins and substances do this as well). 

In the emerging field of epigenetics one of the most mind-blowing experiments done to date was with Agouti mice.  Scientists use a genetic strain of mice known as “Yellow Mice” which have a high risk of cancer, diabetes, obesity and reduced lifespan to study these very diseases.  They discovered that when they fed pregnant “Yellow Mice” folic acid, not only did the offspring look completely different (leaner, brown-gray fur, etc) but even feeding the offspring the same disease-inducing diet as the “Yellow mice”, the offspring had lower incidences of cancer, obesity, diabetes and lived longer!  This “new” strain of mouse was called the Agouti mouse even though it was genetically identical to its predecessor.  Discoveries like these in epigenetics are forcing scientists to reconsider major theories like “nature vs. nurture” and certain mechanisms in the theory of Evolution. 

On the flip side a few studies have come out recently showing that folic acid supplementation increases the incidence of some types of cancers especially in the prostate.  We have to consider that everything in nature functions as part of the whole.  When we eat green, leafy vegetables we receive not only folic acid but also an array of B vitamins and trace minerals which so often function with folic acid in the body.  We also receive hundreds of plant chemicals that alter how our genes control our immune systems, detoxification pathways, etc.  This is what we evolved with. The more we delve into the awesome intricacies of Mother Nature, we reach two realizations.  (1)How little we know.  (2) We already know everything because we evolved with it and are a part of it. 

So what it the conclusion I am asking you to come to today?  Is it that you should take more folic acid?  Perhaps it’s not that taking large doses of folic acid is good for us.  It’s that NOT consuming it in the amounts and forms that we evolved with is making robbing us and our progeny of our health and vitality.  Imagine living before farming.  What do you think you would eat in the springtime?  Look around at what is emerging from Earth.  What are you made of?

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The next couple of posts will deal with, what I think are, the most magical and amazing beings on the planet…viruses.  A press release that was first picked up February 2, 2010 by Popular Science boasts of the discovery of a new chemical LJ001 that has the capability of acting as a broad spectrum anti-viral.  The actual press release  starts out by saying, “Viruses are insidious creatures…” and then goes on to discuss the potential of LJ001 to put an end to some of the world’s most deadly human diseases including AIDS, Ebola, and hemorrhagic fever.

The development of such a drug has the potential to ease human loss and suffering and contribute to “society’s concept” of a utopian existence.  On the other side of this we must consider the compelling research that suggests viruses could be “the little man behind the curtain”, with regards to evolution of life on this planet.  I’m concerned that science doesn’t yet know enough about how viruses contribute to every aspect of our existence to use a drug like this safely.  For example, the primary gene responsible for producing syncytin , which forms the placenta, comes from the activation of a retrovirus that is embedded in the DNA of all mammals’ germ cells.  Syncytin is very similar in structure to the viral envelop that LJ001 attacks.  This is just one tiny example of how viruses play a part in our existence. 

On February 24th, National Geographic will be re-airing the documentary, “The Virus Hunters” which discusses theories on how viruses have been a powerful force in facilitating the ever-evolving complexities of life on this planet.  This one of the most interesting documentaries I’ve ever seen.

One aspect of discussion pertains to an experiment in which a virus is introduced into the brains of prairie voles causing behavioral changes that resulted in the promiscuous males becoming monogamous. The original article that appeared in Nature.

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One of my readers questioned my recipe from “If Popeye Was a Real Man He Would Have Eaten Kale” and asked what I thought about the research linking longevity and methionine restriction. Eggs are a significant source of methionine and so perhaps could lead to faster aging.  In order to answer this question, it’s important to consider the mechanisms involved and the evolutionary advantages.   This question enters one of the world’s biggest rabbit holes and is too much for one posting so watch for posts related to methionine restriction and longevity in the future. 

To review, several research studies have shown that dietary restriction of the essential amino acid, methionine, results in 42-44% increase in average life span of rats, mice and fruit flies.  There are two major mechanisms that have been identified that contribute to this.  One is lowered production of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (mROS).  These are basically free radicals produced in the mitochondria where our cells make energy or ATP.   mROS speed up degeneration of mitochondrial DNA, ultimately leading to faster cell turnover and aging.  Glutathione (GSH), is one of the most powerful reducers of mROS.  GSH is made from methionine.  However, restricting methionine intake results in elevated levels of GSH in all tissues except for the kidneys.  How is it that restricting methionine, the one essential amino acid that is a precursor to glutathione, results in higher levels of glutathione? It’s going to be very interesting when researchers figure out the answer to the dichotomy. 

With regards to longevity, I think methionine restriction has two contributing factors.  I’ll discuss one of them here and leave the second for another time.  Here is the first: 

Since methionine is an essential amino acid and is present in all naturally-occurring protein sources, it likely acts as a signal for protein abundance or scarcity.  Cellular signaling mechanisms are too involved for this discussion.  To simplify I’ll just say signaling may directly due to the presence or absence of methionine or may be through a secondary metabolite like homocysteine.  If its presence signals abundance, then the body would increase metabolism as it goes into an anabolic state preparing for reproduction.  An increase in metabolism will always result in an elevation of all ROS in cells.  This, by default, speeds cell turnover and aging.  On the other hand, if protein intake, and thus methionine, is scarce then the body likely creates different signals that reduce metabolism.  Reduced metabolism reduces turnover and aging of cells.  This is the same mechanism through which caloric restriction is theorized to promote longevity. 

With methionine, this control mechanism would incur an ultimate evolutionary survival advantage.  We know that methionine restriction reduces fecundity (reproductive ability).  During times of protein scarcity reduced metabolism via this signaling mechanism would minimize ongoing damage to mitochondrial and cellular DNA.   This would help to preserve the potential for successful reproduction (passing on of genes) and to prolong existence in anticipation for a more abundant and auspicious time.  As mentioned, in times of protein abundance, methionine would signal anabolism and preparation for reproduction.   If an individual is past reproductive age, metabolism will still increase.  In a community setting the increased vitality of older individuals would allow them to contribute more in the short term.  In this situation, survival advantage would be incurred throught The Grandmother Hypothesis .  It would also speed its ultimate demise, freeing up resources for the younger individuals who can still reproduce.

Since we, in the first world, live in a state of perpetual abundance we have time to figure out how we can live longer.  Restricting dietary methionine may likely contribute to this.  It seems logical that you would simply restrict foods that contain high amounts of methionine.  However, it isn’t that straight forward.  Next time I will discuss the glutathione dichotomy and methionine’s role in the alternation between Phase 1 and Phase 2 liver detoxification, the intricacies of dietary amino acid absorption, and research that contradicts the hypothesis that a vegan diet reduces methionine intake.  Yes, the egg question will finally be answered.

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A few weeks ago I published an article about Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Origin of Scientific Thought.  Part of its emphasis was discussing Five Element Theory which marked the beginning of scientific medicine and a departure from Shamanism.  The following is a discussion of the interconnected systems of soil biodiversity, plant ecology, gut microbiology, and human health and evolution. 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each of the Five Elements, fire, Earth, metal, water, and wood “symbolize five different inherent qualities and states of natural phenomena” including five movements and five phases in the cycle of the seasons.  People are often stumped by the fact that there are four seasons but five elements. Being the source of all life on this planet, Earth was the fifth, and viewed as the source of all the other elements.

The ancient Chinese scholars identified the digestive system to be an extension of and our connection to the Earth.  After all, it is where the elements of Earth are taken in as food and are transformed into a living being.

The bacteria and fungi present in every square millimeter of soil ultimately act as the digestive system or Earth element for plants.  They fix nitrogen and break down soil nutrients and minerals into forms that can be taken up by the plants’ roots. When we eat plants, we also take in some of the bacteria and fungi present in the soil.  These become part of the incredibly complex ecosystem of the gut.  

Each and every organism present in digestive system is a reflection of the organisms present in the soil.  Each one creates its own unique signals and immune responses that literally determine our state of being on EVERY level. 

We are already aware of the anti-inflammatory and immune boosting benefits of acidophilus and bifidus which are being marketed in several yogurt products.  A more interesting example of this appeared in the journal, Neuroscience, in May of 2007.  Researchers found that the presence of the bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae (which is common in soil and not pathogenic to humans) created an immune response that stimulated serotonin sensitivity in the certain parts of the brain.  A couple of things to take note of here:   First, not all immune responses are bad.  They are simply signals.  Secondly, this bacteria’s presence in the gut results in actual behavioral modifications via serotonin which has a happy, calming effect.  Further investigation suggested that this is one reason gardening makes us happy.

Another example is the pathogenic fungus, Rhizopus arrhizus. This fungus is also common in the soil and in trace amounts in our digestive tract.  Like an ecosystem, the richer and more diverse, the more resilient.  As long as our digestive ecosystem is diverse and healthy this fungus remains at low, non-threatening levels and actually serves many beneficial biologic functions.  For example, if you eat anything from the yam family this fungus converts some of the phytochemicals it into the hormone progesterone which is then taken up into the blood via the lymphatic system.  It’s also used very effectively in German Biologic Medicine as a low-dose suppository to stimulate the body to break up its own blood clots and vascular congestion.

A broader example is the influence of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes and weight gain in humans.  An article that appeared in Nature  demonstrated a strong correlation between a low level of Bacteroidetes and obesity.  Conversely, thinner people had higher levels of Firmicutes.  Further research showed that these bacteria directly alter carbohydrate metabolism in the digestive system. 

Ultimately the bacteria in the soil determine what types plants can establish.  However, after a plant establishes itself, it creates its own local pathogen controls by promoting rhizobacteria.  When we eat plants and their roots the immunity from the rhizobacteria are passed on to our own digestive systems. From the soil, to the plant, to our own digestive system and back again.  They are not separate.  They are one system.  The foods we eat have a direct impact on the preponderance of the various bacteria and fungi present in our gut.  This, in turn, determines the signals and immune system responses.  As a very simple example, too much sugar results in an overgrowth of some fungi like candida albicans.  (more information on this in the future)

The emerging field of gut microbiology has incredible potential for treating disease.  However, after all the research is done, I believe the ultimate conclusion will be that eating food grown in healthy soil with extensive biodiversity will manifest as a healthy, evolving human community.  With our current technology we have only been able to culture between 0.1 and 1% of the soil fungi and bacteria.  The rest is completely unknown to us. 

It is important to consider the impact of microbial deprivation (via the use of bacteriocides, fungicides, irradiation, triple washing and chlorination of our food and water) on the human health and evolution.  There is a growing body of evidence that suggests the immune system problems we are seeing in the younger generations are a result of insufficient bacterial and viral exposure.  Furthermore, because plants determine the presence of specific bacteria, it’s important to consider the impact that monocultures have on soil biodiversity and how this affects human health.

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On the home page of my website rests half of Seneca’s famous quote, “Throughout the whole of life, one must continue to learn to live…”. Being a self-proclaimed, pathological optimist I couldn’t bring myself to display the other half of Seneca’s thoughts….”and what will amaze you even more, throughout life, one must learn to die”.

This is not only the essence of life. It is the essence of the universe. One of the earliest references to this concept was presented around 700 BCE, most appropriately, in “The Book of Changes”. It was the theory of Yin and Yang (pronounced yawng). The symbols name literally translates as Supreme Ultimate. If you study this theory, you will find it embraces the true scientific epiphanies of our time including Newton’s three laws of motion.* Even a graph of Newton’s second law follows the non-linear, center line of the yin-yang symbol showing that when mass is very large, acceleration is very small and visa versa.

The theory’s true profundity lies in the concept that yin and yang represent a continuum between two extremes. Yin representing the densest form (matter) and Yang representing the lightest form (energy). Einstein couldn’t have surmised it better. About 2500 years after its appearance Darwin came to understand another aspect of this (not yet proclaimed) universal law. In the final paragraph of his book, “On the Origin of Species” Darwin wrote:

“Thus, from the war of Nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

In honor of James Lee Byar’s quote “Answer is the betrayal of the open spirit of question”, I leave the interpretion of Darwin’s last paragraph to the reader. As I’ve moved through my life, my understanding of this quote has been like rose opening. I can’t believe the depth that it holds. It makes me wonder if the Catholic church so vehemently demonized Darwin, not because his realizations were blasphemy, but because they offered a more profound concept of God than the church could ever provide.

This brings us to our next subject…the origin of matter and thus the origin of creation…death.

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