Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine ● Longevity Nutrition

Longevity

Phenotype (fē-nō-tīp)

noun

The net result of the interaction of an organism’s genes with its environment.

In 1953, Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA was a beacon of hope for understanding what causes human disease. Since then science and medicine have invested billions in research and man hours under the premise and promise that understanding our genetic code would lead us to answers and cures for the leading causes of disease and death. To our surprise, the results have not been so straightforward. As we’ve gained more and more information about our genetic programming, we’ve discovered that genetics plays only a small role in the development of many of the leading causes of chronic disease and premature death. Our antiquated belief that we are destined to fall victim to a disease that ended the life of our parents and/or grandparents has given way to the sometimes difficult realization that we have more influence over the future of our health and our lifespan than we could have imagined.

As more and more research has come online, we’ve discovered that many human diseases are largely a result of external factors that are potentially under our control. A study published in 2004 in The Lancet followed over 15,000 people assessing risk factors for heart attack. The authors identified nine non-genetic risk factors that “collectively accounted for 90-94% of cardiovascular disease and had the potential to prevent the majority of premature myocardial infarction1”. These risk factors were composed of external influences that can all be eliminated including “Abnormal lipids, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, abdominal obesity, psychosocial factors, consumption of fruits, vegetables, and alcohol, and regular physical activity[i]”.

A study appearing in JAMA in 2008 on 4883 people over the age of sixty-five concluded that 90% of DM2 cases are preventable using 5 lifestyle changes. Diabetes-related risk factors include physical activity level, dietary habits, adiposity, alcohol use, and smoking habits[ii].

As our understanding deepens, it is becoming apparent that perhaps these are not diseases at all but in fact what we call phenotypes.

Since 1998, the statistics regarding cancer risk, which were studied separately by the NIH and WHO, have remained surprisingly steady. Despite thousands of new studies every year the figures stood at approximately 80% environmental (a scientific term for external factors) and 20% genetic. This was concurred in 2014 by The American Cancer Society saying, “environmental factors (as opposed to heredity factors) account for an estimated 75%-80% of cancer cases and deaths in the US[iii]. On January 2nd 2015 this assessment came crashing down with the controversial Science article by Cristian Tomasette and Bert Vogelstein titled “Variation in Cancer Risk Among Tissues Can Be Explained by the Number of Stem Cell Division”[iv]. This was an elegant, groundbreaking study that shined a light on the novel idea that some cancers simply occur because of random mutations during stem cell division. Suddenly, part of the 80% environmental aspect had to be redefined. The authors’ unfortunate choice to assign a new value to the environmental influence in the absence of adequate data parameters was incendiary across the media and scientific community. Six of the top eleven most frequently occurring cancer types were not included in this study. Interestingly, each of the excluded cancer types have a huge body of scientific evidence demonstrating that each of them is highly influenced by environmental factors. Among these cancers were prostate, breast, uterine, urinary bladder, kidney and Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, collectively, responsible for nearly 20% or 1/5 of cancer deaths in the US in 2014 and their incidence rate an even higher contribution3. The environmental factors that influence their development include infectious agents[v], endogenous[vi] and exogenous hormones, xenobiotic compounds[vii], certain heavy metals[viii], certain pharmaceuticals, specific industrial and organic chemicals[ix], alcohol consumption[x], glycemic control[xi], and aflatoxin[xii].

One reason the scientific community raised such a fuss about the “bad luck” cancer study was that an inordinate amount of funding and resources is already dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The same goes for many other “diseases” including heart disease and diabetes. After all, each one forms a massive economic base that generates billions of dollars annually. Research funding directed towards the understanding and true prevention of these diseases contributes very little to monthly recurring revenues. Instead, it represents an ominous threat to the economic base of the medical industry as well as any industry whose products might be identified as a risk. Despite the hurdles, advances in our understanding of the processes that create these “diseases” has accelerated so fast that it has created a growing chasm where science and medicine no longer overlap but have diverged. The statistics about the environmental influences on “disease” have been well known in the scientific community for at least 15 years. However, they are poorly acknowledged by the medical industry and, as a result, have remained clandestine to the general public. Chemicals aside, imagine if society truly understood how they could prevent diabetes or delay the onset of heart disease simply by adopting a regimen of glycemic control as described in the studies above. What if it was not based on a drug but was based on reducing their consumption of excess sugar? This one change would have massive reverberations through multiple industries. On one side, there would be reduced “need” for medical services that manage the entire sequela of diseases that are known to be caused by poor glycemic control. This would translate into reduced doctor visits, reduced “need” for pharmaceuticals, fewer hospitalizations, fewer surgeries, lower consumption medical supplies, reduced need for assisted living and in home care, reduction of insurance costs etc. On the other side the industrial farming and food complex would also be widely affected. This includes farming equipment, GPS equipment, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, GMO seeds, all sugar-laden products, packaging, transportation and distribution, fuel consumption etc.   As you can see, a significant base of the economy relies on a mutualistic relationship between Big Farma and Big Pharma. The current medical paradigm actually benefits from environmental problems and generally relegates efforts to fix this to the realm of environmental fundamentalism and quackery.

At what point do we embrace our responsibility of removing the known causes of disease? There are already billions of dollars and man-hours wasted on researching and treating diseases that are created by humans literally poisoning themselves.  What is the sense?  To continue to protect economic interests cloaked inside a societal dietary lexicon that has been hijacked by mass manipulation of naturally occurring, animalistic addictions through marketing, food additives and advertising? We must focus on removing the factors that create these disease phenotypes. Once this illusion has been cleared we can direct our resources towards novel drugs and therapies that will do the most good. Image a healthy, thriving society where disabled life expectancy is a thing of the past. Where companies and organizations like SENS, Calico and Human Longevity Inc. create drugs that don’t depend on illness but address the factors that are not under our control to produce meaningful lasting advances in  health and longevity.

[i] Prof Salim Yusuf DPhil,Steven Hawken MSc,Stephanie Ôunpuu PhD,Tony Dans MD,Alvaro Avezum MD,Fernando Lanas MD,Matthew McQueen FRCP,Andrzej Budaj MD,Prem Pais MD,John Varigos BSc,Liu Lisheng MD,on behalf of the INTERHEART Study Investigators Effect of potentially modifiable risk factors associated with myocardial infarction in 52 countries (the INTERHEART study): case-control study

The Lancet – 11 September 2004 ( Vol. 364, Issue 9438, Pages 937-952) DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(04)17018-9

[ii] Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH; Aruna Kamineni, MPH; Mercedes Carnethon, PhD; Luc Djoussé, MD, ScD; Kenneth J. Mukamal, MD; David Siscovick, MD, MPH. Lifestyle Risk Factors and new Onset Diabetes Mellitus in Older Adults. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(8):798-807. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.21.

[iii] [iii] ACS (2014). Cancer Facts & Figures 2014, Atlanta. American Cancer Society, 2014. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@research/documents/webcontent/acspc-042151.pdf

[iv] Cristian Tomasetti, Bert Vogelstein. Variation in Cancer Risk Among Tissues Can Be Explained by the Number of Stem Cell Divisions. Science 2 January 2015 Vol. 347 no. 6217 pp. 78-81. DOI:10.1126/science.1260825

[v] Yidya Vedham Ph. D., Mukesh Verma Ph. D. Cancer-Assoicated Infectious Agents and Epigenetic Regulation Cancer Epigenetics Methods in Molecular Biology Nov. 8, 2014 Vol. 1238, pp333-354 Doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-1804-1_18

[vi] Tim Key; Endogenous Hormones Breast Cancer Collaborative Group Steroid hormone measurements from different types of assays in relation to body mass index and breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women: Reanalysis of eighteen prospective studies. Steroids. Oct. 7, 2014. Doi: 10.1016/j.steroids.2014.09.001

[vii] Hye-Rim Lee;  Kyung-A Hwang;  Kyung-Chul Choi. The estrogen receptor signaling pathway activated by phthalates is linked with transforming growth factor-β in the progression of LNCaP prostate cancer models. International Journal of Oncology. May 22, 2014. Pp595-602 Doi: 10.3892/ijo.2014.2460

[viii] García-Lestón, J; Roma-Torres, J; Vilares, M; Pinto, R; Prista, J; Teixeira, JP; Mayan, O; Conde, J; Pingarilho, M; Gaspar, JF; Pásaro, E; Méndez, J; Laffon, B. Genotoxic effects of occupational exposure to lead and influence of polymorphisms in genes involved in lead toxicokinetics and in DNA repair. Environ Int, 2012 vol. 43 pp. 29-36

[ix] Guo, H; Bassig, BA; Lan, Q; Zhu, Y; Zhang, Y; Holford, TR; Leaderer, B; Boyle, P; Qin, Q; Zhu, C; Li, N; Rothman, N; Zheng, T. Polymorphisms in DNA repair genes, hair dye use, and the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Cancer Causes Control, 2014 vol. 25(10) pp. 1261-70

[x] Qian Zhong, Ganggang Shi, Yanmei Zhang, Lei lu, Daniel Levy, Shuping Zhong. Alteration of BRCA1 Expression Affects Alcohol-induced Transcription of RNA Pol III-Dependent Genes. Gene Vol 556, Issue 1, Feb. 1, 2015 74-79.

[xi] Juhyun Park;  Sung Yong Cho;  Young Ju Lee;  Seung Bae Lee;  Hwancheol Son;  Hyeon Jeong. Poor Glycemic Control of Diabetes Mellitus Is Associated with Higher Risk of Prostate Cancer Detection in a Biopsy Population. PLOS Sept. 18, 2014. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0104789

[xii] Xi-Dai Long;  Dong Zhao;  Xiao-Qiang Mo;  Chao Wang;  Xiao-Ying Huang;  Jin-Guang Yao;  Yun Ma;  Zhong-Hua Wei;  Min Liu;  Li-Xiao Zeng;  Jian-Jun Zhang;  Feng Xue;  Bo Zhai;  Qiang Xia. Genetic Polymorphisms in DNA Repair Genes XRCC4 and XRCC5 and Aflatoxin B1–related Hepatocellular Carcinoma. Epidemiology Sept 2013, Vol. 24 Issue 5 pp. 671-81. Doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e31829d2744

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A few years ago there was a little-known debate going on in the world of life extension and anti-aging about not eating eggs.    Surprisingly this had nothing to do with cholesterol.  Instead, the concern was that eggs are high in the amino acid methionine which was shown to accelerate aging…or more precisely, limiting methionine was shown to possibly extend lifespan.  Life Extension has a good summary of this research without having to sift through PubMed.  At the time I was well into the process of creating the field of Longevity Nutrition.  After some investigating, I published this post discussing all of the wonderful health benefits of eggs and the caveats of methionine restriction with regards to life extension.  Now that we know that  My favorite part of the whole article discusses how the high concentration of methionine likely acts as a signal for fecundity as it travels through the entire food web.   Here is a great article that is scientifically accurate discussing the health benefits of eggs that was recently published in Business Insider by Kris Gunnars.  Enjoy!

 

 

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Here is a link to my presentation.  SENS6 Karen Kurtak

Hello all!  This is my first presentation at a major international conference.  It’s very technical but there are pieces that clarify in non-biochemical terminology .  Here I present an argument for why the primary diseases of aging are not “diseases” at all but, in fact, phenotypes.  I also discuss how the ketogenic diet alters signaling of DNA through nuclear transcription factors to stop, and sometimes reverse, the processes that ultimately lead to the primary “diseases” of aging including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease.  It was a lot of information to cover in 15 minutes but it offers a rough outline of  the biochemical mechanism of action of the ketogenic diet.  This took me literally over 1000 hours of sorting through science articles and plugging in the pieces until it all began to make sense.  Along the way I found multiple journal articles that were completely wrong that led me down frustrating rabbit holes.  Grrrr!  For more extensive information please see my article that will be published in Rejuvenation Research Journal.   Ultimately, this is just one example of the amount of information we already possess that is independent of clinical trials.  Since I was limited to 2000 words in the article, I will be discussing each of these points in more detail in the coming months.

Thanks to Bill Andrews, who in his quest to cure aging or die trying, asked me a question that I couldn’t answer.  Thank you to Aubrey de Grey for your vision that has created a firm foundation of  understanding of the processes that lead to disease and aging.  Thank you to all the humans of the Earth who have dedicated time and money towards uncovering truth and knowledge through science.  Thank you to journals who don’t limit access of knowledge by creating pay walls.  Elsevier, you guys are self-serving hijackers of knowledge.  Thank you  Markdavis and mmkroll for your open access photos on Flickr. Thanks to Nick, Robyn, my parents, Doreen, Bob, Michelle, Jordan, Michelle, Cliff, Darcie, Paula, Randi, Sue, Beth and Lara who supported me through multiple meltdowns and temporary possession by the Demon of OCD.  Thank you Rozyln, William, Bill, (Bill’s brilliant wife whose name has escaped me), Dr. Cai, and everyone else who cheered for me before or during the conference!!!

Karen

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photoIn November of 2013 there was a media feeding frenzy when a large study demonstrated that people who ate even small amounts of nuts had an overall “7% reduced risk of dying from any cause during the 30 year study.”(Health Day from Medline © 2013).  It also revealed that the more nuts people ate the more they reduced their risk of dying peaking at a 20% reduction for the highest consumers.   Previous studies have demonstrated that eating nuts reduces incidence and risk for diabetes, heart disease, memory loss and obesity.  (I”m not referencing these because there are too many to sift through).

There are several possible explanations for this but only time will tell.  Here are a couple.  First, fats, unlike protein and carbohydrates, have a unique ability to signal fullness.  Fats do this through a chemical called leptin.  It’s possible that simply eating nuts helps to reduce overconsumption of other foods.  Second, omega-9 fats, which are predominant in nuts, send signals that talk directly to your DNA to reduce inflammation and cholesterol production, and increase the effectiveness of insulin.  As I discuss in my article in Rejuvenation Research Journal, this works through a switch on the cell’s nucleus called PPAR which we know is activated by omega-9 oils.  doi:10.1089/rej.2013.1485

In conclusion, eat at least a handful of nuts per day.  Not seeds, nuts. Olive oil also contains the same beneficial oils.  Try eating nuts before dinner.  Since the fats help to signal fullness, it may help to reduce overeating.  Later, I will discuss the nuances of deriving maximum benefit from nuts.

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In spring time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.

-William Blake

The ancient Chinese physicians believed that, like plants moving their resources deep into the Earth during the dark winter months, the energy of the body also moved into the deepest parts to rejuvenate tissues like bone and marrow.  When we think of bone the first mineral we think of is calcium.  However, the bones are reservoirs of minerals like magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, and strontium.  Studies going back more than thirty years have demonstrated that these less-known minerals are as important for bone health as calcium.  Diets in the developed world have moved in a direction that provides fewer and fewer minerals.  Many of the mineral-rich foods that used to be mainstays of our diets like heart, kidney, roots, kelp, sea salt and even bone have fallen out of favor.  Instead of eating the whole animal, which provides a flood of minerals from the Earth, we’ve limited ourselves to only muscle.   Since it is very common for bone tissue to age faster than many other tissues of the body, we will revisit this subject again and again.  It’s a very complex subject.  If you are feeling motivated, here is a post I wrote several years ago about the complexities of alkalizing foods and bone aging.  For now, here are some simple steps to begin to bring minerals back into your diet.

  • Replace your table salt which contains only sodium with sea salt which contains an array of minerals.
  • Try some coconut water.  Be sure to get the one with no sugar added.  It’s slightly alkaline taste is a result of the abundance of potassium.
  • Eat sardines with the bones left in.  The wild ones definitely taste better and are worth the bit of extra money.
  • Make some bone broth.  This can be done by adding bones, like beef ribs or bone-in chicken or turkey.  Simply boil these down into a nice consommé.  Adding a little lemon of vinegar to acidify the water helps to dissolve the minerals into the water.  Be sure to add some sea salt.  Eat this on its own or use it as a base for other recipes.
  • If you live in an area where you can get Japanese food, try some seaweed salad or miso soup.  Both of these are abundant in absorbable minerals. You might be surprised that you actually like it.  If you don’t, I will be posting a breakfast seaweed recipe soon that I promise tastes good.
  • Try some organ meats.  If you live in a country like the US where the taste for these foods  is very unfamiliar start with a little liver pate’.
  • Eat more root vegetables like beets, burdock, parsnips and carrots….Have you ever eaten a fresh beet?  It’s like infusing yourself with the fragrance of the Earth.
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Before I begin this first section of my series on sugar, I would like to note that I usually provide references for everything I write.  The information below is based on my daytime profession and years of assembling research.  It would take me too long to find all the references.  However, most of the facts on physiology can be obtained from any basic cell biology book. There are also several books available that are well-researched with solid references.  Here are a couple:  Transcend by Terry Grossman M.D. and Ray Kurzweil and The Zone by Barry Sears.

In our medical office where I’ve practiced longevity nutrition for over ten years, the term “The White Satan” (conceived by Terry Grossman, M.D.) is used synonymously with sugar.  Efforts to educate our “ever-expanding” population about the powerfully, deleterious health effects of sugar consumption have been like turning the Titanic.  The information has been clear and out there for at least 12-15 years but the emergence of sugar-induced obesity and its accompanying diseases; diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, heart disease etc. has continued to increase in numbers.  The average age of people affected by these diseases has been falling steadily and it is no longer uncommon for teenagers to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  Several factors have contributed to this trend.

  • Sugar’s highly addictive nature
  • The emergence of an entire monoculture-based industry providing the public with cheap, foods and  sweetened drinks packed full of high-fructose corn syrup
  • The false belief that fruit and fruit juice is healthy
  • Emphasis on starches and fruit on the Food Pyramid
  • The non-evidence-based, low-fat revolution which led people to believe that anything that didn’t contain fat, especially saturated fat, was good for them
  • Slow, weak and uninformed efforts to educate the public

Any time the level of sugar in the blood surpasses what the cells are capable of managing several problems occur. 

  • Inflammation – the hormone insulin is released by the pancreas into the blood to enable our cells to turn sugar into energy.  We obviously need insulin to survive.  However, excessive levels tend to magnify any inflammatory responses that are happening in the body.  In addition, sugar itself, especially fructose, causes direct inflammation in the liver.  Simply eliminating sugar from one’s diet will almost always result in improvement of inflammatory conditions like asthma, acne, and even back pain.
  • Elevated triglycerides – Insulin signals the liver converts excess sugar floating around in the blood into triglycerides.  Unless you possess a rare, genetic disorder, elevated blood sugar is the ONLY physiologic mechanism for producing triglycerides.
  • “Feeding” of fat cells – Triglycerides floating around in the blood are the direct contributor to “feeding” fat cells.  The higher the blood sugar goes, the higher the triglycerides and the faster weight gain occurs.
  • Immune system dysfunction – As pointed out in Transcend, excess sugar interferes with the ability of white blood cells to utilize vitamin C to carry out a proper immune response
  • Intestinal Dysbiosis – Excess sugar changes the body’s terrain, feeding and promoting overgrowth of yeast along with unbeneficial and some pathogenic bacteria.  The inflammatory response that results from the immune system fighting these critters has an effect on the entire body.  It can manifest as various diseases as the inflammatory chemicals make their way through the lymphatic system. 
  • Advanced Glycated Endproducts (AGE’s) -Glycation is a caramelizing, chemical reaction that occurs when sugars come into contact with proteins.  This reaction can be demonstrated easily in a Petri dish or seen when we bake a chicken and the skin becomes brown and crispy.  The same thing happens to our tissues upon exposure to sugar.  Glycation causes gumming up of enzymes and tissues which render them functionless. 

**Good story:  When I was in college, a gross human anatomy class was lucky enough to have an elderly lady as their study subject.  One of the first things the professor pointed out was the amount of glycation in her tissues.  If you sliced through a piece of her lung or liver, it was never difficult to find these areas of brown, crispy, glycated tissue.  Many age spots are the result of glycation.

It is important to know that these “excess” levels of sugar occur when a healthy human consumes more than 5-7 grams of sugar within a given meal.  Diabetics can tolerate 0-5 grams depending on the severity of their insulin resistance.   The glycemic index  is a useful gauge of how quickly a food raises blood glucose levels.  For example a medium, white potato releases glucose into the bloodstream very quickly and is the equivalent of eating 26 grams of sugar.  The glycemic load  is a measurement of the net glucose-release into the system.  For example, if you eat just a bite or two of that high-glycemic potato, the blood glucose goes up just a little.  I’ve noted that most of my readers are incredibly sophisticated in the thinking and I’m sure most have known about the glycemic index and glycemic load for more than a decade.  However, if you somehow missed out, I strongly encourage you to familiarize yourself with it and take it seriously. One teaspoon of sugar is approximately 5 grams. One teaspoon of honey is 6.5 grams of sugar.  A banana contains 28 grams of sugar. 

Here is a link to the most dangerous foods in America http://www.rense.com/general91/20_Worst_Drinks_in_America_2010.pdf

A severe misconception that has resulted from the spotlight shining on the glycemic index is that fruit and fruit sugar is healthy and safe because it has a low glycemic index.  Fruit contains a completely different sugar, fructose, which cannot be measured with a glucose meter.   A study appeared way back in 1988 in the Journal of Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice that showed fructose has a reaction constant 7.5 times higher than glucose as well as a much higher calculated biohazard rating.  Since then, there is a 1000 fold increase in the research that confirms these findings about the dangers of fructose. This information is just reaching the fringes of the mainstream now.  How sad.  In the next post, we will explore this further and then go on to discuss how the emergence of fructose in the Western diet has led to a rapid devolution.  Later I will present a hypothesis that fructose availability was a primary contributing factor to lifespan and longevity throughout the evolution of humans.

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“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 beverage

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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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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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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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