Mea culpa. Almost three weeks ago I promised to do a little reading and report back on what to believe about cholesterol and heart disease. It was hubris to imagine that I would be able to untangle the thicket of conflicting claims with a short course of study. Today, my goals are far more modest, and I offer my scaled-back conclusions. Here, I offer a tentative analysis, which I hope will prompt people more knowledgable than I to refine and correct the message.
Physical activity is one of the best things you can do for yourself, even if it didn’t increase your odds for a long and healthy life. For those who would like to be more active, the trick is to find activities that don’t feel like a chore, but that you enjoy for their own sake. Then, gradually build more of these into your routine. There’s no hurry. There are five kinds of exercise that contribute to retaining a youthful brain and body. Only two of them hurt.
When it comes to calories, inefficiency is the name of the game.
We know that less weight is healthier and leads to longer life, but the desire to eat runs deep, and dieting through willpower works for almost no one. So we look for tricks that will let us eat more and weigh less. Two articles from Scientific American this month are most enlightening. One demonstrates that the number of calories we extract from food varies widely from the standard method as reported on the label. The other recounts ways in which some foods triggers hormonal signals that say “burn me!” while others tell the body to “store me as fat!”
One of the oldest and best-established theories of aging holds that we age because of oxidative damage. In the classic version, the body exploits high-energy chemistry based on oxidation for an energy supply at the cellular level, but this involves constant exposure to these high-energy species and the free radicals that are their by-products, species which can attack sensitive biomolecules. Damage to these molecules accumulates over a lifetime, so the story goes, and makes the body gradually less able to maintain its balance. I’ve argued against the general idea that aging is an accumulation of damage, because of evidence that it is an active process, closely regulated like everything else about life. But new to me this week is a version of the theory by Spanish physiologist Gustavo Barja, in which some of the same chemistry is described as an active program of self-destruction. Barja argues that the process of burning fuel to produce energy can be extremely clean or it can be rather dirty. It is the “leakage” of free radicals during the process that causes the damage of aging, and this leakage can be quite fast, or it can be almost nil. Leakage is tightly-regulated in a way that determines life span. This is a unique lens through which to view aging. What does it help us to understand?
New research supports a thesis that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside – and that feeling itself is good for our health and longevity. People who seek gratification through personal aggrandizement and accumulation of wealth may achieve a kind of hedonistic satisfaction, but this leads to negative health consequences and shorter life span. Meanwhile, people who seek fulfillment through service, dedication to cooperative efforts and shared values tend to have better health and longer lives.
We know that cutting calories has multiple health benefits and makes you thinner. But suppose we play tricks to be thinner without eating less – is there still a benefit for health and longevity? This week we review Irvingia, Metformin, Pycnogenol, Green Coffee Extract, Acarbose, and old-fashioned amphetamines for weight loss. Also avoiding carbs and increasing fiber, intermittent fasting and bursts of exercise before eating.
Eating less helps you live longer, but eating less is hard. One line of experiment suggests that eating less of just one protein component, methionine, is sufficient to extend life span, perhaps as effectively as though less calories were being consumed. It’s an intriguing idea, though the research is fraught with contradictions, and to separate methionine from other protein components is not easy or cheap.