LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
April 21 2003
The Longevity Meme Newsletter is a biweekly e-mail containing news, opinions and happenings for people interested in healthy life extension: making use of diet, lifestyle choices, technology and proven medical advances to live healthy, longer lives.
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BAD LEGISLATION WATCH, PART I
I try to keep politics out of the Longevity Meme, but politicians just aren't going to let me manage it. Several new fronts in what might be termed the "War on Beneficial Research" recently came to my attention.
Last week, the Florida legislature criminalized theraputic cloning research after a very short debate. For those who keep track of comings and goings in the corridors of power, this is undoubtedly no surprise. There are strong connections between those in power in Florida and those in power in the Whitehouse.
The legislation was passed despite research under way at the University of Miami and the University of Florida that shows theraputic cloning might produce therapies to treat Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, spinal-cord injuries, strokes, burns, heart disease and arthritis. It was passed despite similar, very promising research elsewhere in the world. What are these politicians thinking? Once again, US politicians have shut down vital, valuable, ongoing research that could lead to healthier, longer lives.
This is a mere precursor to the bill current awaiting debate in the US senate, of course. The enormous damage to research, future medicine, health and longevity that just happened in Florida could soon be happening on a far greater scale throughout the US. Don't let this come to pass! Your voice does make a difference. Contact your senators today and let them know that you won't stand for a ban on vital medical research.
BAD LEGISLATION WATCH, PART II
In a surprising development, MEPs of the European Parliament voted to ban stem cell research two weeks ago. This is a far more aggressive and wide-ranging legislation than the anti-research laws on stem cells currently in place in the US. (Those are bad enough in their own right). This BBC news article contains a few choice quotes from outraged scientists and researchers:
The measure is subject to a second vote before it can go anywhere. I strongly urge Europeans to speak out and be heard. We certainly don't want to see the whole of Europe become as anti-research as Florida! I have placed a page on the Longevity Meme to help in finding local Members of European Parliament and composing a suitable message:
Since I'm British myself, I contacted my own MEPs with a firm message of disapproval. I received the following reply from one of them:
"I agree [with disappointment and anger at the vote]. But this was a first reading, and it required only a majority vote for the amendments to be passed. At the second reading, which will take place some months hence, any such amendments will need to be passed by an overall majority - requiring 314 votes in favour. I hope very much that they do not get this endorsement."
-- Caroline Jackson, MEP
Once again, I urge the Europeans amongst us to get in touch with their MEPs. Making your voice heard in these debates is a vital part of ensuring a long, healthy, medically sound future.
CALORIE RESTRICTION: WE SHOULD ALL TRY IT
Calorie restriction is the only diet that has been proven to extend healthy life in mammals such as mice and primates. CR also provides numerous secondary health benefits. From what scientists know of the way in which calorie restriction ("CR" from here on in) works, they are confident that it will show the same results in humans.
I should wave the disclaimer before going further: some of what I will say is anecdotal and based on personal experience. It is a wise idea to consult with your physician before embarking on any change in diet aimed at improving your health or longevity. Health requirements vary widely; what is sauce for the goose is not necessarily sauce for the gander. There is a great deal of junk and nonsense that pretends to be sound health advice out there in the world, so caution is a good idea.
That said, on with the topic. I have been pleased to see CR crop up more often in mainstream articles on diet in past months. The phrase "low-calorie diet" has also been seen here and there recently. I think that might even sound better. People see "restriction" and might not want to hear what comes next: it doesn't sound all that much fun.
What is CR? In short, a CR diet aims at reducing your intake of calories to 20-40% less than is typical, while still obtaining all the necessary nutrients and vitamins. For mild CR, this may mean as little as switching from high-calorie, processed, rich foods, taking a few supplements and not eating snacks.
Many reputable health sites maintain an informative section on CR. InfoAging, funded by the NIH, is a good example:
Unfortunately, these sites often exaggerate minor disadvantages and difficulties experienced by people who practice CR. An article from MSNBC a few weeks ago even used the word "torturous" to describe the experience of trying CR! Quite contrary to the information in these articles, practicing CR is no harder than any other diet change. I have certainly found it considerably more enjoyable and effective.
Many of the beneficial effects of CR stem from dietary changes necessary to eat fewer calories without becoming hungry. For example, processed sugars and rich dairy products can be replaced with rice dishes and steamed vegetables. I've spoken with many people who link processed sugar with depression and mood swings. Cutting out processed sugars (candy, pastries, pasta, and so forth) was reportedly far more beneficial than antidepressants in some cases.
I should mention weight loss in the context of CR, even though it is not a primary goal of a CR diet. It is widely agreed that being overweight is harmful. Many recent articles suggest that being even slightly overweight is very bad for you. It is an excellent idea to check your Body Mass Index (BMI) and see what the doctors say about your weight. It was certainly a kick in the pants for me when I first did that some years ago (while I was a good 30-40lbs heavier than I am now). Find out more about BMI at the following site:
I tried a lot of weight loss strategies before I came to CR and the idea of eating less, healthily. I'm allegedly a smart guy and it took me a long time to come to the conclusion that eating fewer calories will make me lose weight. Or rather, it took me a long time to realize just how much damage I was doing to myself by being even slightly overweight and eating poorly. I took up calorie restriction and the weight started to melt. I was shocked: all this time and all I had to do was eat less and eat the right foods? This is how I earned the "allegedly" in front of the "smart guy."
You'll find that processed, rich and junk foods deaden the palate. You might not even notice this if you're accustomed to a rich diet. Eating a healthier diet leads to a greater appreciation for natural and subtle flavors. Food becomes much more enjoyable when eaten in moderation. This can be a startling revelation for people who have never eaten healthily. Losing weight and becoming fit is also an amazing gift to give oneself.
Lastly, I should probably note that CR costs you nothing beyond the time you took to learn about it. You'll probably even find that you spend significantly less on food than you did when eating a richer diet.
If you aren't practicing at least mild CR at the moment, you owe it to yourself and your future health to look into it. Talk to your physician, try it out and find out for yourself whether CR is right for you. All the current scientific evidence points towards CR as the best way right now for most people to extend their healthy lifespan. I recommend starting with the CR Society, a wonderful, friendly, supportive community of CR practitioners. They maintain a very informative website and are always ready to help newcomers:
There is even a get-together/conference coming up in June, and there's still time to register if you hurry.
If you want to be around and in good shape to benefit from the results of fantastic medical research taking place around the world today, then CR is the way to go.
That's all for my commentary this time: a news roundup for the past two weeks follows below.
Remember that your voice can be used to make a difference to the future of medicine. Contact your representatives today. Follow the link below for more information:
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Founder, Longevity Meme
Common Sense Longevity Advice (April 19 2003)
Common sense on general health and longevity from MSNBC: use the tools you have to hand to live a longer, healthier life. Quote: "[it's] astonishing how many of the ingredients that predict longevity are within your control." This article corresponds to Step 1 in my introduction to healthy life extension. There is far more beyond this that is also within your control! Acting together, we can all help to ensure that the medicine of the near future will help us lead far, far longer, healthier, more active lives.
Competition for Calorie Restriction? (April 18 2003)
I don't normally post research articles that require people to look up words, terms and chemicals. This is an interesting one, however, currently running on the LEF News. Apparently, healthy life extension benefits similar to those offered by calorie restriction have been observed in rats fed a diet that is light in some amino acids. It'll take a while for this to percolate through the system and become something that you or I could practice. Nonetheless, it is very interesting indeed. Kudos to the researchers!
Urging Congress to Increase Research Funding (April 18 2003)
(From Eurekalert). The Task Force for Aging Research Funding is calling for greater government funding of the NIH. From the article: "Our nation is on the threshold of major medical advances that could help alleviate the pain and suffering that accompanies aging-related diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and heart disease." We can't just agitate and expect government to pick up the whole tab, however. Private enterprise and funding is capable of provided far more money and impetus, should the people in charge become convinced that there is a market to be served. They will see a market if we all shout loudly enough to show them one!
Upcoming Webcast At SAGE Crossroads (April 17 2003)
SAGE Crossroads is hosting a webcast on theraputic cloning and aging research on April 22nd. (It will also be accessible in their archive within a week or so after the webcast). This is a part of the larger theraputic cloning debate: opponents of progress have failed to find real, meaningful arguments for a ban on promising medical research. They are still trying hard, however, and a lack of real, meaningful arguments is no protection against foolish legislation. Remember that the Senate will soon debate a ban on theraputic cloning. You should make your voice heard while there is still time.
Vaccine for Degenerative Conditions on the Horizon? (April 17 2003)
Some interesting basic research on mechanisms of degenerative diseases is reported at EurekAlert. While one should always take such early-stage research with a grain of salt, it raises the possibility of a single therapy that would be effective against Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, type II diabetes and CJD. Most of these are age-related conditions and all cause great suffering. Whole-body and brain degenerative conditions are of great concern to people who practice healthy life extension: organ replacement or other near-term regenerative medical breakthroughs are not effective treatments. Research on underlying causes and work towards effective therapies is therefore of great importance.
Progeria Research May Shed Light on Aging (April 16 2003)
A heartening scientific success story in the making is reported by EurekAlert. Researchers have made great and rapid strides in discovering the cause and workings of progeria, a condition that appears to cause accelerated aging and early death. This sort of success story bears watching. It is exactly the sort of model for new, invigorated and successful research that could be repeated for the causes of aging itself. Modern research technology allows for rapid results: we should be pouring money into the fight against aging!
Okinawan Diet Concepts Making Progress (April 16 2003)
I always say that it's encouraging to see healthy life extension concepts showing up far and wide in the media. In this case, the Naples Daily News discusses the root causes of health and longevity reported to result from an Okinawan diet. It's worth noting that the Okinawan diet isn't anything special. It's a sensible, lower-calorie, balanced diet. It's the way most people should eat but don't, in other words. It's also worth noting that members of the CR Society argue that most beneficial effects of an Okinawan diet are due to the lower calorie intake.
SAGE Crossroads on Calorie Restriction (April 15 2003)
The latest article over at SAGE Crossroads talks about calorie restriction (or "CR") at some length. As usual, they err far to the side of caution and central regulation. As someone who practices CR, I can say that it's neither hard nor torturous, as the article would have you believe. The article includes interesting mention of current medical research into drugs that would mimic the beneficial effects of CR. Quoteable quote: "studying CR -- and determining how it works -- is important because this intervention provides the most promising avenue of research on forestalling aging."
Florida Bans Theraputic Cloning (April 15 2003)
As reported in the Orlando Sentinal, the Florida legislature has criminalized theraputic cloning. This despite research under way at the University of Miami and the University of Florida that shows theraputic cloning might produce therapies to treat Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, spinal-cord injuries, strokes, burns, heart disease and arthritis. What are these politicians thinking? In one quick debate, they have shut down vital, valuable, ongoing research that could lead to healthier, longer lives.
Confusion About Anti-Aging (April 14 2003)
An article from Betterhumans tells us of the staggering size and growth of the "anti-aging" market. I put it in quotes because almost none of this has anything to do with real, meaningful anti-aging medicine. It's mostly supplements, cremes, cover-ups and a large amount of snake oil on the margins. If even a fraction of the money in this market was spent on real research, who knows how far ahead we'd be by now in the fight against aging. Instead of throwing money at the symptoms, we should be aiming at the cause. Next time you are about to buy an "anti-aging" product, consider donating that money to a medical research fund instead. It will do you more good in the long run.
Confusion About Theraputic Cloning (April 14 2003)
An article at Reuters illustrates a state of self-induced confusion on the part of bioethicists and politicians. Needless to say it misses the obvious point by a country mile: banning theraputic cloning research will seriously damage the future health and longevity of everyone in this country. It's that simple. We want a better quality of life through regenerative medicine, so we must allow theraputic cloning to continue. I urge you all to contact your representatives to express your support for this research.
Low Calorie Diets Work (Again) (April 13 2003)
If something is worth saying, it's worth saying twice. This piece from EurekAlert is more direct and to the point than the MSNBC article I posted a few days ago. Studies (and common sense!) indicate that getting yourself down to a healthy weight leads to a longer life with fewer medical problems. Added to that, we can tout the well-researched benefits of calorie restriction diets on health and longevity. Go and have a look today.
Oppose the European Stem Cell Ban! (April 12 2003)
We have put up a page here at the Longevity Meme to help Europeans like myself express their disappointment and anger at the recent vote to ban embryonic stem cell research by the European Parliament. Your voice will make a difference to the future of European medical research. Contact your MEPs today to express your displeasure with this vote. Take control of your future health and longevity!
Science For Seniors (April 11 2003)
Science for Seniors is a good resource on medical research and the major age-related conditions (Alzheimer's, cancer, and so on). They have a good, solid, sensible outlook on anti-aging research: "Make no mistake, there's no Holy Grail, no Ponce De Leonic Fountain of Youth. Instead you have a group of very intelligent men and women in research labs, pharmaceutical companies and universities around the world, discovering new ways to maintain our health as we age."
European Parliament Votes to Ban Stem Cell Research (April 10 2003)
The BBC reports that MPs in the European Parliament have followed the US lead by voting to ban embryonic stem cell research. The BBC article contains a number of choice quotes from people who are disappointed and angered by this legislative stupidity. Stem cell research offers the prospect of true regenerative medicine, cures for currently incurable diseases and the hope of longer, healthier lives for all. One would hope that one day we can all look back on this sort of legislation as some sort of temporary insanity.
UAMS Wins $5M For Basic Aging Research (April 10 2003)
As noted in Arkansas Business, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has received a sizable grant from the NIH for basic aging research. It's very true that we just don't know enough yet about aging. It's also worth pointing out that a mere $5 million grant in any mainstream medical research field would never merit a news article. It would be a drop in the bucket; this comparative lack of funding for fundamental aging research is a big problem.
Defining a Healthy 80-Something (April 09 2003)
A heartening article from Signs on San Diego on older health and the future of longevity. It is good to note that realistic, sober, practical discussion of the fight against aging is seen in more and more general interest articles on aging. This article concludes by noting that we should soon ask "how healthy is healthy at age 100?" That could be soon indeed if aging research were fully funded!
Bailey on Kass (April 09 2003)
Ronald Bailey has another fascinating article on Leon Kass and the President's Council on Bioethics over at Reason Online. Kass' views are appalling and his policies will cause great suffering if carried out: he believes that you, I and everyone else should suffer and die young. It's amazing that anyone in this modern world could hold such views, much less become chairman of a bioethics council advising US government policy.
Low Calorie Diets Work (April 08 2003)
In this flurry of articles about weight and longevity, here is one on the efficacy of various diets from MSNBC. This is relevant in light of the airplay that "eat all you want of this type of food" diets like Atkins have been receiving recently. The simple answer is that low-calorie diets (such as calorie restriction) are the most effective. If you think about it, this is exactly what you'd expect: eat fewer calories, lose weight.
A Longer Life, Revisited (April 08 2003)
The LEF News reprints a Canadian article on our increasing life expectancy. This is one of a number of similar articles that have appeared in the press in recent weeks, and it makes some good, sensible points. On health: "Longer life doesn't mean a prolonged dotage." On retirement: "People don't become instantly useless a day after their 65th birthday, he argued. Many remain productive well into old age."
Reeve Speaks at Yale (April 07 2003)
The Yale Herald carries a short article on a talk Christopher Reeve gave to the Yale University Stem Cell Interest Group. This is a part of Reeve's ongoing advocacy of stem cell research and opposition to restrictive government legislation. This research holds the promise of cures for a wide range of conditions, including age-related problems and perhaps even therapies for aging itself. To quote: "Stem cells are the future of medicine, and that word needs to get out more." Remember that you can and should support Christopher Reeve through the Longevity Meme.
Japanese Seek the Key to Longer Life (April 07 2003)
The Japanese are forging ahead in stem cell and other anti-aging research according to this article from the Washington Times. It has been suggested to me that countries like Japan and China are eagerly devoting resources to the aging problem as a result of a deep-rooted cultural respect for the elderly. It's certainly very good to see people working hard towards a cure for aging!
Why Retire If You're Having Fun? (April 07 2003)
An article from ctnow.com discusses the trend of healthy, active, working seniors. This possibility for senior life comes as a result of advances in medicine and quality of life. We can expect to see this trend continue, and I for one look forward to it. Why quit when you're getting paid to have fun doing something that you love? We shouldn't settle for retirement and ill health when we could be out there advocating better anti-aging medicine and more research dollars for healthy life extension!
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