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August 19, 2015

Secrets of longevity

by Helene van den Berg

WHAT IS LONGEVITY?

Longevity means to live with optimum health as long as possible, slowing down the aging process and preventing or delay the onset of age-related disease and decline. It is promoting “active life expectancy” – the time in late life free of disability.

There is plenty of research supporting the value of healthy, balanced diet and exercise, to delay and prevent age-related health problems, but are there other interventions that can help? Current studies are looking at the possible benefits and risks of a number of approaches, including antioxidants, calorie restriction and hormone supplements.

  • ANTIOXIDANTS – antioxidants protect the body from the harmful effects of free radicals, made when the body changes oxygen and food into energy. The effectiveness of dietary antioxidant supplementation remains controversial, but there is positive evidence for the health benefits of fruits and vegetables.
  • CALORIE RESTRICTION – By restricting your calorie intake, less free radicals are produced, which causes cellular damage and aging. Therefore, calorie restriction slows the process of aging. The goal is not to deprive your body of food, but how to feed your body the best way possible with all the needed nutrients. Studies have shown that overweight adults who cut their calorie consumption by 20-30%, lowered their fasting insulin levels and core body temperature, which increases longevity. The lower calorie intake also reduced heart diseases and diabetes. Scientists do not yet know if long-term calorie restriction is safe, beneficial or practical for humans. Resveratrol (found in grapes and nuts) and Rapamycin, (help suppress the immune system in transplant patients) are chemicals that mimic calorie restriction’s benefits. More research is needed before scientists know if there is a proper and safe dose of resveratrol or if it has any clinical applicability in people. Since Rapamycin treatment in people is associated with serious toxicities, it’s potential use for human long-term use is uncertain. Scientists are also looking at the effect of intermittent fasting or reduced meal frequency, but it’s influence on human health and longevity is unclear.
  • HORMONES – hormones are chemical messengers involved in regulating metabolism, immune function, growth and sexual reproduction. Scientists are investigating how the administration of hormones to older people, affects frailty and function. These studies focus on hormones that naturally decline with age, including human growth hormone (hGH), testosterone, estrogen and progesterone and DHEA. To date, no research has shown that hormone therapies add years to life or prevent age-related frailty. Some drugs have real benefits for people with clinical hormone deficiencies, due to a disease or disorder, but they also can cause harmful side effects. Replacement or supplemented hormones cannot replicate your body’s natural variation. Hormonal balance in the body is very intricate and too much of a hormone in your system, may cause the opposite of the effect intended e.g. taking a hormonal supplement can cause your own hormone regulation to stop working. Or, your body may process the supplements differently than the naturally produced hormone, causing an undesired effect. At this point, there are still too many unknowns about the risks and benefits of hormonal supplementation. Therefore, patients should review the pros and cons of their hormonal treatment with their doctor, to make an informed decision about whether or not this therapy is right for them.

Dan Buettner, a journalist working for National Geographic, has written some very interesting books on longevity. In his book ” The Blue Zones Solution” he has identified hot spots of longevity around the world, areas he called Blue Zones, and revealed what the world’s longest-lived people have been eating over the past 100 years. With his key insight that lasting health is more the result of our surroundings than our conscious choices, his ambitious Blue Zones makeover project, has already transformed America’s cities and towns.

BLUE ZONE HOT SPOTS:

Buettner has located places worldwide, which have the highest concentration of 100 year olds and clusters of people who had grown old without diseases like heart problems, obesity, cancer or diabetes. He called these places, Blue Zone Hot Spots!.

Five places in the world fulfilled these criteria:

  • GREECE – IKARIA: an island in the Aegean Sea , 8 miles of the coast of Turkey. It has a low rate of middle-age mortality and the lowest rate of dementia.
  • JAPAN – OKINAWA: This Japanese island is home to the world’s longest-lived women.
  • SARDINIA – OGLIASTRA REGION: This mountainous Italian island has the world’s highest concentration of 100 year old men.
  • CALIFORNIA – LOMA LINDA: This community of Seventh-day Adventists, live 10 more healthy years than the average American.
  • COSTA RICA – NICOYA PENINSULA: This Central American country has the world’s lowest rate of middle-age mortality and the 2nd highest concentration of male centenarians.

COMMON DENOMINATORS:

Long-lived populations have similar habits and practices or common denominators.

They are called the POWER NINE:

  1. Move naturally – the longest-lived people live in an environment where they WALK – they walk to work, they walk to a friend’s house, they walk to church. They don’t pump iron in gyms or run marathons!.
  2. Purpose – Okinawans call it “Ikigai” , which translates into “why I wake up in the morning”. A sense of purpose can add 7 years to your life!
  3. Right tribe – the world’s longest-lived people choose/were born into, social circles that support healthy behaviors. Okinawans create moais – group of 5 friends that commit to each other for life.
  4. Community – all the centenarians belonged to a faith-based community, irrespective of the denomination. Attending faith-based services four times /month can add 4-14 years of life expectancy.
  5. Loved ones first – the centenarians put their families first. They keep aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home. They commit to a life partner and they invest in their children with time and love.
  6. Slow down – Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. Okinawans take a few moment each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians have a happy hour!.
  7. 80% Rule – “Hara hachi bu” , a Confucian saying , reminds people to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full, could be the difference between losing weight and gaining it. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and don’t eat any more after that.
  8. Plant –based meals – beans (fava, black, lentils) are the main part of the centenarian diet. Meat are eaten only 5 times per month and the serving about the size of a deck of cards.
  9. Wine @ 5 – people in all Blue Zones (even the Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly (1-2 glasses /day) with friends and with food.

CONCLUSION:

No one thing explains longevity in the Blue Zones. It is a combination of factors – what we eat, our social network, daily rituals, physical environment and sense of purpose – that motivates us and add meaning to our lives. It is more than just another diet plan. Eating habits were central, but they weren’t the whole picture. The Blue Zones approach meant making changes in lifestyle and environment, not just daily menus. A 101-year old woman living in Ikaria, Greece’s, explanation for living so long, was : We just forget to die!”. They didn’t pursue longevity – it simply ensued – it followed them!. BUT food is still the best starting point for anyone pursuing the longevity found in the World’s Blue Zones…for example:

in 1970, the North Karelia region of Finland, was home to the world’s unhealthiest population. A fellow by the name of Pekka Puska, implemented a strategy in making changes in the food, eating habits and health and well-being of the North Karelians. Those changes reduced heart disease by 80% and cancer by 60% among the 170 000 working-age people there. This was the first community to implement the Blue Zone principles with roaring success!!.

FOOD CHOICES based on our BELIEF SYSTEMS:

Food choices flow from our belief system, dictating what we eat e.g. Jews eat unleavened bread on the Sabbath or Muslims fast during Ramadan, while Adventists eat a plant-based, biblical diet of whole grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables( based on Genesis 1:29). Your choice of food, ultimately determines the world you want to live in: are you supporting a system that favors a healthy climate and environment or are you helping to pollute your surroundings?. Are you buying fresh- market foods produced by farming communities or factory- produced foods made from harmful ingredients?.

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