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Posts Tagged ‘longevity’

Drink up, fatsos!

Posted by Richard on November 6, 2006

So, let’s say you’re one of the 65% of Americans who are obese. And let’s say you’re worried about the health consequences of those extra pounds — including double the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and arthritis, and triple the risk of diabetes. So, what are you going to do about it?

Well, you could walk more, join a gym, and start working out. You could forego that plate of ribs and order a nice salad with low-fat dressing.

Or you could just order a nice bottle of Shiraz to go with those ribs:

Good news for gluttons and anyone else who gets old: Scientists are looking for the antidote for age and disease in a glass of red wine.

Harvard Medical School and National Institute of Aging researchers have found that a natural susbtance found in red wine, known as resveratrol, countered the ravenous ways of mice fed a high-calorie diet and even prolonged their lives.

“Resveratrol can excuse most of the negative effects of being obese in the mice,” said Harvard Medical School professor David Sinclair, one of the study’s authors.

The study compared three groups of mice. The first ate a standard (30% fat) diet, the second ate a high-fat (60%) diet, and the third ate the high-fat diet supplemented with resveratrol.

The third group got just as fat as the second, but suffered none of the ill effects. Their hearts, livers, and other organs remained normal (in fact, somewhat healthier than the standard-diet group’s). Their blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity mirrored the lean group’s. And they lived longer:

… After 114 weeks, 58 percent of the normally fed mice and the resveratrol group were still alive, compared with only 42 percent of the untreated, high-calorie-intake mice. Sinclair reports that resveratrol reduced the risk of death from a high-calorie diet by 31 percent, leading to an increase in life span of 15 percent thus far. More accurate numbers will be available when all the mice pass away. "We are around five months from having final numbers," Sinclair notes, "but there is no question that we are seeing increased longevity." The researchers also note that the resveratrol-treated mice not only live longer than their untreated counterparts, but have more active lives, too–their motor skills have actually improved as they have aged.

Of course, there are caveats. To get as much resveratrol as the mice, you’d have to drink a hundred or more glasses of wine (depending on which news report you believe) — clearly, supplement capsules would be a more practical choice. And everybody from the science reporters to the researchers is mouthing the usual warnings that you always hear regarding nutritional supplements:

While resveratrol supplements are available at many health food stores, experts caution that no one knows whether the compound will work the same way for humans and, perhaps more important, whether high doses of resveratrol are harmful in the long run.

It’s worth noting, though, that researcher David Sinclair founded a company to develop resveratrol-related drugs (in which he and Harvard Medical School have a financial interest).

And Sinclair has been taking resveratrol supplements himself for three years already.

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Living longer by getting high

Posted by Richard on September 13, 2006

It’s possible that one of the secrets to a long life is to adopt the slogan "Life’s a mountain, not a beach." According to the Rocky Mountain News, you can improve your odds of surviving to a ripe old age by moving to the Colorado high country:

Way up high in Colorado, where tourists get nauseous, the locals live and keep on living – longer than virtually any other place in the United States.

A new Harvard University longevity study puts seven high-country Colorado counties in the top 10 in the nation, with an average lifespan of 81.3 years.

"I don’t let the grass grow under my feet," said Shirley Willis, 83, of Dillon, one of those Rocky Mountain octogenerians. "I’m busy, and I’m interested in what’s going on in my community. We have good air and pure, clean water."

The Colorado counties sharing the top spot for average life expectancy were Summit, Park, Eagle, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Jackson and Grand.

Tied for 24th place among the thousands of counties in the U.S. were six other high-country counties in the state: Archuleta, Mineral, Ouray, San Miguel, Gunnison and Hinsdale, with an average longevity of 80.8 years.

It also helps if you’re an Asian-American; they live 6 years longer than average. The lowest lifespan groups are American Indians, rural southern whites, and rural and inner-city blacks. The lowest lifespan states are in the South, and the District of Columbia ranks at the bottom. (To be fair, the "life’s a beach" folks can point to the fact that Hawaii is the longest-lived state. The story didn’t offer an explanation; my guess is a high Asian-heritage population.)

The statistics suggest that longevity depends a lot on lifestyle choices — smoking, drinking, diet, and exercise. That’s probably the main reason that the Colorado mountain counties rank so high, not anything related to the environment. Colorado has the lowest obesity rate in the nation, one of the lowest smoking rates, and people tend to be much more physically active, especially in the mountain communities.

People out here tend to eat healthier, too, which I’m reminded of every time I return to Tennessee. "Try some of this battered, deep-fried pork sausage smothered in cheese sauce, with some fried okra, fried potatoes, and fried green tomatoes. You want sweet tea with that?"

Another factor in the mountain counties’ high life expectancy may be self-selection:

Colorado’s high-country residents have long noted that their neighbors tend to move to Grand Junction, Florida or Arizona when they grow old to escape the cold winters or because the thin air is tough on their lungs and heart.

It could be simply that retired people who choose to move to the mountains may be a hardier group than those who choose to move to Florida or Arizona.

Nonetheless, the numbers at least suggest that there are no significant environmental factors that are harmful to lifespan associated with the high mountain counties, and perhaps there are factors that are beneficial. I’m thinking in particular of ionizing radiation — people living at high altitudes are exposed to much more radiation than those at lower altitudes. That goes double for people living in former mining communities with tailings piles full of mildly radioactive minerals scattered about.

There’s been a long-standing dispute about low doses of radiation. The proponents of the "linear response" (no threshold) theory, led by John Gofman and supported, I’m sorry to say, by my friends at Life Extension Foundation, insist that there is no safe dose of radiation and we should strive to reduce our exposure as close to zero as possible. The proponents of the "hormesis" theory argue that not only is the linear response theory nonsense, but low doses of radiation have proven benefits.

I’m convinced that both logic and the empirical data support the idea that — up to a point — radiation is at least harmless and probably good for you. The long lifespans of people living in the Colorado mountains are just another set of data supporting this idea.

So, book that Vail (Eagle County) ski trip or buy that vacation home near Keystone (Summit County) — it’ll be good for your health!

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