Friday, 13 October 2017

Dancing as an Anti-Aging Therapy

Two common beliefs around health and aging are that 1) we cannot reverse the physical decline that is "supposed" to come with living longer and 2) any form of therapy, or anything with health benefits, must be unpleasant. However, a new study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience demonstrates the opposite to be true in both cases.

“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study and based in Germany. Volunteers with an average age of 68 were assigned to 18 months of dance lessons or endurance and flexibility training. As expected, both groups showed an increased volume of the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory, learning and balance. This area of the brain can be particularly vulnerable to age-related decline, even more so in the case of Alzheimer's disease. Even though it has been established that exercise can slow and reverse age-related neurological decline, whether or not certain types of exercise are better than others has still been unclear. Because of this, the endurance and flexibility group were given routines consisting of repetitive movements, such as cycling, and the dance group had something new each week.

Source: Abro22 (CC:4.0)
Volunteers in the dance group were instructed in a range of genres, such as line dancing and Latin American dance. Steps, formations and music were changed every second week. They were constantly learning, and had to recall dance choreographies under the pressure of time and without any help from the teacher. Only dancing caused noticeable improvements in balance, and some areas of the hippocampus only regenerated in the dancers. The superior results are most likely caused by the combination of physical exercise and mental stimulation.

This is not the first time that dancing has been shown to exert anti-aging effects. Another study of 34 people with an average age of 80 aimed to test the effects of dancing on walking speed and pain in the knees and hips. Participants were assigned to either two 45-minutes dance lessons a week, or a control group. After 12 weeks, those who danced had less pain and were able to walk faster, which has significant implications for health and longevity. As the researchers stated, even walking just a little faster can help with crossing the road or walking to different rooms, keeping people independent and maintaining self-esteem. Longevity is for everyone, and does not need to be unpleasant or expensive.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Going Organic Benefits Everyone

Usually when we start eating organic food, it's for our own health, and often also the health of a future baby. However, adoption of an organic diet can benefit people we don't even know, such as those working in the agricultural industry.

Source: Walter Baxter (CC: 2.0)
As part of the Agricultural Health Study, researchers tested 1,234 men who worked with pesticides on farms or other environments. They all filled out extensive surveys on what pesticides they had used throughout their working lives, and how frequently. A total of 48 pesticides, including the now-illegal DDT, were included on the list. Researches also collected cheek swabs, containing old cells, from the inside of their mouths in order to analyse these for telomere length. The more often the men used pesticides, the shorter their telomeres were. Some pesticides were more strongly associated with telomere shortening than others, including DDT, alachlor (sold under names such as Crop Star), permethrin (known as Nix, among others) and toxaphene.

Telomeres are an important marker for aging, as they shorten with each division without the aid of telomerase, and if they get too small the cell can no longer replace itself and the tissue deteriorates.
Some people think that longer telomeres mean a greater cancer risk, but this is an excessively reductionistic idea, as the worst seven pesticides for telomere shortening are linked with the greatest cancer risk. For example, alachlor is linked with a higher risk of lymphatic cancer, and chlorpyrifos is linked with a greater brain cancer risk. Even children of farming families can have higher risks of developing cancer!

Increasing adoption of an organic diet may shift the availability of agricultural work to safer jobs, or change the nature of the work to something that won't poison business owners and employees. While chronic illnesses are the result of years of personal or familial exposure, it doesn't always take long to begin clearing pesticides from the body. In a small study of thirteen people, just one week of eating an at least 80% organic diet resulted in an 89% reduction in the level of urinary organophosphate pesticide metabolites. Of course, some types of pesticides and other chemicals may take longer to be cleared from the body, but this does show how rapidly things can start to improve. Overall, going organic is the right choice for the health of humanity and the world, not just the individual, but it will take a major shift for everyone to reap the full benefits.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Can We Trust Health Rating Systems?

Many people who are only just starting to think about healthy eating want something simple, yet effective, to show them how to properly plan their diets. This is one reason why governments, such as the Australian government, issue guides like the Health Star Rating System (HSR). The HSR is claimed to be an official guide, rating foods from one half to five stars, on how healthy a food is. So, what is the problem?

Source: Amin (CC: 4.0)
The problem with government ratings is that food corporations can and do influence what the barely-aware are told to eat. For example, plain milk gets four stars, but a processed "liquid breakfast" product gets four and a half stars. There are at least four sources of added sugar on its long list of ingredients, while an unprocessed breakfast you make yourself may have none. However, plain Greek yoghurt only gets one and a half stars, and smoked salmon gets three and a half.

It gets worse. Some packets of chips (or crisps) have a four star rating, and so do beer-battered frozen "steakhouse" chips (fries). A chocolate-ish drinking powder, which is about half sugar, gets four and a half stars, and so does a breakfast cereal that is around a third sugar. Commercial fruit juice will have anything between four and five stars, depending on the brand. On the other hand, even the middle-of-the-road World Health Organisation (WHO) states that fruit juice contains free sugars which must be restricted. The HSR is based on an algorithm including a handful of nutrient-based criteria. It does not take into account added sugar, processing, nutrient quality or potential toxic contaminants.

A truly health-promoting, life-extending diet is not the same for everyone, and the HSR also completely ignores food intolerances by its nature. Additionally, another guide formed by over 150 surveys among the world's longest-lived people paints an entirely different picture. To start, 90-95% of your diet should be unprocessed plant foods: vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, beans and legumes, with a liberal amount of herbs and spices. Beans and nuts should be eaten every day, with fish kept to three times weekly and meat less often. Dairy products from sheep and goat milk can be eaten in moderation, but cow's milk should be avoided. White (refined) grains and food more than minimally processed (five or more ingredients) are also advised against. As for drinks, keep it to water and unsweetened teas and coffee. This advice doesn't come from corporations, it comes from people who commonly live into their 90s and beyond without the chronic illnesses and loss of independence and vitality that we have been taught are "normal". How about a new normal, where reaching triple digits is expected?

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Vitamin D Could Help Patients with NAFLD

Vitamin D, otherwise known as the "sunshine vitamin", seems to be one of the most versatile nutrients out there, with study after study showing benefits in immune function, neurological health and other areas. Now, another observational study has found that it could also help patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

This study included almost 11,000 men and women enrolled in the NHANES III study, which was conducted from 1988 to 1994. Follow-up mortality data was collected up to 2011. Just over four thousand people had mild, moderate or severe NAFLD as determined by ultrasound imaging, and nearly five thousand of them had vitamin D deficiency.

Increasing levels of vitamin D were linked with decreasing levels of fatty liver disease severity. The level of liver fibrosis, a serious result of liver disease, was also lowest with the highest amounts of vitamin D. Compared to participants with healthy vitamin D levels, people with a deficiency were three and a half times more likely to die from diabetes, and four and a half times more likely to die from Alzheimer's disease. All-cause mortality rates were 16% higher.

Besides vitamin D, there are other nutrients that could help people suffering from NAFLD. In one study, researchers tested the effects of vitamin E and an insulin-sensitising drug on NASH, the advanced middle stage of NAFLD. This is because fatty liver disease has both insulin resistance and oxidative stress as root causes. Patients taking both 400IU of vitamin E and the drug saw better results than those on vitamin E alone, because of the disease's multifactorial nature. In a follow-up study, patients took either 800IU of vitamin E, the same insulin-sensitising drug or a placebo for almost two years. Both treatments were able to reduce inflammation, liver fat and liver cell injury markers. However, only vitamin E could produce significant improvements in the appearance of liver tissue upon biopsy. Why? Vitamin E has multiple effects, as it can reduce inflammation, quench oxidative free radicals and prevent cells from dying. Omega-3 fatty acids may also protect people with NAFLD. These reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity and lower levels of triglycerides, tackling several root causes at once. Long-term human trials have shown that supplementation with omega-3 fats, at about 1,000 mg a day, can also both reduce blood markers of liver damage and improve the appearance of the liver on ultrasound exams. While prevention is better than cure, you don't have to despair if you have been diagnosed with fatty liver disease.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Going Vegetarian May Help with Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is a very common condition, where stomach acid backs up into the oesophagus or throat. Most people only know of the first type, referred to as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD or GERD), but laryngopharyngeal reflux also affects many patients worldwide. This differs from GORD in that it does not cause heartburn, but instead symptoms such as hoarseness, persistent cough and a constant need to clear the throat. However, it is still treated with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which may be effective but can cause poor digestion and related issues such as osteoporosis; kidney problems; heart attacks and even dementia.

Source: GracinhaMarco Abundo
This is why even some doctors of conventional medicine are looking for dietary approaches to treat reflux. One of these doctors, Dr. Craig Zalvan, studied almost 200 people to compare the use of PPIs and a mostly vegetarian diet in treating laryngopharyngeal reflux. He began to advise patients to eat a 90% plant-based diet, focusing on vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruit and nuts. Meat and dairy intake were limited to two or three moderate-sized servings per week. For this study, he and other researchers looked at the records of 99 patients given the new dietary advice, and 85 others who were only prescribed PPIs and standard advice between 2010 and 2012. After six weeks of both treatments, relief of symptoms was shown. Almost two-thirds of patients, 63%, advised to go mostly-vegetarian had an at least six-point drop in their scores on the reflux symptom index, considered to be a clinically significant improvement. As for the PPI group, 54% had an at least six-point drop in their symptom scores. Patients who changed their diet lost an average of eight pounds, which may have explained some of the effect. On the other hand, there is a growing understanding that reflux may be an inflammatory disorder, and these dietary changes are known to reduce inflammation.

It has been known for years now that a plant-based diet can significantly benefit our health and longevity. The Seventh-Day Adventists of Loma Linda live an average of 4-10 years longer than expected for Californians, and one reason why is their mostly vegetarian diet. Most of their average diet is made of vegetables, grains, beans, fruit and nuts. They avoid alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes and pork; have healthy social lives including volunteering; and regular exercise isn't uncommon for those in their 90s. It's time to take this to the mainstream.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Good News: More Research Shows a Decline in Dementia

Dementia is considered to be one of the greatest enemies of antiaging, and one of the worst things that can happen to a person. With life expectancy rising, one of the worst things a person can say is that those living instead of dying are a burden. None of this is necessary, however, as yet another study is showing that dementia rates are falling in successive generations.

Source: Jeff Kubina (CC:2.0)
For this 22-year study, almost 1,400 participants were grouped into several categories: those born before 1920, those born between 1920 and 1924, people born between 1925 and 1929, and finally, people born after 1929. All were over 70 and did not have dementia upon enrollment. Among the 369 participants born before 1920, 73 developed dementia, or 19.8%. In the 1920-24 group, it dropped to 43 out of 285, or 15%. Then, in the 1925-29 group, dementia rates fell again to 31 out of 344 - 9%. Finally, for those born after 1929, dementia rates were only 3 out of 350, which is less than one percent! Dr. Sam Gandy, who specialises in cognitive health, says that "This is not unexpected...Similar trends have been documented in Europe", but why? The most likely cause of falling dementia rates is better cardiovascular health, leading to fewer stroke and dementia cases as blood vessel health improves.

So how can we improve our blood vessel health? Antioxidants, such as those found in blueberries, may be one of the keys. In a clinical trial, 26 people between the ages of 65 and 77 were given either 230g of blueberries in concentrated form or placebo. None consumed more than 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. Before, during and after the trial, all had their cognitive function and resting brain blood flow tested. Researchers found that participants taking blueberry extract saw significant improvement in both cognitive function and blood flow, as well as other markers of brain activity. Previous studies have also shown an association between higher fruit and vegetable intake, and lower risk of dementia. This is most likely caused by increased consumption of antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals, which may explain the results of the study that showed falling dementia rates. When you look at works from the 1920s and 30s, such as Agatha Christie novels, you see characters smoking in front of each other and described meals devoid of fresh fruit and vegetables. Those participants born after 1929 spent less time in such a culture, and saw increased awareness of healthy lifestyles at earlier points in their lives. Overall, the future looks encouraging for older adults, but not if there is complacency surrounding nutrition and lifestyle.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Ayurvedic Anti-Aging Principles Extend Animals' Lives Too

The field of antiaging and longevity may have gained recognition in recent years, with new techniques and concepts such as stem cell therapy and epigenetics. However, life extension has its roots in ancient times, including in the South Asian tradition of natural medicine known as Ayurveda. Considering that worldwide life expectancy was under 30 until the beginning of the 20th century, do these traditional practices actually work? They may, as poor life expectancy was tied to high poverty and low literacy rates, not the use of herbal medicine.

In a 2010 preclinical study, researchers set out to find whether or not this was the case, by comparing Drosophila flies on a standard yeast diet versus the addition of a rasayana supplement. The Shushruta Samhita, Ayurveda's second great text, describes rasayanas as designed to "retard ageing as much as possible, even to zero”. The Sushruta also describes rasayanas as “reversing naturally occurring senility” (swabhava vyadhi nivarana) and so “preventing death” (marana nivarana).  The study of longevity is said to be "only achievable at the most refined levels attained during intense meditation". The species Drosophila melanogaster is commonly used to study human aging and longevity, as we share many of the same genes that affect these issues.

In the control group of the first experiment, lifespan ranged from 40 days at minimum to a maximum lifespan of 53 days. In the group given the rasayana supplement, lifespan ranged from a minimum of 81 to a maximum of 91 days. The second experiment used more flies, in order to see if there were any sex-specific effects. Male flies given the supplement lived just over 80 days, compared to 52 days in the control group. Female flies in the control group lived only 53 days, but if they were given the supplement, their average lifespan increased to 80 days too. This was an average increase in lifespan by 51-55%, which was even longer than the 35% increase attributed to the breeding of "Methuselah" flies.

If this were to be successful in (very long-term) trials, this could have profound benefits to our health and the costs of healthcare. Traditional herbal formulas, along with diet and lifestyle changes, may be less expensive than pharmaceutical medicine, carry far fewer side effects, and are more focused on prevention. Improved length and quality of life by several decades would mean so much to so many people, as you cannot replace an individual or lost time.