Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine ● Longevity Nutrition

folic acid

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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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.

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