Of the scores of anti-aging herbs available in the Materia Medica of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Astragalus membranaceous has recently fallen under the spotlight. Aside from the newest research that shows its ability to lengthen telomeres, there are multiple studies going back 15-20 years demonstrating its ability to reduce inflammation, enhance the immune system and improve fatigue. Much of this information can be found in this wonderful post discussing some of its benefits.
Although generally safe, there are some caveats to the use of astragalus and some potential side effects. These are described in the Traditional Chinese Medical literature. Having used astragalus on at least 1000 patients, I can say with certainty that these concerns are legitimate. There are two major contraindications in the Traditional Chinese Medical literature regarding the use of astragalus. One is in the case of acute infections, flus and colds. The other relates to a condition known as “dampness” that affects the digestive system, nervous system and lymphatic system.
One of the many benefits described in the traditional texts is that astragalus strengthens the “Wei Qi”. This translates as the protective energy or the immune system. For thousands of years, astragalus was touted as a way to prevent or “lock out invasion of wind-heat or wind-cold” aka infection by various viruses and bacteria. It is one of the most effective herbs on the planet for strengthening the immune system. However, they were very clear that it also had the ability to “lock in” these invaders, prolong acute febrile diseases and potentially drive them to deeper parts of the body. There are written observations that discuss post-viral fatigue type symptoms and prolonged illness caused by the inappropriate use of astragalus and other similar herbs. More research is needed for a full explanation. I suspect this has to do with some of the lectins present in the herb http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22172162. For a weakened or deranged immune system these can be of great benefit. However, in the presence of an active infection, astragalus likely acts like a cloaking device and allows some pathogens to proliferate more effectively while masking symptoms. As a general rule, astragalus should be avoided or discontinued during acute infections of the respiratory tract, digestive tract and urinary tract. It should also be avoided during yeast infections and acute prostatitis. There are circumstances where astragalus can be used as an adjunctive herb in these situations, especially in weak or elderly patients. However, it would always be combined with other herbs that deal directly with infection and inflammation. In the cases of chronic diseases, astragalus can work miracles when combined with other herbs that address the specific condition.
Currently, it is not possible to determine if the extract contained in TA-65 ™ or other related products have cause for any of these concerns. It contains very specific chemical compounds from astragalus, which may not be involved in this mechanism. Several of my patients are taking TA-65 ™ and they all report fewer colds. However, to be on the safe side, I recommend that they temporarily discontinue it if they feel any symptoms coming on.
The second potential contraindication with astragalus concerns a mysterious concept called “dampness”. This is very common in today’s society. When “dampness” is present, the interconnected mechanisms within the digestive, nervous and lymphatic systems become “clogged”. It leads to and arrays of symptoms including fatigue, mental fog, digestive disturbances and disruption of neurotransmitter balance. This complex subject illuminates entire aspects of disease, especially the beginnings of autoimmune conditions. Although parts of our scientific knowledge can fill in some of the pieces, it is not sufficiently advanced enough to effectively explain this very real condition. The concept of dampness repeatedly appears throughout the Traditional Chinese Medicine literature spanning hundreds of years. Ayurveda, an even older medicine, also recognized this disease pathology. It is considered one of the primary “seeds” of many chronic diseases. The appropriate use of astragalus with this condition will be discussed in a future post.
I was first introduced to the concept of Sympathetic Overdrive while attending a lecture about the etiology of autoimmune disease presented by Gary and Rain Klepper D.C. Over ten years later, any skepticism I had regarding the importance of this concept has fully dissolved. There is an array of chronic diseases, including many autoimmune and skin disorders, which are ultimately and intimately related to gut health. Overlooking this single issue can render an otherwise sound treatment protocol slow or ineffective. For successful treatment of gut-related conditions it is imperative that the presence and severity of sympathetic overdrive be assessed and addressed.
Understanding Sympathetic Overdrive
There are two major parts of the nervous system. The parasympathetic, which is activated when we relax, is known as the “rest and digest” part of our nervous system. It stimulates blood flow to the digestive system, brain, extremities and sexual organs. The other part, the sympathetic nervous system, is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. It is activated when our body perceives stress. It reduces blood flow to the extremities, brain and digestive organs in preparation for a perceived survival situation. As we go through our daily lives, our external circumstances and our thoughts stimulate a constant dance between these two aspects of the nervous system. When a person is constantly stressed, their nervous system can be tilted into the state of sympathetic overdrive. The stress can be brought on by various factors including constant worry, skipping meals, not getting adequate rest, not allowing adequate time to carry out tasks and difficult life situations. People who work long hours that involve concentration and active thinking are prone to sympathetic overdrive. This condition is rampant in corporate executives and hedge fund managers. It can also be triggered by situations that remind our subconscious of stressful or scary events from our past.
When a person experiences enough stress to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, they often experience cold hands and feet. Less noticeable but more serious is the reduced blood flow to the digestive tissues. If this only happens occasionally, the system usually has the resilience to recover. However, if the body is in a state of sympathetic overdrive, tissues of the digestive system constantly experience a state of reduced blood flow and oxygen exchange. Elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, can lead to further damage to these tissues.
The effects of reduced blood flow from sympathetic overdrive interferes with the proper functioning of digestive organs, alters the balance of microbes residing within the gut, reduces the proper functioning of the immune system and interferes with proper filtering of nutrients that are absorbed. Many of the beneficial bacteria and fungi growing in our gut only thrive in an oxygen environment. These bacteria are known as aerobes. As the oxygen supply diminishes with circulation, bacteria that thrive in the absence of oxygen, anaerobes, begin to replace the withering populations of aerobic bacteria. Clostridium Difficile (aka C. Diff), a common infection in hospitals, is a classic anaerobic bacterium. Aside from C. Diff., there are likely hundreds of species of anaerobic bacteria that can or do reside in the human gut. So far, it is estimated that we’ve only been able to culture and identify between 1-5% of these organisms. However, we know they exist because we can test for one of their main waste products, beta-glucuronidase. This little waste product can reap havoc on the body’s detoxification systems and will be discussed in another article.
One would expect significant digestive disturbances in this situation. However, some people never experience any digestive symptoms. In the past 15 years I have seen hundreds of patients who tested positive for overgrowth of C. Diff, numerous pathogens or the presence of beta glucuronidase with no digestive symptoms. On the other hand, most of these patients had other significant chronic diseases including eczema, psoriasis, tyramine intolerance, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and fibromyalgia. I want to be absolutely clear that this scenario is only one piece of the puzzle in healing these diseases.
There are very few possibilities to explain how pathogenic bacteria can thrive in the digestive tract without initiating a proper immune response. The most logical explanation is the disruption of proper immune functioning from gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). I suspect that this system either becomes defective or overloaded. As a result, the constant stream of antigens override this system and they are passed along to other parts of immune system in the mucosa associated lymphoid tissue (MALT). As a result, inflammatory conditions, like eczema and joint stiffness, arise in other parts of the body. This too is a very large subject that I will discuss in another article or in my book.
Assessing the Presence and Severity of Sympathetic Overdrive
There are several key signs that suggest a patient is experiencing Sympathetic Overdrive. Many of these were originally observed in the Traditional Chinese Medicine literature under the concepts of Liver Qi Stagnation, Liver overacting on Spleen and/or Stomach. Obviously, there are variations but here are some basic guidelines.
- Cold hands and feet – This symptom can arises when the stress response is fairly pronounced. Of course, it can be caused by other conditions that affect circulation. However, as a general rule, if the patient is experiencing both cold hands and feet, it is usually a symptom of sympathetic overdrive.
- Constipation or sluggish bowel movements without dry stools – the reduction of circulation to the digestive system slows churning in the intestinal tract and can lead to mild constipation or sluggish movement. It is possible to have constipation with dry stools along with this condition but it will not be caused by it.
- Overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria or elevated beta-glucuronidase on a stool and digestive analysis.
- Any symptom that is generally worse with stress is often related to sympathetic overdrive.
Treating Sympathetic Overdrive
There are multiple ways of treating this problem. However, tools that the patient can use several times per day will accelerate progress. The most powerful remedy for this situation is a variation of abdominal breathing that originated from the ancient practice of Qi Gong. This exercise, acts as a pump to restore circulation to the digestive tissues and directly stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.
Instructions: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent. Place your hands on the lower abdomen below the naval bringing your attention to this area. Inhaling deeply, extend your abdomen out as if it is a balloon filling with air. Exhale and squeeze the lower abdomen in imagining that you are trying to touch your naval to your spine. The repetitions can be done fairly quickly averaging about 1 every 3-4 seconds or slowly for a deeper meditative effect. You can also do this exercise while driving or lying down. Repeat 5-10 times several times per day or whenever symptoms appear. For amazing abdominal muscles repeat 100-200x per day.
You can find other meditative and breathing exercises in my previous post “Finding Inspiration Through Respiration”
Abdominal heat packs – simply applying heat to the abdominal area can stimulate circulation to these tissues and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.
Acupuncture is powerfully effective for “resetting” the nervous system and reducing stress. It has been demonstrated to treat the most extreme version of sympathetic overdrive, which we call post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. It is so effective that a few years ago, the U.S Department of Defense funded The Air Force Acupuncture Center. This is a clinic dedicated to treating military personnel who suffer from PTSD. It is used as a practice and training facility for physicians and medical professionals for “battlefield acupuncture”.
Herbs and Homeopathic Remedies that Really Work
Please note that all of these recommendations should be administered under the guidance of a qualified health care provider.
Rescue Remedy – This is available in all health food stores and online. Its intended use was originally for stress and traumatic experiences. I have found it to be incredibly helpful for treatment of gut disorders that involve sympathetic overdrive. Just follow the instuctions.
Psy-Stabil by Pekana – This is another remedy that falls under the practice of homotoxicology, which is slightly different from homeopathy. Its effects are similar to Rescue Remedy but may be a bit stronger. It is also very helpful for relieving anxiety.
Rhodiola – This herb is literally miraculous for restoring circulation to the digestive system and also balancing the nervous system. It is also helpful for treating addiction and some causes of depression. Be careful! It has some interactions with medications. Practitioners, be sure to take the time to inform yourself before prescribing it.
Lactobacillus Rhamanosus – This beneficial bacterium is one of the few that generates hydrogen peroxide. It is very helpful for reintroducing oxygen to the digestive tract and reducing overgrowth of C. Diff and other obligate anaerobes.
Other tips for preventing stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system:
- Don’t skip meals! Every time your body has to accommodate a drop in blood sugar, it stimulates the production of cortisol and initiates a stress response
- Take time everyday to do nothing
- Give yourself the gift of extra time to complete tasks. Cramming more and more tasks into your day increases stress and reduces creativity and the possibility of spontaneity.
- Pay attention to the situations and people in your life who make you feel stressed. Reflect on why they trigger these feelings in you and decide if there are ways of managing your exposure to them.
- Spend time in Nature. This is proven to reduce stress levels.
“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” – Hippocrates
I will be traveling to Mongolia for a few weeks and don’t expect to have the ability to do any posts. With regards to my series on Sugar’s Contributions to the Evolution, Then Devolution of Humans. I would like to leave you with a story that demonstrates why it has taken so long for our society to become informed about the adverse health effects of sugar. Before I start, I would also like to add that when I was traveling through Ecuador a few months ago, every medicine man and shaman that I met said one of the best things you can do to keep your people healthy is to minimize sugar. They understood that fruit sugar was the same as any other sugar. It’s amazing to me that they didn’t require any scientific evidence for this. They simply understood.
A few months ago, our nurse practitioner was following a study that was supposed to show that fructose, specifically from agave, had no adverse health consequences. At the time, she was admittedly hopeful about the outcome because she loves sugar and was convinced that fruit sugar, because it’s natural, couldn’t be that bad. The study looked at healthy individuals as well as type 2 diabetics. Each group consumed a controlled amount of agave syrup daily in addition to their regular diets. After just a few weeks the researchers had to abandon the study because the blood markers in both groups (fasting glucose and hemoglobin A1C) continuously rose. In the diabetics, the numbers reached unsafe levels. Since the intention of the study was to show that fructose from agave was safe, nothing was published and this valuable information never made it into the scientific literature.
This is a photo of Intipaxi, a traveling healer, whom I met in Ecuador. He would visit villages and teach the people how to use their local plants medicinally and how to keep themselves healthy. He continually talked about the importance of sunshine and walking barefoot on the Earth.by
“If you had the opportunity, would you want to live to be 150 years old?” This question was posed by Alex Lightman at the November 2009 Humanity Plus Summit. Based on the way you perceive this question you may or may not be surprised that about 30% of the people raised their hands.
When I first began practicing longevity nutrition ten years ago at my husband’s clinic, I had some fairly negative, preconceived notions of the types of people who would deign to spend a significant amount of money to take advantage of cutting edge science with an outlook towards living longer. To my absolute delight, instead of overflowing egos, I discovered a unique group of illuminated, fulfilled, alive, happy human beings. I believe I can say with certain objectivity that people with a true desire to extend their lives don’t partake in this endeavor for any ego-based reason. They partake in this endeavor because they absolutely love the lives that they have created for themselves.
I recently got together with one of these remarkable people, Kazuo, who periodically makes the long trip from Japan to our clinic to make sure he is growing younger. If there were a contest to identify the happiest people on the planet, Kazuo would be one of the finalists. Sharing a bottle of Perrier Jouet* over sushi I asked Kazuo what he thought the secret was to happiness. Before giving his final answer there was some discussion about theories of happiness. Aside from the usual subject of Bhutan and the National Happiness Index, he mentioned a study performed on money and happiness. First of all, it is important to know that if you ask people if they are happy you will get a certain percentage say yes. If first however, you ask them how much money they make and then ask them if they are happy, the percentage decreases dramatically. Kazuo also pointed out that to be happy, you cannot make your happiness dependent on external events. That if you think your money or your marriage are what make you happy then you give the outside world the power to influence your happiness. Kazuo went on to discuss Nobel Prize Laureate, Daniel Kahneman’s, theory of Focused Illusion. In a great TED talk, Kahneman points out that “We make decisions about the future based, not based on experiences but based on memories of experiences. We can think of our future as anticipated memories”. Our perceptions of how positive or negative a previous outcome was is the basis for our future because it’s the basis of our decisions. My question to you is: are you making your decisions based on avoiding unpleasantness or are you making your decisions based on creating happiness.
“The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise” –Tacitus
He goes on to ask, “Why do we put so much weight on memory relative to the weight that we put on experiences?” Kahneman’s assessment of our experiences is not unlike the teachings in Buddhism as well as some new age philosophers like Eckhart Tolle who emphasizes that our mind is not our reality and only creates our perception of reality based on past experiences. Kazuo’s final answer was, “I keep saying thank you. I say thank you to my body, thank you to my food, thank you to God, thank you…” I asked Kazuo what he does when he in particularly difficult times and surely he must be affected like we all are. He replied, “you may experience the emotions that accompany difficult times but these emotions don’t have to determine your happiness. In challenging times, I say thank you even more”
Other cultures view happiness differently. The following is a quote from Tanya Tagaq, an Eskimo Throat Singer, responding to the question regarding her perception of beauty after performing a “lullaby” on NPR’s, The World.
“I’m not trying to sound beautiful. I remember seeing the blood of caribou splattered across the snow, you know and seeing their insides and touching it and feeling the warmth…that beauty is so intense to me and commenting on life…it’s OK to die, it’s OK to have bad things happen. I think everyone tends to chase this eternal happiness or utopia that’s completely non-existent. I just don’t think that’s smart. It’s so beautiful that times of life challenge you”
Working as a longevity nutritionist has truly altered my perception of people’s happiness. Now if I want to know if someone is truly happy, I don’t ask them if they are happy. This question is too subjective. I ask them Alex’s question…If you could live to be 150 years old, would you want to? If they answer “No” then I know that they are not happy. I would estimate that only one out of ten people answer yes to this question.
Here are some tools that I give my patients for achieving happiness:
- Realize that your experience of the world is the perception that your mind creates. Everything is already as it is. Shakespeare said it perfectly, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
- Learn about and spend time in Nature. If you can give yourself the opportunity, find an area that is still wild (un-tampered with my man). Realize that everything you are seeing at this moment started from the beginning of time. Try to understand that your body is made of the same thing as everything you see around you. Ultimately we are all made of the Earth and ultimately everything comes from the death of stars. http://karenkurtak.com/blog/?p=15 If you live in an area where it’s difficult to access Nature read some of the greats: EO Wilson, Darwin, and Thoreau. Watch Planet Earth or start studying astronomy.
- Reduce or eliminate your exposure to the mainstream media. Period. These organizations point their telescope towards anything that they know will increase their viewer numbers. Once they’ve identified their next drama, they use their zoom lens to alter your perception of how pertinent any subject is to your life. “Believing” that you know what is going on in the world through these organizations is like a goldfish in her fishbowl believing that she understands the oceans. Instead, fill this time with simply being or read something more positive like Ode Magazine which comes from the Netherlands. I read this every morning while I exercise or have tea.
- If there are subjects that you notice often spike your interest embark on a deeper understanding of them. For example, if you notice you get emotionally fired up about climate change, read the IPCC reports and make the decision for yourself. If the daily gossip column suits your fancy then learn about the psychology behind these behaviors.
- Remember, there are certainly atrocities but there are also just as many, if not more, good things happening around us. Seek out information about new ways of thinking and new technologies that have the potential to not only solve some of what you perceive as the “world’s problems”, but that will help to make the world more amazing. Check this one out: http://www.ild.org.pe/
- Remember to live. Two of my favorite quotes spontaneously came from friends whom I was sharing time with. “Just because you are on the planet doesn’t mean you are living”
- “Are you living, or are you watching other people live?”
- Practice gratitude. Take a few moments in the morning or evening and simply identify and try to feel gratitude for the various things in your life. Like Kazuo said, if you are having a difficult time or can’t feel gratitude, “Say thank you more.”
*For anti aging discussion, champagne raises blood sugar and HgA1C less than almost any other alcoholic beverageby
I just wanted to let eveyone know that I´m traveling in Ecuador with the amazing organization, Acupuncturists Without Borders. http://acuwithoutborders.org. I´m in Quito today, but communications may be very challenging over the next couple of weeks. I may not have the opportunity to post. Our group has hired an ethnobotanist as a guide so in addition to treating people with acupuncture in the smaller villages,we will be doing lots of hiking in the Andes and the Amazon and learning about local ecology and medicinal plants. Very rough life for me.
If anyone would like to see photos I´ll try to post come on flickr.com under the name Darwingirl1.
I´ve been receiving so many great comments and would like to thank everyone for taking the time. A special thanks to http://crazyerniescopybarn.com.
I wanted to leave you with an interesting article that
was published in JAMA in January discussing the effects of marine lipids, EPA and DHA on telomere length. Here is a good assessment of the study.
Hopefully this link works…http://theheart.org/article/1041013.do
With several fish populations declining from a combination of overfishing and sea water acidification, krill oil may be a better alternative omega 3 fatty acid source. At least it´s lower on the food chain.
By the way, in areas like off the coast of Somalia fish populations along with the entire ecosystem are thriving as a result of pirate activity leading to reduced fishing. Very reassuring that by removing the human factor, ecosystems recover well.by
This is a continuation from the previous post in which one of my readers asked about methionine restriction as it relates to longevity and methionine content in eggs. I never claim to be “the knower of the answer” but I like to provide enough information for people to form their own, and perhaps new, ideas.
As I mentioned last time an increase in metabolism will always result in an elevation of all ROS in cells. This, by default, speeds cell turnover and aging. Inversely, reduced metabolism reduces turnover and aging of cells. This is the same mechanism through which caloric restriction is theorized to promote longevity.
Restriction of any substance that is severe enough to slow down metabolism causes the mind and body to go into a torpor-like state. If it doesn’t, damage is incurred. I see this regularly in my practice as a condition that I have termed “Boulder Syndrome” which I’ve talked about in previous posts.
It seems that in order to live longer though means of dietary restriction, you have stop fully living or suffer health consequences. Take SAMe as an example. SAMe is made from methionine in the liver and acts as the rate limiting step in the production of several neurotransmitters. These include dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and its conversion in the brain to epinephrine. Low levels of these neurotransmitters tend to reduce mental clarity, motivation, drive and overall energy. This is likely part of the whole conservation mechanism that would naturally slow down the body in times of protein scarcity.
Eggs are so interesting because they contain all the essential nutrients to carry out Phase 1 detoxification and methylation in the liver (choline, methionine, magnesium, B12, B6 and folate). It happens that a deficiency of any one or more of these essential nutrients has a documented effect on reducing fertility. (Sorry, I just didn’t have time to find that many references for one statement but I can assure you it is a fact). As I mentioned in the previous post, this could be from some type of signaling from Phase 1 that would indicate the presence of sufficient nutients available for reproduction. I suspect that if the above nutrients are scarce, Phase 1 probably slows for the purpose of conserving them to maintain other bodily functions more consistent with survival and not reproduction.
Consider how we evolved eating eggs. In non-tropical zones, eggs are in abundance mainly in the spring and early summer. As the weather warms the insects hatch providing a sustainable protein source for birds. The increase in dietary protein, and thus methionine, in birds’ diets would signal the appropriate anabolic processes for them to become fertile and produce eggs. A few weeks later, early humans would have access to these eggs which would provide the appropriate nutrients for signaling anabolic processes to start preparing them for reproduction. Methionine moves like a wave through the food chain, from sulfur in soil to plants to insects to birds to humans, signaling the anabolic processes that enable reproduction.
In tropical zones, eggs would have been available most of the time as would an abundance of nutrients that would support reproduction. This scenario applies more to the people of the developed world.
I don’t think simple reduction of dietary methionine intake is sufficient enough to slow aging. I think it has to be fairly extreme. Alternatively, I do think that excess amounts of methionine, which would imply excess amounts of protein could be damaging especially if intake of magnesium, folic acid, B12 and B6 is insufficient. We also have to consider that if we reduce methionine enough to slow down metabolism, caloric consumption must be reduced as well or the slower metabolism will lead to weight gain.
That said, if you would still like to try to reduce your dietary methionine here are some things to consider. With regards to dietary intake, you have to look at absorption rates. This is influenced by the ratio of methionine to the other amino acids in the protein source. As a general rule, amino acids will compete with one another for absorption. For example, if you have low levels of threonine, high valine levels inhibit the absorption of methionine (Anyone want to research which protein sources have these ratios? Good data at http://www.nutritiondata.com/ ) The higher the ratios of other amino acids the lower the absorption will be of methionine. Animal proteins contain high levels of methionine but much higher ratios of the various other amino acids so ultimately methionine absorption is diminished. I checked some methionine levels in various protein sources and unfortunately got varying results. It turns out that methionine content of food is related to sulfur content in the soil so there will be significant variability depending on the geography of the food source. However as a general rule, cottage cheese, eggs and fish were all similar in methionine content. Pork and poultry were a bit higher. Beef was high but had really high levels of competing amino acids. Legumes and seeds were much lower. NOW FOR THE INTERESTING PART. It has been suggested that a vegan diet offers less methionine and would contribute to longevity through methionine restriction. However, I found a study done on amino acid absorption in rats. It turns out that pinto beans, one of the least rich protein sources of methionine, had the highest absorption rate the amino acid. I’m sure absorption of methionine from soy is low as well because some of the chemicals in soy interfere with overall amino acid absorption.
However, soy introduces an extremely important consideration that might make it impossible for humans to benefit from methionine restriction. Soy contains estrogen-mimicking phytochemicals which will have some effect on producing anabolic processes. (the exact thing we’re trying to prevent to extend longevity) These chemicals must be detoxified by Phase 1 enzymes in the liver. If this pathway is not working because of a deficiency of methionine, folic acid etc then there will be accumulation of these chemicals in the fat tissues possibly increasing incidence of hormone-sensitive cancers. There are hundreds of anabolic hormone-mimicking chemicals that are now ubiquitous in our environment including BPA, several pesticides and hormones from pharmaceutical use. Any steps taken to reduce methionine will slow detoxification of these chemicals to a trickle.
If you want to continue to think creatively, be active, fully participate in life and be able to detoxify various environmental chemicals, you have no choice but to consume foods that allow your body to do this. If you want to attempt to extend your life through the means of caloric and methionine restriction then you will spend your life existing, not fully living and you might still get cancer. Perhaps one way of using the current knowledge of caloric and methionine restriction to extend life is to follow what would naturally happen with the seasons. For example, reduce your activity in the winter and practice caloric and methionine restriction. Personally, I love skiing too much and need lots of protein to be able to do it. That said, I’m going to continue to eat 8-10 eggs per week along with lots of kale.by
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.by
Since my entry on “Promoting Longevity and Maximizing Telomere Length by Reducing Cell Turnover in Bone with Alkalizing Foods”, I’ve had requests for recipes to achieve this. I will use the following breakfast recipe to demonstrate not only how to alter your diet to make it more alkalizing but an entire ethos on assembling food to promote longevity.
Just Add Kale
Any vegetable that can be left in the fridge for weeks and still be in its pristine state is obviously full of antioxidants. Unlike spinach and chard, kale is very alkalizing. Being from the cruciferous family, kale is high in indoles. This phyto-nutrient quells the effects of estrogen and helps to prevent and slow the growth of cancers of the prostate, colon, uterus and breasts. Their estrogen-quelling effects also make them powerful for reducing the PSA by slowing or reversing prostate growth. Indoles also help your body neutralize the effects of all those estrogen-like plastic chemicals and pesticides that are ubiquitous in our environment. Being a very hearty plant, it can be grown in harsher climates making it easier to obtain from closer sources thereby reducing its carbon load. If you have a vegetable garden, kale is easy to grow organically in the cooler seasons.
Tear up two or three kale leaves and add them to any cooked dish or salad to help make your meal more alkalizing and increase your antioxidants.
If you enjoy making fresh vegetable juice, kale is a powerful addition. Some people find its pungent bitterness objectionable but you only need a leaf or two to get benefits.
Super-Easy Healthy Breakfast Recipe
- Heat Great Northern beans or Adzuki beans in a little water and add 2-3 leaves of kale torn into bite-sized pieces. Allow these to steam together until the beans are warm and the kale is lightly steamed to a vibrant green color. (3-5 minutes)
- While beans and kale are cooking, add a fresh egg to butter on medium-high heat. (yes, you can eat butter) When the yolk just begins to whiten, add 1-2 Tbsp of water. Cover and steam for about 45 seconds depending on how cooked you like your egg.
- Serve egg on top of beans and kale and add a little sea salt, salsa, and pepper.
Great Northern Beans – Beans are one of the best sources of low-glycemic carbohydrates balanced out with protein. This balance reduces inflammation throughout the whole body to slow the aging process. It also reduces the survivability of cancer cells. As I mentioned, pretty much any food that is a protein source is acidifying. White beans, kidney beans and adzuki beans are all only mildly acidifying so they’re a better choice than animal protein.
Chicken eggs – Little more protein to reduce inflammation and meet one’s minimum daily requirement. Chicken eggs are only a mildly acidifying protein source BUT it’s important to note that the alkalizing effect comes from the yolk. The whites are actually acidifying. In addition to being alkalizing, the egg yolks are one of the few foods that contain a substantial amount of the essential nutrient, phosphatidyl choline, which helps your liver distribute and emulsify fats. The yolk also contain lots of other fat-soluable vitamins. It’s also IMPORTANT not to destroy the health-giving nutrients by overcooking the yolk. If it’s still a little runny all the nutritional benefits are retained.
Sea Salt – a good source of extra minerals and electrolytes makes sea salt incredibly alkalizing.
Salsa or fresh chopped tomato with lime, garlic and cilantro– most of the additional ingredients in salsa, neutralize the acidifying effect of the tomatoes. In addition, garlic is anti-inflammatory and stimulates the immune system. Cilantro helps to chelate various heavy metals from the body, especially mercury.by
When we think of ageing we assume that our body’s various tissues all age at the same rate. In fact this is not so. Various stresses over a lifetime will cause different tissues to age at different rates.
There are three inter-related factors that ultimately determine ageing of cells in a specific tissue.
- Telomere length the ultimate determining factor. Very briefly, telomeres are like caps on the ends of chromosomes that protect them from deterioration. Every time a cell divides, the telomere shortens. When the telomeres are gone, the cell can no longer reproduce itself. Once this happens they age and eventually die. (Or become cancerous and become temporarily immortal)
- Rate of cell turnover or replication. Cell turnover is necessary for eliminating old cells which often contain both endogenous toxins (lipofuscin from cellular waste products) and exogenous toxins from the environment. This accumulation of toxins makes older cells more susceptible to developing mutations in their DNA resulting in cancers. Thus, their elimination is desirable. However, if cell turnover is too frequent, telomere length shortens prematurely.
- Metabolic rate and free radical activity. These are the main driving forces of cell breakdown and turnover. The food we eat and the activity we do or do not engage in has a profound effect on these factors. For example, bursts of exercise temporarily create increased metabolism and free radicals. In moderation, this leads to a healthy, cleansing turnover of cells. Another scenario is caloric restriction. When the body thinks it’s starving, almost all physiological processes slow to a trickle. The slowing of metabolism reduces the production of cellular waste products and free radicals posing less risk of cancer. As the turnover of cells also slows telomere length is conserved.
Because bone health is strongly related to the health of so many other tissues in the body I’m going to look at bones as an example of how to manipulate aging factors with diet. Simplistically, bones are made of a protein lattice with a bunch of minerals held in that lattice with vitamins D and K acting as the glue. In addition to providing structural integrity for the body, bones act as a mineral reservoir for times of dietary scarcity. A keystone function of our bone mineral reserve is to maintain the very sensitive and narrow pH range of the blood and intracellular fluids. The body must keep these fluids at a slightly alkaline pH 7.35-7.45 or several physiological functions begin to fail including:
- Increased consumption and reduced production of ATP,
- Accelerated bone loss
- Increased membrane free-radical production
- Less efficient metabolism and protein synthesis
- Suppression of growth hormone and other pituitary hormones.
(*the above bullets were obtained from an article written by Susan Brown PhD. See article link at bottom)
Every time we eat acidifying foods, like protein, the blood or cytoplasm pH falls toward a more acidic state. In response, the body uses its bones to buffer the acid like a Tums™ tablet. It does this by activating cells called osteoclasts that create inflammatory chemicals that break down bone to release buffering minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium into the blood and cytoplasm. When we eat a meal of alkalizing foods, like kale or almonds, cells called osteoblasts are activated to rebuild the bone structure. If the diet is relatively alkalizing, containing lots of minerals, these cells don’t need to be as active. Unfortunately, even what we consider healthy diets are quite acidifying. This causes a constant flip flop of increased metabolism of these two types of cells. Remember from above, increased metabolism will lead to faster cell turnover and speeds the shortening of telomeres.From my 10+ year of practice I can say with certainty that if there is one thing people are lacking more than anything else in their diets its minerals. By the way, guess what gives your hair its color. Traditional Chinese Medicine states that the state of the hair reflects the state of the bones. I don’t think this is scientifically proven but I would imagine a good study would show a correlation between the graying of hair and the deterioration of bone health.
SIMPLE CHANGES THAT CAN MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE:
Include more alkalizing foods in with every meal:
- Green tea
- Sea Salt (very alkalizing and high in minerals)
- Drink mineral water throughout the day
- Conclude your meal with an Umeboshi plum – one of the most alkalizing foods
- Include lemon or lime in your water – yes they are acidic but have an alkalizing effect on the blood
- Eat mineral-rich organ meats like kidney, heart and liver. They taste like minerals and we aren’t used to these exotic tastes anymore
- Eat fish like sardines and canned wild salmon which contain digestible bones
- When you make soup, make it with the whole carcass
- Eat more miso soup with extra seaweed
Combine alkalizing veggies with every meal. This is especially important because all protein sources are somewhat acidic and you have to eat protein. To balance out this acidity include foods like broccoli, cauliflower, onion, daikon, garlic, parsley, collard greens, mustard greens, arugula, watercress, ginger root, cabbage pumpkin, bell pepper, sea weeds and sea veggies. This is why if you do the Atkins diet, you MUST eat lots of veggies with it.
After exercise consume miso soup with seaweed which is loaded with potassium, magnesium and other trace minerals OR take a potassium-magnesium supplement. Even those E-Mergen-C packets are pretty good especially if combined with a greens mix.
Eliminate bone-dissolving “foods” like all sodas, coffee, sugar and high sodium foods.
Don’t be fooled by some “healthy foods”. For example carrots, zucchini, spinach and chard contain calcium but are actually acidifying and can induce bone turnover.
Ensure your body is capable of absorbing minerals: The ionization that occurs in stomach acid is the rate-limiting step for mineral absorption. If you are on acid-blocking medications like Zantac™, Prilosec™, or Protonix™, your body is virtually rendered incapable of absorbing minerals (protein as well). My suggestion, find a doctor, naturopath or Chinese Medicine doctor who practices functional medicine and get it fixed. In the meantime, focus on avoiding acidifying foods and consume more alkalizing foods to minimize the damage.
Some Helpful Supplements that I know work: You can take all the supplements you want but if your diet continues to induce and acid state, you cannot slow down the constant metabolism in bone tissue.
- Kelp tablets especially the brand Katsu
- Dalektro-N – this is a German biologic drainage remedy that seems to magically improve mineral absorption
- Multi-mineral supplements – not advisable for people with weak digestion. Kelp is better.
- Osteoforce by Designs for Health
- Greens mix such as barley greens or Paleogreens
For a complete list of foods see The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide by Susan Brown, PhD.by
In my last post I discussed some of the evolutionary aspects of darkness and addressed humans’ psychological issues around it. Here I would like to shed some light on one tiny example of how altering our environment has a direct effect on our own health and longevity.
A large body of research demonstrates that the master hormone, melatonin, has a powerful influence on the development and growth of cancer cells. Melatonin, which is one of the few hormones that is present in all animals and some plants, is produced by the pineal gland in response to darkness. It plays an indispensible role in the regulation and coordination of circadian rhythms, hormone levels, reproductive cycles, feeding times and neurotransmitter levels in all animals. We’ve known for a long time that melatonin suppresses tumor growth by altering the cell’s use of fatty acids. The evidence also suggests that it alters estrogen sensitivity of cells helping to slow or arrest the growth of breast, prostate and uterine cancers. Small disruptions in the amount of light an organism is exposed to can result in significant drops in the production of melatonin. A study conducted by R.T. Dauchy et al. demonstrated that very small amounts of light (.2 Lux which is that of a full moon under clear conditions or that of a door cracked into a lighted hallway) suppressed melatonin production in cancerous rats by 87% with a corresponding increase in tumor growth. Rats that were exposed to 24 hours of light had only a slightly higher reduction in melatonin levels. Another well-done study demonstrated that melatonin levels were affected by light spectrum more than intensity (lux). Light emitted at shorter wavelengths, similar fluorescents and LEDs, resulted in almost a two-fold reduction in melatonin levels. Light emitted at shorter wavelengths similar compact fluorescent or sodium bulbs had a lesser effect.
There are literally thousands of studies showing the strong link between cancer rates and melatonin levels. A large study even showed a statistically significant reduction of hormone-sensitive cancers in blind men and women.
Everyday our bodies develop hundreds, if not thousands, of cancer cells. Along with our immune systems we have several lines of defense, like melatonin, that serve to slow growth and destroy these cells before they develop into tumors. Out of the illusion of safety, light pollution has become a pervasive force in the developed world and darkness is becoming a precious commodity. As we in the Northern Hemisphere approach the winter solstice, might I suggest that we take steps to bring the safe and lovely darkness back into our lives.
- Turn off unneccesary exterior lighting – is any of it really necessary?
- Keep indoor lighting to a minimum as darkness falls.
- Consider implementing one night per week with minimal light exposure and go to bed early.
- Draw your bedroom shades.
For more information on other things you can do including lighting that has a lesser effect on you and the ecosystem that you are a part of, please visit The International Dark Sky Association.by