LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
July 28 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.
BAD LEGISLATION WATCH
A little good news over in Europe, as Spain has allowed embryonic stem cell research to continue.
The restrictions are fairly onerous, however. It remains to be seen if this will result in the advancement of stem cell research in that country.
Tech Central Station published a very interesting article by James Pinkerton a week ago or so:
Ostensibly about religion and the state, it examines the roots of US government hostility towards healthy life extension research of all sorts: stem cell therapies, regenerative medicine and anti-aging medicine. The effort expended by the US government to prevent, slow or suppress these fields of scientific research is quite staggering. Influential government departments and commissions such as the FDA and the President's Council on Bioethics openly call for sweeping research bans on religious grounds and step in to halt successful trials of stem cell therapies.
We must stand up for our freedoms and speak up to support the scientists who work hard to bring us longer, healthier lives. Visit the Take Action! section of the Longevity Meme, pick a topic and write to your representatives:
Living to see a future that looks just like today - in which 6000 people die every day of preventable illnesses and the effects of aging in the US alone – is not my idea of fun. As a society, we can do far better than that. We have to stop the politicians and government employees who would hold back medical progress and thereby condemn millions more to suffer and die in coming years.
GETTING STARTED ON CALORIE RESTRICTION
I strongly advocate a calorie restriction diet as the most important healthy life extension technique available here and now. In essence, calorie restriction means eating 25 to 40% fewer calories while maintaining a normal level of vital nutrients and vitamins. Decades of research have proven the effectiveness of calorie restriction in mammals. It extends lifespan and provides protection from all of the common diseases and conditions of aging. It's never too late to start, either: scientists have demonstrated that calorie restriction is very beneficial even if adopted late in life. Find out more about calorie restriction here:
Many benefits of calorie restriction appear keyed to weight loss. While the main goal of a calorie restriction diet is not weight loss, weight loss is a very noticeable side effect. Low calorie diets are very effective in this respect. A great deal of research has linked being overweight with increased risk of age-related illnesses and a shorter, less healthy life.
In recent years, researchers have started to identify the genetic roots of calorie restriction effects. There's definitely interesting stuff going on at the genetic level when you eat fewer calories; different gene expressions, different balances of proteins produced, different cellular signaling mechanisms utilized. A couple of companies are investigating the possibility of medicines that can reproduce these effects, but they aren't there yet. If you want the tremendous benefits of calorie restriction, you are going to have to go about it the old fashioned way.
How to get started? There's a wealth of information and few easy ways to digest it. Let me recommend the following path:
1) Obtain a Copy of "Beyond the 120 Year Diet" by Dr. Walford.
It is a very good, easy introduction to the principles and simple ideas behind calorie restriction. Beyond that, it is a practical guide that will help you over a lot of the early pitfalls. It handily answers the "what exactly is it I eat?" question and offers some great cooking tips.
2) Practice Eating a Better Diet First
While you're waiting for Amazon to deliver, you can start to shift your diet in preparation. Have a look at this "Paleodiet" resource:
The selling point of Paleodiets is that they replicate the hunter/gatherer diet of our ancestors, and are therefore better for us. I don't agree with this argument at all, but I have found that Paleodiets make a great introduction into calorie restriction.
One thing you'll find out quite early on in your journey into calorie restriction is that you'll have to stop eating a lot of highly processed, rich, modern foods. They are heavy in calories and light in nutritional value. In the US, you can walk into any corner store and eat 1500 Kcal of junk food (chips, chocolate, and so forth) at a cost of $10. You'll be hungry again a few hours later. That same $10 could feed you for two days if you buy vegetables, rice and tofu. You'll eat 1500 Kcal a day and not be hungry at all.
I deliberately choose two examples at the opposite ends of the spectrum to make my point here, but most people do eat far more rich food and empty calories than they should. Adopting a Paleodiet for a while is an easy way to start thinking more on what you eat, how you cook and how you can better organize your eating habits in a constructive way. It's a smaller and more manageable jump than leaping straight into calorie restriction.
If you were eating an unhealthy diet before trying this, you'll notice the benefits of healthy eating within a few weeks. Your palate will be more sensitive to subtle tastes, you'll need less sleep and feel more alert, and mood swings will be diminished.
3) Pay Attention to Calories
Counting calories is a good thing, and it's something that you have to pay attention to. Your body will let you eat far more than is good for you, so your brain is going to have to take over managing the process.
Almost everything you buy from the grocery or supermarket has calorie content listed on the packet. Pay attention to these. Note that most manufacturers list calorie content by portion, and that even a lowly bar of chocolate usually has two portions. They don't like the number of calories to be too high, as people won't buy it…so they'll just divide the product into more portions with a lower calorie count per portion.
Most foods have more calories than you might think. You can always tell the new practitioners of calorie restriction at the supermarket: they'll be the ones looking at many different product packages and muttering "wow, I had no idea!"
For foods like apples, rice, loose vegetables and so forth, you will need a book of calorie values. I recommend Food Values of Portions Commonly Used:
The latest editions contain (fairly horrifying) values for fast foods as well as the more usual suspects.
4) Remember the Supplements
You should always take a multivitamin supplement at the very least when on a calorie restriction diet. In theory, it's perfectly possible to obtain all you need from what you eat. In practice, this just isn't going to happen. So take your supplements.
4) The Water Trick
Doctors tell us that few people in Western societies drink as much water as they should for optimal health. Many people even mistake low-level thirst for low-level hunger. A very, very helpful tactic for those of us practicing calorie restriction is to drink a glass of water when first feeling hungry. If you are still hungry twenty minutes later, then maybe it's time to think about eating. Half the time, you were just thirsty, however.
5) If You Have Questions, Ask!
There is a large and very helpful calorie restriction community out there. Visit:
Join the mailing list and feel free to speak out. They have plenty of advice and helpful hints for newcomers. We were all new at this calorie restriction thing at some point in the past, and there are no stupid questions.
6) It's Just a Diet, So Relax
Many people approach diets in an all-or-nothing way. If they slip up or eat poorly one day, they become stressed or abandon the diet entirely in frustration. The key to health through diet is a relaxed attitude. If you slip up, let it go. Keep at it, do better next time, and stay working on the average.
That's all for my commentary this time: a news roundup for the past two weeks follows below. Have you told a friend about the Longevity Meme today?
Have comments for us, or want to discuss the newsletter?
Founder, Longevity Meme
Spain Conditionally Allows Stem Cell Research (July 25 2003)
Back to legislation again, on a slightly happier note this time from Yahoo! News. Spain has approved embryonic stem cell research with some moderately restrictive conditions; a far better policy than in some other European countries. Indeed, better policy than there will be here in the US if legislation currently under consideration is pushed through. Stem cell research is immensely important to future health and longevity. Effective regenerative medicine and many therapies to prevent or repair the effects and diseases of aging seem likely to result from this vital medical science.
Investigating How We Grow Old (July 25 2003)
This SFGate reporter talks to scientists from the Buck Institute for Age Research. As they say: "We are the only freestanding institute in the country devoted to basic research on aging and age-associated diseases." Researchers at BIAR have produced great work in recent years, and the article is a fascinating view of the front lines in the fight against aging. The small size of the BIAR budget illustrates of the need for a vast expansion in funding for aging and healthy life extension research. Just think of the results if aging research were funded like cancer research!
Japanese to Map the Mechanics of Life (July 24 2003)
A short item at Yahoo News remarks on plans to map a large number of the proteins -- the "mechanics of life" -- inside every living thing. This, in essence, is the next big step for the biomedical community. Now that the Human Genome Map is done, we must turn to understanding how the proteins created by genes work. This understanding is fundamental to healthy life extension research. We have already reaped many early benefits from genetics, and we stand to gain far more from an understanding of proteins in the body.
More Artificial Bones On The Way (July 24 2003)
According to this article reprinted at the LEF News, a Tucson company has developed artificial bone for regenerative medicine. This is very similar to the successful Chinese work on regenerative bone implants that was reported on in past weeks. Competition and parallel research already is a very good sign. This sort of regenerative medicine is very promising, offering hope for a wide range of patients. There is a lot of fascinating, useful work going on today in the borders between biotechnology, nanotechnology and material sciences.
New England Journal of Medicine Pushes Stem Cell Research (July 23 2003)
The influential New England Journal of Medicine has placed itself firmly in favor of stem cell research and regenerative medicine. A quote: "Of course, NEJM's move is political, and appropriately so, DeAngelis said. I have to believe that he truly thinks that this is a political way to drive the importance of stem cell research." Remember that legislation in the US and elsewhere is currently restricting this research, and threatens to even ban it. This only damages our future health, longevity and access to advanced medicine. As the article puts it: "We would hope that people will understand that you can't legislate away scientific progress."
Science and the GOP (July 22 2003)
From Tech Central Station, a fascinating article on how the US government came to be opposed to medical research and the advancement of medical science (especially in the areas of stem cell research and regenerative medicine). This is well worth a read. We should not forget that the US government is currently restricting vital medical research, and is debating further, harsher restrictions. This should certainly not be permitted to continue. Speak up for your medical rights today!
Gene Bank in the Fight Against Alzheimer's (July 22 2003)
A press release from the Ascribe newswire notes that the NIH and the Alzheimer's Association are to work on creating a gene bank to help in the fight against Alzheimer's. Defeating Alzheimer's (and other common degenerative neural conditions) is of particular importance to healthy life extension. It is looking increasingly likely that replacements for all organs except the brain could be grown to order within the next few decades. Thus, we have to spend more effort on defending our brains from the effects of aging -- we only get one of those.
New Anti-Aging Drug Promotes Anti-Oxidants (July 22 2003)
I'm normally wary of anti-aging drug announcements -- with good reason, since most are worthless -- but this one looks legitimate (found via KurzweilAI.net). Northestern University is reporting on research that claims remarkable success in an anti-oxidant related drug. The claims sound a little too good to be true, so we should definitely wait for peer review of the science before getting excited. Press announcements before peer review are usually a bad sign in this and most other scientific endeavors.
Exercise Is A Very, Very Good Thing (July 21 2003)
The Greenwich Time reminds us that moderate exercise brings enormous health benefits, especially in the elderly. "I would say there is probably no single group in the United States that has more to gain from exercise than the elderly," said William Evans, director of the Nutrition, Metabolism and Exercise Laboratory in the Department of Geriatrics at the University of Arkansas. The rest of us benefit from exercise as well. Studies consistently show benefits in health and longevity resulting from moderate, easily accomplished exercise. If you are not exercising, you should certainly talk to your physician about it.
A Vaccine For Heart Attacks? (July 21 2003)
InfoAging details recent research that may lead to a vaccine that reduces the risk of heart attacks. This can only be a good thing, but it's worth noting that waiting around for medical science to help out is no substitute for a good diet, supplementation and exercise now. Diets and lifestyle choices like calorie restriction have been shown to greatly reduce the incidence of many age-associated diseases and condition. You really have to take care of your body if you are going to benefit fully from future therapies resulting from current medical research.
New Theory of Aging Proposed (July 20 2003)
A brief article from ScienceDaily notes a new theory on the evolutionary causes of aging and longevity. It doesn't look like a particularly watertight theory, but that's not the important point. The important point is that more scientists are talking about aging, thinking about the root causes, and working on genetics and biochemistry related to aging. This is, at heart, a good thing. In medical science, more discussion leads to more research. More research will lead to therapies and cures. One of the early steps in invigorating any field of research is to get scientists and researchers talking and exchanging theories.
Experts Debate Limits of Aging (July 19 2003)
At Reuters, a short article on the longevity discussion at the World Future Society conference. There are some disparaging comments on the ability of science to tackle aging from the normal disparaging sources. It's worth remembering this old motto: when a scientist says that something is possible, he might be right. When he says that something is impossible, he is always wrong. Right now, the scientific side of healthy life extension is looking very promising for the next few decades. It's the political and public awareness aspects that need shaking up.
More on Set of Longevity Genes Indentified (July 19 2003)
Betterhumans has a better article on recent work that identified a whole set of longevity-related genes. This puts researchs a large step closer to answering the all-important question: "What are the actual biochemical processes that determine lifespan?" As the article notes, this research will provide years of follow-on work for scientists. As the basic mechanisms of aging are identified, possible therapies to prevent or retard aging will surely follow.
"Male Menopause" A Myth? (July 18 2003)
In an article from the Independent, male menopause is declared to be a myth, exaggerated and propped up by the companies that sell "treatments" for the condition. Research suggests that "male menopause" is simply a consequence of poor dietary and lifestyle choices that lead to weight gain. "Men who put on weight will have a fall in testosterone levels," Professor McKinlay said. "What they need to do is go on a diet and increase physical activity, not be treated with a patch." Given the many, many other unhealthy and downright unpleasant consequences of being overweight, I once again recommend looking into calorie restriction.
Repair Genes Offer Insights Into Aging, Cancer Therapies (July 18 2003)
The Kansas City Star reports on research into the genes that repair our DNA. Since cancers and at least some of the effects and conditions of aging occur due to DNA damage, a better understanding of these "repair genes" could lead to a class of effective therapies. Don't hold your breath, however: it typically takes at least five years to get from this point to trialing treatments in the lab. This sort of basic research is the wellspring of new medicine, however. Congratulations to the researchers!
Update on Bionic Eyes (July 17 2003)
On the one hand we have regenerative medicine, on the other hand the development of artificial replacement parts. Both young fields of medicine are striving to find better ways to repair the damaged human body. Here, from Wired, is an update on the state of the art in artificial eyes. These are early days yet, just as for regenerative medicine, but developments are coming thick and fast. Advancements in all such technologies are very welcome. Repairing the damage done to our bodies by age and accident offers the possibility of longer, healthier lives.
Stem Cell Research Forum Launched (July 17 2003)
BioMed Central reports on the launch of the promised International Stem Cell Forum. This is an important step for this vital body of medical research, as greater collaboration and coordination between scientists worldwide will hasten the end results of research. A modest quote: "It could take 15 to 20 years, but there's a good chance we could produce therapies that are really revolutionary for diseases that cripple a lot of people."
The Phoenix Conference on Longevity Health Sciences (July 16 2003)
ISHARE (International Society for Healthy Aging Research and Education), Kronos Longevity Research Institute and the Oxidative Stress and Aging Association have teamed up to put together a new conference in December this year. A quote from the press release: "Despite the fact that there are numerous anti-aging products and clinical treatments on the market today, many lack scientific evidence, and the Phoenix Conference on Longevity Health Sciences has been created to help attendees separate fact from fiction, and to promote research into and implementation of legitimate practices." Good for them; high time we saw the industry starting to shake itself free from the quacks and shysters.
Stem Cell Therapies For Neural Conditions Looking More Likely (July 16 2003)
Betterhumans covers research that reinforces the possibility of near-future stem cell therapies for conditions like Parkinson's, paralysis or various forms of age-related blindness. It looks like stem cells from any human source can be transplanted into the brain, optic nerves or spinal cord without fear of immune rejection. There, they can start a process of regenerating damage. This is very promising indeed; it seems that the first wave of simple stem cell therapies will be as powerful as hoped.
Yet Another Approach to Beating Cancer (July 15 2003)
It's become interesting to keep track of the number of new potential anti-cancer therapies in the works. This is lucky number 13 since the last months of 2002, outlined at ScienceDaily. In essence, researchers have found a sneaky way to sabotage the telomeres in cancer cells. They believe that this will cause cancer cells in a given patient to simply die out, although far more testing and experimentation is needed. This is a good example of a therapy that is made possible by an increased level of understanding of the basic mechanisms within our cells.
Being Overweight Contributes to Alzheimer's? (July 15 2003)
It seems that being overweight contributes to every degenerative disease known to man. I exaggerate, of course, but here (from MSNBC) is news of a link between weight and the onset of Alzheimer's. Excess weight has recently been linked to increased risk of cancer, and we should all know about the strong link between weight and diabetes. If you are overweight, you should certainly be looking into losing it as the first step towards living a longer, healthier life. I recommend talking to your physician and investigating calorie restriction.
Regenerative Stem Cell Treatment For Aging Arteries? (July 14 2003)
(From Duke Health). Researchers have connected age-related damage and clotting of arteries (atherosclerosis) with the decline of a particular type of stem cell in the body. This raises the strong possibility of a regenerative therapy similar to that trialed successfully for heart damage in recent months. The patient's own stem cells could be extracted, cultured and returned to the body in greater numbers to help repair damaged tissue. If, that is, the FDA doesn't step in to block this therapy as well.
The End of Cancer As We Know It (July 14 2003)
A long, well-written article at Wired examines the dramatic shifts in cancer therapy that have happened in the past decade and continue today. Cancer, while still a danger, is on the way out as a life-threatening disease and well on the way to becoming a mere chronic condition. Just how this came to be is told in detail in this fascinating article. We can hope that we'll be reading very similar articles in ten or twenty years time about progress in the search for a cure for aging itself. Success (in the lab, in raising awareness and in securing funding) in the fight against cancer is the model for success in the path to healthy life extension medicine.
Do you have comments for us, or want to discuss the newsletter?