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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

About Longevity With Function

Since I don’t write these posts very often these days (life is busy with my little farm), today’s article will combine multiple ideas about aging and health.  I talk a lot about nutrition.  It’s important— even critical for functional life span.   And today, I’ll throw in some at the end. But it’s not everything. 

Elsie Calvert Thompson died peacefully in her sleep in March.  She was two weeks away from her 114th birthday.  There's no doubt her birthday bash would have been a swinging one. 

“She was a very positive person. She loved people. She was always happy, she loved music, she loved to dance,” George, her son said. “It was just wonderful to have her as long as we did.” 

Thompson's caregiver of 13 years, said she never saw the elderly woman in a bad mood. she had worked with Thompson for the past 13 years as she continued to live in her own condominium in Florida as opposed to an assisted living facility.

Then there is 100 year old Fauja Singh who ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon recently.  He finished last, but he finished.  In fact it’s Singh’s eighth marathon. Though he was born in 1911, he didn’t start running until age 89.   

And from a study on longevity:  “We regard these individuals as wonderful models of aging well. Some of our subjects, ~15% have no clinically demonstrable disease at age 100 years and we call them “escapers.” About 43% are “delayers,”or subjects who did not exhibit an age related disease until age 80 years or later. Finally, there are about 42% of our subjects who are “survivors”, or those with clinically demonstrable disease(s) prior to the age of 80 years.  We have observed amongst supercentenarians (age 110+ years), that health span equals lifespan. Thus we believe that instead of the aging myth “the older you get the sicker you get,” it is much more the case of “the older you get, the healthier you’ve been.” 

My own feeling is that living to 100 or more is no fun if you’re not fully functional.  I am interested in the strategies that promote wellness and function.  I think they ultimately lead to longevity, too, but that’s not the point.  The point is to have good years at the tail end of life, wherever that is chronologically.  Again, from the longevity study: 

Once it truly became apparent that living to 100 was a terrific advantage, not just in years of survival but importantly in many more years of quality life, we set out to understand what factors the centenarians had in common that might explain such an advantage. Not all centenarians are alike. They vary widely in years of education (no years to post-graduate), socioeconomic status (very poor to very rich), religion, ethnicity and patterns of diet (strictly vegetarian to extremely rich in saturated fats). However, the centenarians we have studied do have a number of characteristics in common: 

  1. Few centenarians are obese. In the case of men, they are nearly always lean.
  2. Substantial smoking history is rare.
  3. A preliminary study suggests that centenarians are better able to handle stress than the majority of people.
  4. Our finding that some centenarians (~15%) had no significant changes in their thinking abilities disproved the expectation by many that all centenarians would be demented.4 We also discovered that Alzheimer’s Disease was not inevitable. Some centenarians had very healthy appearing brains with neuropathological study (we call these gold standards of disease-free aging).5
  5. Many centenarian women have a history of bearing children after the age of 35 years and even 40 years. From our studies, a woman who naturally has a child after the age of 40 has a 4 times greater chance of living to 100 compared to women who do not.6 It is probably not the act of bearing a child in one’s forties that promotes long life, but rather, doing so may be an indicator that the woman’s reproductive system is aging slowly and that the rest of her body is as well. Such slow aging and the avoidance or delay of diseases that adversely impact reproduction would bode well for the woman’s subsequent ability to achieve very old age.
  6. Some families demonstrate incredible clustering for exceptional longevity that cannot be due to chance and must be due to familial factors that members of these families have in common.9
  7. Based upon standardized personality testing, the offspring of centenarians, compared to population norms, score low in neuroticism and high in extraversion.
I think numbers 1, 2, 3 and 7 are very interesting findings. Below is another study/experiment that indicates there are mental considerations to how we age. 

In 1979, psychologist Ellen Langer conducted a piece of research designed to test this idea. She invited a group of 75-year-old men to spend a week on a retreat. It was a retreat with a difference, though. The men were instructed to dress, speak and act as though the year was 1959. Their environment was decked out like it would have been in 1959, and no magazines or books dated later than 1959 were allowed at the retreat. 

Before the retreat, men underwent assessment of physical and mental function including their strength, posture, eyesight, intelligence, perception and memory.  

At the end of the week, the men were tested again, and most of the men had improved in all of the assessments. Even characteristics that are generally regarded as fixed – such as eyesight and intelligence – were found to have improved across the group. This research was subsequently detailed in Ellen Langer’s 2009 book entitled: Counter-Clockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility. 

How old you are biologically is not just about biology!  But a lot of it is.  I submit the following information as well.

Ötzi is probably the most-studied Neolithic man in history. More than 5,000 years ago, the ancient iceman was hit by an arrow and bled to death on a glacier in the Alps between modern-day Austria and Italy. The glacier preserved his body until it was discovered by hikers in 1991. 

Since his discovery in the Ötzal Alps by the hikers, scientists have reconstructed Ötzi's face, analyzed his clothing, scrutinized his body and sequenced his genome.  

What studies on Ötzi tell us are interesting from a nutritional standpoint.  He was a middle aged, well-off farmer/agriculturist, and he had heart disease and joint pain (arthritis).  His teeth tell the story of a carbohydrate rich diet, with several cavities, tooth wear and gum disease.  It’s the same kind of wear and tear and disease that’s also found on Egyptian mummies who ate grains. 

Then more mummies from many walks of history were examined and something like 34% showed signs of heart disease.  Some of these were pre-agricultural, so they were not eating grain.  Most of the Egyptian mummies were upper classes and most assuredly WERE eating grain heavy diets.  But blaming heart disease on grain is too broad.   

With the advent of research and investigation of inflammation as the cause of heart disease we find more enlightenment.  Do grains contribute to inflammation?  Absolutely.  They are packets of sugar which causes a rise in blood sugar, a rise of insulin—both inflammatory (not controversial, btw).  They also are heavy on Omega 6 oils, a surplus of which is highly inflammatory.  But many other things cause untoward inflammatory response which starts the disease process.  Not enough sleep, stress, bad attitudes, loneliness, injury, malnutrition.  For a complete treatise see my booklet on inflammation or do your own research. 

What can you and I take away from the above?  An up-attitude and seeing yourself as young and vital as opposed to old and frail is a wellness and longevity strategy.  Nutrition that is very light on high glycemic load foods that raise blood sugar and insulin.  (I recently read an article that recommended whole grains as low glycemic foods.  THEY ARE NOT!!  Glycemic load of 2 slices of white bread is 18, almost in the high range (20 is high, 1-10 is low).  The glycemic load of two slices of whole wheat bread is 12.  Not low.  All grains jack up blood sugar and insulin.  Wheat has many additional toxins, of which I have talked at length (see old blog articles). 

There’s a lot of opinion on what are inflammatory foods.  I might have to change some of my ideas some day when they get around to more research, but carbs are some of the most inflammatory, veggies not so much, fruit carbs less than most.  Roots less than grains, but not by much--sweet potato glycemic load on 1/2 cup is 9, same amount of white rice, 11).

Be sure you are not short on any nutrients.  Avoid stress, get enough sleep.  Get weight down or never let it get up.  Skip vegetable oils.  Cholesterol is your friend, not your enemy.  Socialize enough, love wisely but thoroughly!  What does that get you?  Maybe a long life, but for sure a better life for however long it is.



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