Drugs versus Diet for High Blood Pressure: Which is Best?
No one wants to take drugs for high blood pressure. A new study shows that one specific diet may lower blood pressure more than drugs. In this article, I’m going to deconstruct this new diet for high blood pressure and teach you what you need to do to lower your blood pressure naturally.
My Blood Pressure Struggles
I know what it is like to have high blood pressure. At one time, my blood pressure used to run 150/90. As readers know, a blood pressure of 150/90 is far higher than the new blood pressure guidelines which recommend treating blood pressures higher than 130/80.
Like most other doctors, I turned to a pill. Except, rather than have my doctor prescribe a pill, I did it myself.
At first, I tried a beta-blocker. However, beta-blockers made me tired.
Then I tried lisinopril. But lisinopril gave me a cough.
Finally, I ended up on losartan. Losartan kept my numbers down until I found a natural solution.
Today, my blood pressure runs 110/70 without medications. I now know that drugs are not the answer for most people with high blood pressure.
If you can treat high blood pressure quickly enough with lifestyle changes, then you can avoid a lifetime of medications. The key is to act fast before your heart and arteries are permanently damaged, and high blood pressure becomes unavoidable.
The Drugs versus Diet for High Blood Pressure Study
While this wasn’t specifically a drug versus diet study design, this study showed that a new diet can completely blow away any drug for high blood pressure. Personally, I will refer to this diet as the DASH Plus Diet. I have added the “plus,” because this new diet has tweaked the well-established DASH Diet in a way that even the researchers of this study didn’t understand.
In this study, researchers from Harvard and Johns Hopkins University recruited 412 people suffering from high blood pressure. The average age was just 48 which highlights the fact that high blood pressure is so common even in young people today.
These 40-year-olds were then randomized to the Standard American Diet (SAD), DASH Diet, or the DASH Plus Diet. For the Standard American Diet (SAD) people, these folks were instructed to eat like the typical Americans. In other words, have all the sugar, processed foods, and fast foods you want to eat.
For the DASH Diet people, they were instructed to limit their grains to intact grains and eat large amounts of fruit, vegetables, and legumes. Any meat consumed in this group had to be lean chicken or fish.
The DASH Plus people followed the DASH Diet approach and dialed their sodium way back. As readers well know, the only way to eat an ultra low salt diet is to be incredibly strict about eliminating any foods that come in a bag, can, or box. Basically, 100% of all processed foods have to be removed to eat ultra low sodium.
What Did The Drugs versus Diet for High Blood Pressure Study Show?
The results of this drugs versus diet for high blood pressure study completely blew away any preconceived notion of what the right diet can do. The dramatic results of this study likely explain why this study was published in the most prestigious cardiology medical journal on this planet.
Would you believe me if I told you that the DASH Plus Diet reduced blood pressure by 21 points when compared to the Standard American Diet (SAD) in those people who started out with a systolic blood pressure of more than 150?
Considering that the average blood pressure drug only drops blood pressure by 8 points, these results are anything but spectacular. The right diet is the equivalent of almost three high blood pressure drugs!
For those readers with a blood pressure not quite as high as 150, don’t worry that this type of diet will lower your blood pressure too much. Not one of the 412 people in this study got in trouble from too low of a blood pressure.
One key point to remember in this study was that the average age was 48. The people in this study were young enough that dietary changes alone could be curative.
The only way to avoid a lifetime of high blood pressure pills is to start eating healthy before permanent damage occurs. Once the arteries become hardened with plaque build up, it is hard for diet alone to fix the problem.
However, even if you are in your 60s, 70s, or 80s, eating right may be the difference between taking one versus three or four high blood pressure drugs. Thus, everyone, regardless of your age, is much better off eating real foods!
What These Harvard and Hopkins Researchers Missed
Like 99% of other physicians, these Harvard and Johns Hopkins researchers were too focussed on reducing sodium. They attributed all of the benefits to lowering salt intake.
While salt may contribute to high blood pressure in some people, this isn’t a universal truth. In fact, for people who sweat a lot from high endurance exercise (think marathon runners or triathletes), an ultra low salt diet might be dangerous.
Of course, I would never advocate for industrially processed foods to boost salt intake. Instead, for my ultra endurance athlete readers, I would suggest salting the real food you prepare at home if your doctor is in agreement.
When it comes to industrially processed foods, these Harvard and Hopkins researchers failed to account for the fact that eliminating processed foods also eliminates most sugars and unhealthy oils from your diet. Indeed, studies show that reducing sugar may lower blood pressure far more than salt could ever dream of. Perhaps it is time for the medical community to accept that sugar may be far more dangerous to cardiovascular health than salt.
5 Life Secrets That Centenarians Know
Do you want to know the secret of a long and happy life? Ask someone who has lived the longest. Indeed, centenarians can teach us the five simple life secrets.
My 100th Birthday Plans
No one in my family has ever made it to 100. I suspect this is because of the genes that run in our family. Despite not winning the genetic lottery in life, I am determined to ski on my 100th birthday.
Even though I don’t have the longevity genes, I know that I can reprogram the genes that I do have to optimize my health in a way to still ski the moguls at age 100. Indeed, studies show that fully 75% of our health and longevity comes from our daily health choices, not our genes!
My Centenarian Patients
Since graduating from Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1995, I have kept close records of the centenarians in my cardiology practice. Interestingly, all seven of these centenarians required a pacemaker.
Even at 100 plus, each of these patients effortlessly breezed through their pacemaker surgeries. Indeed, none of them required any narcotics for pain relief. Each was stoic, and each went home from the hospital in under 24 hours. When compared to pacemaker patients half their age, these centenarians put them to shame.
One of these centenarians, Mike age 102, was very frustrated with me when I told him that he couldn’t ride his bicycle for three weeks after his pacemaker surgery. It wasn’t that I was trying to be mean I just didn’t want him to fall and potentially pull a pacemaker wire out of his heart.
In the end, Mike could only go ten days without riding his bike before he was back at it. Fortunately, he didn’t crash, and his pacemaker wires stayed in place.
Each of these seven centenarians is a hero to me. They, along with the centenarians in our book, The Longevity Plan, have taught me that you can still be active and enjoy every day at 100 and beyond if you just take care of your body today. And to help you care for your body today so that you can still hike, bike, or ski at 100, let me share with you the five secrets of life from 100 centenarians.
The Annual US Centenarian Study
Each year United Healthcare randomly surveys 100 US centenarians and asks them a series of questions to better understand the secret of life. As one who wants to learn from those who have lived the longest, I have studied each of these surveys for the last ten years. Below are the top five themes that came up every year from these centenarians.
1. Stay Positive
A Yale University study showed that those who were the most positive about their lives and the aging process lived 7.5 years longer. Indeed, when it comes to staying positive, most centenarians reported that laughing and having a sense of humor was critical.
These centenarians were ahead of their time. Even before apps like Head Space took over, these centenarians had already learned to meditate. Now we know, based on the work of Nobel Prize-winning Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, that meditation may slow cellular aging by 30%!
Contrary to popular belief, most people get happier as they get older. Indeed, a study of 340,847 Americans confirmed that the older you get, the happier you are.
Interestingly, the age at which people start getting happier seems to be about age 50. Perhaps the reason why age increases happiness is that we stop worrying about what might happen and start living.
2. Keep Close to Family and Friends
The centenarians in this study stayed very close to their family and their friends. Indeed, 89% of the centenarians reported that visiting family and friends was the number one thing they enjoyed doing.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that centenarians reported that their best memories came from the time they spent with friends and family, especially family vacations. All centenarians intuitively know that you need social support to thrive.
Recently, while seeing a patient who was suffering from a heart arrhythmia, I inquired about who she considered being her social support.
“Oh, Rosemary,” she said with a sly smile.
“Is that your daughter?” I asked.
“No, my cat,” she laughed. “The best friend a woman could have!”
We both got a good chuckle out of this, but I did want to know that she also had some human support. Did she have regular visitors? Did she ever feel lonely?
“How could I feel lonely?” she asked. “I have three wonderful kids and seven beautiful grandchildren. Someone is over at my place almost every weekend.”
“And the weekdays?”
“Oh, well,” she said. “Those days can get pretty lonely. But I wouldn’t want to complain.”
As it turns out, a lot of people think that there’s a difference between being lonely and being isolated. But at least regarding health impacts, that’s not the case. That was a key finding of a 2010 study of social relationships and mortality by Brigham Young University’s Julianne Holt-Lunstad. What Holt-Lunstad has found is that when it comes to your risk of premature death, loneliness is far more critical than your smoking status, what you eat, or if you are even overweight.
I’ve definitely noticed in my patients a tendency to downplay or deny feelings of loneliness. And that’s increasingly problematic in a world in which isolation is increasingly the status quo.
The centenarians in China’s Longevity Village, my cardiology practice, and in this United Healthcare Study have all learned how to keep daily intimate contact with family and friends. How do we do that? I often tell my patients that the best way is to cure their loneliness is to heal someone else’s. After all, when two isolated people are together, they’re no longer isolated.
3. Eat Healthy
If you study the diets of centenarians around the world, you will find that it is very consistent. They aren’t following the latest fad diets on the Internet or in “health books.”
As described in The Blue Zones and The Longevity Plan, and backed by many scientific studies, centenarians tend to eat primarily a plant-based diet. They load up on the vegetables, legumes, and fruit with every meal.
Sugar and processed foods are mostly absent from centenarian diets. The grains they do eat are primarily intact grains rather than the processed and refined flour-based grains we eat in the U.S.
Meat, except for fish, is eaten sparingly. Centenarians also tend to eat lighter meals and stay away from fried and oil-heavy foods.
4. Never Sit
These centenarians in this United Healthcare Centenarian Study were no slouches. And they certainly weren’t sitting around in a wheelchair waiting to die.
Instead, the centenarians in this study loved to hike, lift weights, or do cardio exercises outside. They defied the stereotype that most people have about centenarians.
Those who couldn’t do these activities walked regularly. The centenarians in this study have learned by experience that the adage, “use it or lose it” is entirely correct.
Centenarians almost intuitively knew that sitting was the new smoking. Their bodies were always moving.
5. Think Yourself Young
On average, the centenarians in this study felt and acted 21 years younger than they actually were. Indeed fully 60% of the centenarians didn’t even “feel old!”
There is a lot of truth to thinking yourself young. In the book, Counterclockwise by Harvard psychologist Ellen J. Langer, she recounts a scientific study she did in the 1980s.
On the day of this study in 1981, eight arthritic and debilitated men in their 70s entered into the time warp study that Dr. Langer had created. Everything in this converted monastery was 1959. From the books to the radio, and even to the TV, everything was 1959 rather than the 1981 world in which they were living.
For the five days of this experiment, these eight old men lived as if they were 22 years younger. They did the activities that younger people did. Everything they discussed had to be from the 1950s. No mirrors, modern-day clothing, or any technologies created after 1959 were allowed into the monastery.
At the end of their five-day stay, the previously old and frail men were tested again. Interestingly, after pretending to be 22 years younger, all study participants started becoming 22 years younger. When tested they showed better physical strength, dexterity, posture, memory, cognition, hearing, and vision.
Even the way they walked changed. No longer were they hunched over and shuffling. They walked as younger people walked. Almost unbelievably, on the last day of the study, these previously old and frail men had even spontaneously organized a game of touch football on the lawn.
Could Aging Be a Nocebo Effect?
Everyone has heard of the placebo effect where you think something will help you and it actually does. The nocebo effect is the opposite of the placebo effect.
In fact, I’m convinced that at least in the US, most people’s view of aging is a nocebo effect. We think we will lose our health as we age and it then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Dr. Langer’s work confirms that much of aging is really just a mindset.
At least 99% of my patients never want to live to 100. They are sure that one hundred-year-olds must be miserable.
Based on my studies and interactions with centenarians, this is anything but true. Almost without exception, centenarians are some of the happiest people you will ever meet. Also, many centenarians are physically much more active than people half their age.
Every year you will add one more year to your age. You can either choose to act, feel, and be one year older or one year younger. The choice is up to you.
Famous author Jim Rohn used to say, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If you hang around people who complain about getting old and health problems, then this is what you will become.
In contrast, if you surround yourself with people who think, feel, and act young then this will naturally rub off on you. Aging is mostly a mindset. To live to 100 is a beautiful thing as studies show that to make it to 100 you had to have had fantastic health in your 90s.
The five secrets that the 100 centenarians in the United Healthcare Annual Centenarian Study have taught us are simple things that everyone can do. Studies show that our bodies are genetically hard-wired to help us live to age 90 in good health.
To unlock the 90 good years of health we are genetically programmed to get, you need to make the right daily health decisions now and embrace a youthful mindset. To get the last ten years and make it to 100 will require a meticulous following of the five life secrets that centenarians know.
What are you going to do on your 100th birthday? Please leave your thoughts and questions below. The comment period will be open for 30 days. I promise to answer every question posted.
If you liked this article, please be sure to sign up for our free weekly newsletter, podcast, or pick up a copy of our new book, The Longevity Plan.
How to Optimize Your Sodium to Potassium Ratio for Longevity
Could the secret to health and longevity come down to the ratio of how much sodium to potassium you eat each day? In this article, I will teach you how to optimize your sodium to potassium ratio for health and longevity.
David recently came to see me as a new patient for atrial fibrillation. Like most patients, he wanted to know how he developed this condition.
As we discussed his diet, it was quickly apparent what the problem was. David was living on the Standard American Diet.
For breakfast, it was typically cereal or bacon and eggs. Lunch was a slice of pizza or a deli sandwich, a bag of chips, and a diet Coke. For dinner, it was ribs, pasta, or a cheeseburger. Of course, lunch and dinner were always topped off with a cookie or some other treat.
If he was honest, on a good day he was lucky to eat one or two servings of a vegetable and fruit. For readers of this blog, a diet like this seems almost unbelievable. However, this is what most Americans eat each day.
Quickly pulling out my calculator, I estimated that his sodium to potassium ratio was at least 2 to 1. In other words, he ate two milligrams of sodium for every one milligram of potassium. If he wanted any chance of naturally treating his atrial fibrillation, he would need to completely reverse this ratio to 1 mg of sodium for every 2 mg of potassium in his diet.
3 Bad Things that Happen from a High Sodium to Potassium Ratio
If your dietary sodium to potassium ratio is high, then you are putting yourself at high risk for a stroke, heart disease, or hypertension. Indeed, one large study from Japan showed that a high sodium to potassium ratio resulted in up to a 57% increased risk of stroke, 39% more heart disease, and at least twice the risk for high blood pressure.
The Sodium to Potassium Ratio Trumps Sodium or Potassium Intake Alone
The push by the American Heart Association to get Americans to eat less salt may be misplaced. Indeed, based on a study of 2,974 Americans, the sodium to potassium ratio may better predict your risk of a stroke, heart disease, or hypertension than the actual number of milligrams of sodium or potassium alone that you eat. Thus, rather than restricting salt, we should instead focus on eating more potassium-rich foods.
Good News for Salt Lovers
As long as you are getting your salt from the salt shaker, rather than processed, prepared, or fast foods, then studies show that you can eat crazy amounts of salt and not put yourself at risk provided the milligrams of potassium you consume is higher than the milligrams of sodium you eat.
What is the Optimal Sodium to Potassium Ratio?
In a perfect world, people would get at least 1 mg of sodium for every 2 mg of potassium they eat. By eating this way, their sodium to potassium ratio would be 1 to 2. Considering that the average American consumes 3,300 mg of sodium and 2,600 mg of potassium daily, this ratio of 1 to 0.7 is far below minimally acceptable levels.
Interestingly, studies of our paleolithic ancestors have shown that their sodium to potassium ratio was somewhere in the range of 1 to 16. One study even showed that among the primitive Yanomamo Indians in South America, who do not eat salt but do eat large amounts of bananas, the sodium to potassium ratio was in the range of 1 to 100.
Best 3 Ways to Lower Your Sodium Intake
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to get rid of your salt shaker to reduce your sodium intake. In fact, I wish that blog readers would use their salt shakers more as that would indicate that they are probably eating more home-cooked meals.
The real enemy when it comes to sodium intake is processed, prepared, or fast foods. Based on my calculations, at least 80% of sodium comes from these three sources. Thus, to reduce your sodium, you need to eat more real food at home and less fake foods on the run.
Top 3 Ways to Boost Your Potassium Intake
When it comes to boosting your potassium intake, just remember three foods–Fruits, vegetables, and legumes. If you can fill your plate with mostly fruits, vegetables, and legumes, then you should have no problem in optimizing your sodium to potassium ratio.
Who is at Risk from Too Much Potassium?
If you have kidney failure, then boosting your potassium intake is the wrong thing to do. The reason for this is that your kidneys are responsible for optimizing potassium blood levels. If the kidneys can’t do their job, then you could be at risk.
Likewise, many people with heart failure or high blood pressure may be taking medications that increase potassium levels or potassium supplements. If you are on any prescription medications, or have any chronic medical conditions, please speak with your doctor first before increasing the potassium-rich foods in your diet.
David’s Experience Revisited
Once David gave up 99% of the processed, prepared, and fast foods he was eating, and started eating real food at home, his body transformed immediately. Within just three months his weight dropped 30 pounds, his systolic blood pressure came down by 15 points, and his heart palpitations went away. While eating a real food diet took more preparation and thought on his part, his increased energy levels more than compensated for the additional preparation time.
As I have repeatedly shared on this blog, you are only as old as your arteries. If you can keep your arteries, and your heart young, then you will likely live a long life free of medications and other chronic medical problems.
And when it comes to keeping your arteries young, the sodium to potassium ratio is critical. While you could undoubtedly track every milligram of sodium and potassium you eat, there is a much simpler method.
Namely, eliminate 99% of processed, prepared, and fast foods and instead replace them with fruits, vegetables, and legumes. This change alone should put your sodium to potassium ratio at the goal target of at least 1 to 2.
What is your sodium to potassium ratio? I would love to hear from you. Please leave your thoughts, comments, and questions below.
The comment period will be open for 30 days. During this period of time, I will answer every question posted.
Juicing vs. Smoothies: Which is Best for Your Heart?
Juicing vs. smoothies, which is best for your heart? This is a question my cardiac patients ask all the time. In this article, I’ll cover the pros and cons of each approach and then share my practical tips on how to do it right.
What is Juicing?
Juicing uses a fancy machine to strip the fiber from vegetables and fruits. It pulls out the juice while leaving the fiber, and those nutrients attached to the fiber, behind.
What is Blending (Smoothies)?
In contrast, blending just combines all the ingredients you place in your blender. You are eating the entire fruit or vegetable including the pulp and fiber. Nothing is pulled out or thrown away.
Is There Any Science to Support Juicing vs. Smoothies?
Given how popular juicing and smoothies are, you would think there would be a lot of scientific studies. Sadly, this is just not the case. Here is what the science does tell us.
1. Juicing and Smoothies May Help You to Absorb Some Nutrients
Some nutrients are better absorbed when juiced or mixed into a smoothie. For example, one study showed that lycopene from tomatoes is much better absorbed in a liquid form. Lycopene is vital because many studies show that it may prevent cancer, heart disease, and even hair loss.
2. Don’t Wait to Drink Your Juice or Smoothie
To maximize any potential nutrient boost from juicing or smoothies, you need to drink them quickly. Studies show that grinding up fruits and vegetables may quickly cause nutrient and enzyme degradation. Thus, for the the best nutritional boost, drink them within 15 minutes.
3. Juicing and Smoothies May Help Your Arteries
In addition to boosting some nutrients, studies show that fruit and vegetable drinks boost antioxidants and make your arteries act younger (better vasoreactivity). However, before using this as your reason to start juicing or blending, none of these studies compared juicing or smoothies to eating whole fruits or vegetables.
4. Smoothies May Be Better at Preventing Weight Gain, Diabetes, and High Cholesterol
If you like fruit, then smoothies hold the advantage in the juicing vs. smoothies debate. Contrary to popular belief, fruit juice is not a health drink.
For example, eating berries, apples, pears, and citrus are all linked to weight loss. In contrast, fruit juice is associated with weight gain in studies.
Likewise, studies show that eating whole fruit decreases your risk of diabetes whereas fruit juice increases your risk. And if weight gain and diabetes isn’t bad enough with fruit juice, studies also show that cholesterol drops with whole fruit but may increase with fruit juice.
What Are the Benefits of Smoothies?
As smoothies blend whole foods, this means you’re keeping all the nutrients intact. Another benefit is that you can add in extra ingredients like nuts, seeds, or spices. Even better is that you can blend in other fruits and vegetables that you wouldn’t otherwise eat…especially those fruits and veggies that you may not like the taste of alone.
For people with hectic schedules, smoothies are a great way to get the fruit and vegetables your body needs. Also, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on fancy equipment to make a smoothie. Just throw everything into an ordinary blender to make a light and nutritious meal.
What Are the Risks of Smoothies?
The two most significant risks I see with smoothies are that you might be eating too many calories and too much sugar. A smoothie is a meal, not a drink. If you merely add a smoothie to what you are already eating for breakfast, then you could quickly boost your daily caloric intake by 400 or more calories!
In addition to potentially overloading your breakfast with calories, you may also be overdosing on sugar. For example, if you add fruit juice, almond milk, yogurt, or honey you could easily be turning your entire smoothie into one big desert. You don’t need sugar to make your smoothie taste great.
If you like almond milk or yogurt in your smoothie, then make sure they are unsweetened. Likewise, you don’t need honey or fruit juice in your smoothie. Honey and fruit juice are just sugar. If you want your smoothie sweeter, try using unsweetened berries instead.
What Are the Benefits of Juicing?
As with smoothies, juicing may allow you to quickly pack in many more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Also, for fruit and vegetables that you have no idea how to eat or prepare, juicing or blending may be your answer. If you are that rare person who just can’t force yourself to eat vegetables, juicing may be your “gateway drug” into the world of nutritious eating.
While Internet and health book gurus will tell you that juicing helps with toxin removal and weight loss, scientific studies don’t support this. Likewise, the problem with a juice-only diet is that you are not getting enough fiber and protein to make you feel full so any attempt at weight loss this way is doomed to backfire. Indeed, when it comes to any purported health benefits of juicing, I could find no credible studies showing that juicing offered any benefits over eating whole fruits and vegetables.
What Are the Risks of Juicing?
In my mind, the three biggest risks of juicing are that you are leaving behind the fiber, you are throwing away many nutrients, and you may be increasing your sugars and calories. Fiber is one of the most important nutrients when it comes to staying thin, longevity, and preventing heart disease and cancer.
Second, while juicing concentrates some nutrients, it also throws many away. For example, studies show that many nutrients are bound to the fiber. If you strip the fiber, you also strip these nutrients.
Third, as mentioned previously, juicing fruit is a recipe for weight gain and diabetes. This is because juicing concentrates the sugars and gets rid of the fiber.
One final consideration applies to those on prescription medications. Juicing, or for that matter smoothies, may interfere with the drugs your doctor has prescribed.
For example, grapefruit juice may interfere with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs and the heart medicine diltiazem. In addition, a big boost of vitamin K from juicing or blending green leafy vegetables may completely negate the blood-thinning effects of Coumadin.
When it comes to the juicing vs. smoothies debate, here are my practical tips:
1. For juicers, juice vegetables, not fruit to prevent weight gain and diabetes.
2. If juicing or smoothies helps you to boost your daily produce intake then I am all for it.
3. Don’t turn juicing or smoothies into a sugar desert.
4. Try to drink your juice or smoothie within 15 minutes to prevent nutrient degradation.
5. If you are on prescription medications, check with your doctor first before juicing or blending. Some juices and blends may interfere with drug levels.
What are your thoughts on the juicing vs. smoothies debate? Please leave your thoughts and questions below. The comment period will be open for 30 days, and I’ll be sure to answer every question posted.
The 3 Most Dangerous Over-the-Counter Medications
Just because you can buy medicine without a prescription doesn’t mean it is safe. In this article, I share the three most dangerous over-the-counter medications and offer simple solutions to avoid these drugs.
As a disclaimer, please don’t stop any medications without speaking to your doctor first. As with everything in life, your doctor can help you weigh the risks versus benefits of any treatment. It is possible that your doctor has you on one of these drugs to prevent a life-threatening health condition.
1. Proton Pump Inhibitors (Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium)
Proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, are a multi-billion dollar industry. No other stomach acid blocking medication comes anywhere close to PPI drugs with regards to efficacy. As 60% of all Americans experience acid reflux in any given year, it is no wonder why PPI drugs are so popular.
While PPI drugs may help to prevent cancer in people with a diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus, a new study this week showed that taking PPI drugs increases your risk of stomach cancer. If the risk of stomach cancer wasn’t frightening enough, my former Stanford professor, Dr. John Cooke, recently published a study showing that PPI drugs can wear out your heart, brain, and kidneys.
Studies also show that PPI drugs block the absorption of crucial vitamins and minerals for health like magnesium, iron, vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin C. Perhaps this explains why PPI use is associated with an increased dementia risk. Lastly, PPI drugs have been shown in studies to wreak havoc on the gut flora.
With all of these risks, why do people still take PPI drugs? Speaking as someone who used to gobble down PPI drugs for eosinophilic esophagitis, PPI drugs allowed me freedom from acid reflux chest discomfort without having to change my lifestyle.
In my case, eliminating dairy and junk food, in addition to losing 35 pounds, cured me of acid reflux. For most of my patients, cleaning up their diet and losing weight has also got them safely off PPI drugs. As one of the main causes of acid reflux is increased pressure within your abdomen, just losing weight may be your acid reflux cure.
I should point out here that just because you have acid reflux doesn’t mean you should avoid dairy. Dairy and junk food, in addition to being overweight, were my acid reflux triggers. What it does mean is that you should look for your own specific acid reflux triggers or food allergies.
Other natural treatment strategies for acid reflux include eating smaller meals, avoiding fatty foods, staying away from anything with caffeine, sitting up for a few hours after eating, eating an early dinner, increasing physical activity, and finding ways to embrace stress. If you must take a PPI drug, make sure your doctor is aware and that you take the lowest dose possible to control your symptoms.
2. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (Advil, Motrin, Aleve, etc.)
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can seem like a lifesaver to people with arthritis or musculoskeletal pain. As someone who used to suffer from an autoimmune disease, ankylosing spondylitis which attacks the spine, my neck and back were always in a state of discomfort. NSAIDs, or in my case Aleve, is what helped me to get through the day.
The two main problems with NSAIDs are that they increase your risk of a heart attack and internal bleeding. Indeed, studies show that all NSAIDs increase your risk of a heart attack by about 50%. In addition to the heart attack risk, studies also show that NSAID users have up to a 4-fold increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and are at significant risk of kidney failure.
In my case, the two most important things I did to dramatically reduce my NSAID use was cleaning up my diet and losing 35 pounds. As most people take NSAIDs for arthritis or musculoskeletal pain, getting back to a normal weight allows your joints to heal naturally.
Also, studies demonstrate that a Mediterranean Diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, and olive oil significantly reduces the risk of arthritis. Another thing to remember is that other natural ingredients like turmeric or capsaicin are both proven remedies for arthritis pain.
As with the PPI drugs, if you must take NSAIDs, make sure your doctor knows and always shoot for the lowest dose possible to keep your pain under control. Also, make sure you are well hydrated to minimize the risk of kidney damage and take them on a full stomach to decrease your gastrointestinal bleeding risk.
3. Sedating Antihistamines (Benadryl, Tylenol PM, diphenhydramine, etc.)
The sedating antihistamines are those antihistamine cold and allergy medicines that put you to sleep. While there are a number of these sedating antihistamines, the most commonly used is diphenhydramine. Right up there with melatonin, diphenhydramine is one of the most frequently used over-the-counter sleep medications.
Personally, I struggle to resist this medication. I have always had troubles both falling asleep and staying asleep. Perhaps it is mostly a placebo effect, but at least in my experience, if I even take a quarter of a tablet of diphenhydramine I will effortlessly fall asleep and stay asleep during the night.
While I have never suffered from the diphenhydramine hangover effect the next day, many people do. This hangover effect could put you at risk for a motor vehicle accident.
The reason why diphenhydramine made my list of the three most dangerous over-the-counter medications isn’t that of the possible hangover effect the next day but rather because of the long-term effects. Many studies show that long-term diphenhydramine use increases the risk of cognitive impairment (i.e., dementia). If dementia wasn’t bad enough, this drug might also increase the risk of premature death, cancer, and depression.
Once again, correlation doesn’t prove causation. In all of these diphenhydramine studies, it is impossible to know whether it was the drug causing all of these bad things or it was a lifetime of sleep deprivation that caused all of these bad things.
I need to be clear here that it is the sedating antihistamines that carry a possible dementia risk. If you need to take antihistamines for seasonal allergies, always be sure to take the non-sedating antihistamines like Claritin or Allegra.
If you are currently taking a sedating antihistamine, like Tylenol PM, do everything possible to wean yourself off of this, or any other sleeping pill. While I have published many insomnia hacks in previous articles, I have found that restricting caffeine, exercising hard outside, and not having any “to-do’s” hanging over my head are the three main things that help me sleep naturally at night. And if I do feel the overwhelming urge to take something before sleep, I try to only reach for melatonin and magnesium.
Any pill, whether it be a pharmaceutical agent, over-the-counter drug, or even a supplement, can have significant side effects. My personal bias is to avoid any pills whenever possible. Rather than reach for a pill, always see if there is a natural way to treat your health challenges.
Indeed, I am now a firm believer in the quote from the father of medicine, Hippocrates, who said more than 2,000 years ago,
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Do you take any of these three over-the-counter medications? Please leave your thoughts and questions below in the comment section. The comment section will be open for 30 days, and I will answer every question posted.
7 Strategies for Healthy Fast Food
This is a podcast of me reading my wife’s blog post number 33. I’m sure you will enjoy it! The link to the original blog article is pasted below. Enjoy!
Is There a Sugar Cancer Link?
If you follow the news you undoubtedly saw the headlines this past week–sugar causes cancer. In this article, I discuss the possible sugar cancer link and share my struggles with sugar.
The Latest Sugar Cancer Study
This past week Belgian researchers published their latest findings on the sugar cancer link. In a press release, one of the authors of this study, Dr. Johan Thevelein, even went so far as to make the following bold statement in a press release:
“Our research reveals how the hyperactive sugar consumption of cancerous cells leads to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth. Thus, it is able to explain the correlation between the strength of the Warburg effect and tumor aggressiveness. This link between sugar and cancer has sweeping consequences.”
What Dr. Thevelein is saying here is that their study shows that sugar feeds cancer cells. Almost the second this research was published, the media ran wild with the story.
What the Media Didn’t Tell You About This Study
While sugar feeds cancer makes for a great media story, the real findings of this study aren’t that exciting. First of all, this study wasn’t even done in humans but instead examined yeast cells growing in a laboratory petri dish.
What this study did show is that sugar at high concentrations in a laboratory environment can activate a gene called Ras in yeast. And once this Ras gene in yeast is turned on, cancer cells start growing fast.
This study says nothing about human cancer. You just can’t give dietary advice based on what yeast cancer cells do in a petri dish.
Does Sugar Feed Cancer Cells?
The real question this study raises is whether or not sugar feeds cancer cells. While cancer cells love glucose scientists still don’t know if dietary sugar feeds cancer cells. It is for this reason that for the last 80 years cancer specialists have been debating the Warburg effect.
The Warburg effect was named after the nobel prize winning, German biochemist Dr. Otto Warburg. More than 80 years ago Dr. Warburg observed that cancer cells must consume glucose to survive. What remains unknown is whether cancer requires sugar from the diet or whether it can just make it on its own.
Is There a Sugar Cancer Link?
While a direct sugar cancer link remains unproven, sugar may increase your risk of cancer indirectly. For example, sugar and obesity go hand-in-hand. And countless studies show that obesity is a significant risk factor for cancer.
Another possible sugar cancer link comes from insulin. When glucose levels in the blood are high, insulin is released. High insulin levels can in turn trigger insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). IGF-1 is a potent cancer stimulant.
Indeed, there is a rare group of people living in Equador who have an unusual mutation which doesn’t allow their bodies to make IGF-1. To this day, cancer isn’t known to exist in this group of people who can’t make IGF-1.
My Struggles with Sugar
Long before this study ever hit the media, I have struggled with sugar. In fact, I had such a sweet tooth that I had collected more than 20 dental fillings and two crowns by age 18!
The ironic thing is that our studies of the centenarians living in China’s Longevity Village showed that most centenarians still had all of their teeth at age 100 despite not ever brushing, flossing, or drinking fluoridated water. This finding alone hammered home to me that the human body was not designed to eat so much sugar!
In addition to a lifetime of extensive dental work, sugar also caused me to be overweight through most of my adult life. The reason for this is because I have found that even the slightest amount of sugar revs up my appetite.
Indeed, through careful tracking, I have found that if I consume zero sugar, including no flour which is still just sugar, I need about 2,500 calories to feel full. In contrast, even eating a few grams of sugar or having something with flour, I need approximately 3,000 calories to feel full.
Sugar: To Moderate or Abstain?
I am not a moderator. For me, I either eat the entire bag or cookies, or I don’t eat any at all. Once I have a taste of sugar or something with flour, I obsess about it until it is 100% consumed.
Thus, the only way for me to maintain a healthy weight is to abstain from all sugar and flour. While I would love to say that I am a 100% abstainer, that is just not the case. Sometimes my willpower is overcome by temptations.
The key for me has been to eliminate the temptations. When sugar or foods with flour are not around me, I find that I don’t even think about them.
One of the health secrets of our book, The Longevity Plan, is not to face temptations. These people living in China’s Longevity Village didn’t have to face the temptations we face every day. Because they were geographically isolated, they never struggled with food temptations. They were abstainers without ever having to use any willpower at all.
In contrast, some people possess the gift of being able to eat in moderation. While many people claim to be moderators, in my experience of working with thousands of patients, few can do so.
The latest study trying to make a sugar cancer link didn’t prove anything new. Dr. Warburg taught us more than 80 years ago that cancer loves sugar in any form.
Regardless of your personal views on sugar, the 150 pounds of it that the typical American eats each year is just too much for optimal health. Either you should consider moderating sugar by keeping it under the 25 grams daily that the World Health Organization recommends or abstain entirely.
Personally, I lack the willpower to moderate sugar and foods, like flour, that behave like sugar in the body. Because I know I will slip if I go somewhere slippery, I try to avoid the slippery places in life.
Are you a moderator or abstainer when it comes to sugar and flour? Please leave your thoughts and questions below. If you like what you are reading, please be sure to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter, read The Longevity Plan, or listen to my podcast.
The 30 Minute Rule for Longevity
The 30-minute rule for longevity may be the most critical factor in determining who stays young and who gets old. In this article, I will share with you what the 30-minute rule for longevity is and the latest research backing up this rule.
The 30 Minute Rule for Longevity Study
Dr. Keith M. Diaz from Columbia University in New York City recently published his findings on the 30-minute rule for longevity after studying 7,985 people age 45 or older. Now, he didn’t explicitly call this the 30-minute rule for longevity, but that is what he found.
In this study, Dr. Diaz strapped accelerometers to these 7,985 people for one week. He also performed many other health tests for these people. After gathering all of this data, he then sat back and watched to see who was still alive and doing well four years later.
Results of the 30 Minute Rule for Longevity Study
After waiting four years, here is what Dr. Diaz observed in this study.
1. The more you move, the longer you live.
He found that it didn’t matter your age or how much you weighed, those who moved the most were the ones alive and well four years later. No surprise here with this finding as many other studies have shown similar results.
2. Going to the gym faithfully every day can’t save you from sitting.
Sitting more than 12.5 hours a day, regardless of whether you work out or not, puts you at high risk of an early death. While 12.5 hours of sitting might sound like a lot, it isn’t for most people.
Many of my patients are surprised to see how long they are sitting each day once they start tracking it with a smartphone, smartwatch, or Fitbit. For example, eight hours at work on a computer, driving to the gym and your work, and one television show at night could quickly get you to 12.5 hours of sitting.
3. Sitting for more than 30 minutes at any time put you at risk for an early death.
Interestingly, the most fidgety people in this study lived the longest. In other words, those who couldn’t sit still lived far longer than those who could sit in their chairs.
This is the basis of the 30-minute rule for longevity. If you want to live a long and healthy life you can’t sit for more than 30 minutes at a time.
Is Sitting the New Smoking?
Today, I’ve become convinced that sitting is the new smoking. And by some calculations, in fact, it might be even worse.
By just comparing the life expectancy of smokers with that of non-smokers, then subdividing the difference by the average number of cigarettes a smoker will consume over a lifetime, one study noted that each cigarette reduces one’s lifespan by an average of 11 minutes.
Using similar methods, a different study computed the difference in life expectancy between heavy TV watchers (sitters) and those who watch no TV at all (non-sitters), and concluded that every hour of TV watching after the age of 25 reduces one’s lifespan by 22 minutes!
Yes, according to these estimates, both of which are admittedly crude, an hour of sitting down is as bad for you as two cigarettes! The way I see it, then, if you’re going to sit down, it really should be for a compelling reason.
Even at the cellular level sitting is toxic for your health. Indeed, one study showed that sitting prematurely ages your cells by ten years!
Of course, correlation is not causation and untold other life choices that are shared among those who tend to sit for periods of time longer than 30 minutes. The overwhelming scientific evidence, though, tells us that any sort of prolonged sitting is simply bad for us. Studies show that even cancer rates skyrocket for sitters.
The Benefits of Fidgeting
In the past, fidgeting was a bad thing. Indeed, children who fidget at school are often inappropriately labeled by teachers as having ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
I want to challenge you to look at fidgeting as a good thing. Perhaps we should all fidget a little more.
For example, we have known for nearly 70 years that people who fidget a lot tend to be much leaner than those who can sit in their chairs without moving. For example, Mayo Clinic researcher, Dr. James Levine, has shown in studies that even fidgeting in your seat can burn hundreds of extra calories over the course of the day. Even better is that if these people also get out of their chairs then, according to his studies, they can burn far more calories.
Fidgeting doesn’t just save you from obesity. It may also protect your heart and allow you to live much longer. Indeed, a recently published study of 12,778 people showed that they only thing that saved sitters from a premature death was fidgeting.
I really believe that, in just a few generations, we’ll be looking back in disgust at how much time our current society spends sitting down. Yet even though there is little that can be done sitting that can’t be done standing, most of us have yet to take a stand.
If you are a student right now, I’d love to see you take a stand by asking your teachers, school administrators or student government to consider how to integrate more opportunities to stand up in the classroom. If you work in an office, bring a milk carton to work and prop up your computer on it, then take a stand by encouraging others to do the same and talking to your employer about purchasing desks that are conducive to standing workers. One place where many of us sit where standing could be beneficial, and even spiritually enlightening, is church; you can take a stand by talking to your religious leaders about whether “standing services” might be an appropriate way to worship.
The very first place, though, that you should take a stand is in your own home. If you have a living room that is really more of a sitting room, then you can take a stand by making it a place where you’re actually engaged in the practice of living. Push back the couch, or get rid of it altogether. Add a treadmill, an exercise bike, a space for yoga or even some free weights. Turn your floor into a putting green. Anything that you can do to get off your backside and onto your feet is a tremendous step forward.
If you simply can’t do any of the above tips then at the very least set your smartphone, smartwatch, or even an old-fashioned timer to remind you to get up every 30 minutes or fidget in your seat. Just standing and taking a few steps every 30 minutes, or wiggling in your chair, may be all you need to do in order to live a long and healthy life free of disease.
What is your take on the 30-minute rule for longevity? Please leave your thoughts and questions below. While the question and comment period are open for the next 30 days, I will answer every item posted.
If you liked this article, please be sure to read my book, The Longevity Plan, or sign up for my free weekly newsletter. Also, if reading is not your thing you can subscribe to my podcast where I read this blog for you every week.
Of course, if you aren’t physically active, then please consult with your doctor first before increasing your physical activity. Nothing in this article is medical advice. I only share general medical information. Remember, you are the only person responsible for your medical decisions.
Here is the podcast episode of a very popular previous blog. To read this popular blog, please click on the link below.
To read this article, please click on this link.
Mercury and Alzheimer’s: Does Eating Fish Increase the Risk?
Studies show that eating fish protects the brain. However, studies also show that mercury increases the risk of dementia. So does eating fish, even if there is some mercury in it, increase or decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s disease? Be sure to continue reading this article to find out the answer…
The Rush University Mercury, Alzheimer’s and Fish Study
Dr. Martha Clare Morris and colleagues from Rush University have been at the forefront of brain research. In fact, Rush University is even home to the MIND Diet which is a way of eating that has been scientifically proven to protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
In this study, Dr. Morris wanted to understand what mercury from eating fish does to the brain over time. They also wanted to see if omega 3 fatty acids from fish, plants, or supplements protected the brain. To answer this question, she studied the brains of 286 people who had already passed away.
These 286 people not only had donated their brains to Rush University but also had provided them with five years worth of food journals. Armed with this information, Dr. Morris and her team could then connect the dots between Alzheimer’s brain changes and mercury from eating fish.
The 5 Findings of the Mercury, Fish, and Alzheimer’s Study
To come to their five conclusions, Dr. Morris and coworkers measured the amount of mercury in these donated brains. Also, they carefully dissected each of these brains not only looking for the plaques and tangles, commonly seen with Alzheimer’s disease, but any other sign of brain damage as well. Here is what they found:
1. The more fish people reported eating while they were alive, the more mercury researchers saw in their autopsied brains. No surprise here.
2. Eating fish at least once a week correlated with significantly less Alzheimer’s changes to the brain in people with the Alzheimer’s gene. This finding isn’t always consistent with other studies.
For example, some studies show that fish protects everyone’s brain whereas other studies show that fish only protects the brains of people without the Alzheimer’s gene. Regardless, there are no credible studies showing that fish is bad for your brain!
3. Plant-based omega 3s, from foods like walnuts, flax or chia seeds, protect you from strokes. The finding that plant-based omega 3s may prevent strokes is something that has been backed up by other studies.
4. Fish oil supplements offered no protection to the brain. This Rush University study is just one of many studies now showing that fish oil doesn’t help the brain or heart much.
5. Mercury levels in the brain from fish did not correlate with any brain damage. This finding that moderate levels of mercury from eating fish doesn’t cause brain damage had to be the most important, and reassuring, discovery of this study.
As blog readers know, I have long been interested in anything that can protect the heart and the brain. Below are my three practical tips based on the findings of this and other studies.
1. Consider eating fish at least once a week.
In my opinion, the scientific data are now robust enough that people should consider eating fish at least once a week. However, despite the reassuring findings of this Rush University study, mercury should be minimized to the greatest extent possible.
Just because mercury levels didn’t correlate with brain damage, doesn’t mean it isn’t causing any harm. To minimize your mercury risk from eating fish, always look for wild, small, or ocean fish.
If wild fish is too expensive for your budget, consider shopping at places like Costco. Given the high price of wild Alaskan salmon, our family buys all of our fish at Costco.
2. Eat plant-based omega 3s every day.
The plant-based omega 3s from foods like walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds have taken the back seat to fish-based omega 3s for far too long. Plant-based omega 3s offer tremendous brain benefits without the risk of mercury and other contaminants. Unless you have a food allergy, or are unable to digest nuts and seeds, consider eating some every day.
Our favorite way to get more plant-based omega 3s is to mix flax and chia seeds into our nut butters. We just pour in both seeds and then stir. You’ll love the crunchy taste these seeds give to almond butter, peanut butter, or just about any nut butter.
3. Supplements should just be supplements.
Indiscriminate use of supplements has never been shown to improve health or longevity. Indeed, countless studies have now linked many supplements to heart disease or cancer.
Supplements should just be supplements. In other words, supplements should only be used when it is impossible for you to get enough of a specific micronutrient from food sources. While the benefit of fish oil has been questioned in many recent studies, at least the risk of using it seems to be very low.
Personally, I’m relieved to see the most recent data coming out on fish oil. I never liked the after taste I used to get from swallowing the massive fish oil tablets.
What are your thoughts on fish, mercury, and Alzheimer’s disease? Were you surprised by the findings of this study?
Please leave your thoughts and questions below. As I respond to every question posted, the comment section will only be open for one month. Also, if you liked this article, please be sure to read our new #1 Amazon best-selling book, The Longevity Plan, and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter and podcast!
Of course, if you are not used to eating fish or plant-based omega 3 foods, please be sure to check with your doctor first. Also, nothing discussed in this article, or anything else from my website, should be taken as medical advice. Always check with your doctor first before making any changes based on anything I have written or said.
Do You Have These Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms? 10 Reasons Why You Need More
Studies show that up to 89% of all Americans are magnesium deficient. In fact, you just may be one of these magnesium deficient people and not even know it.
In this podcast, I discuss the common magnesium deficiency symptoms. I also discuss 10 reasons why you need more magnesium.
If you would rather not listen to this podcast to learn more about magnesium deficiency, here is a link to an article I wrote on magnesium deficiency.
Can Buying Time Increase Happiness and Longevity?
In our fast paced modern life, most of us are in living in a time famine. As a perceived lack of time leads to stress, anxiety, and insomnia, can buying time increase happiness and longevity? In this article, I review a new study evaluating whether buying stuff or time increases happiness.
As a child, I always looked forward to Christmas. I loved seeing the present piled high under the Christmas tree. My siblings and I would count the hours until Christmas morning. It seemed as if Christmas would never come.
Once the long awaited day arrived, we would take turns opening our presents. Opening each new gift gave us each a shot of dopamine to our brains that made Christmas morning almost euphoric.
Despite the incredible highs of Christmas morning, I always felt a correspondingly low crash by Christmas afternoon. After we ripped through all of the presents, I felt a longing for something more. It was almost if I felt empty inside after playing with all these new toys.
By the time I made it to adulthood, time was scarce, and my living space became full of stuff. Stuff that I had purchased for a good reason at the time but yet later often never seemed to need.
For years now, whenever a family member has asked me what I want for my birthday or Christmas I have answered time. Indeed, anything a family member can do to help me free up time is a gift that I will always cherish. Time, not stuff, is what makes me happy now.
I always thought that my quest for more time, not stuff made be a bit odd. Now, after this new Harvard University study, perhaps I was on to something…
The New Harvard Study: Buying Time versus Stuff
In this recently published buying time versus stuff Harvard study, researchers included 6,271 people from the US, Canada, and Europe. From these 6,271 people, researchers analyzed their buying habits and self-reported life satisfaction.
As you might imagine, this large sample size included the wealthy, poor, and middle class from a number of different countries. To confirm their findings of these 6,271 people, Harvard researchers added a second component to this study. They gave a portion of these people $40 on two separate weekends. With a study design like this, I still wish I could have participated in this study and pocketed $40 on two different weekends!
On one weekend, study participants were told to spend the $40 on things that could save them time like a house cleaner, handyman, or even a neighborhood kid to run some errands for them. On the other weekend, they were told to go out and buy something with the $40. After spending the $40, study participants were called and asked about how happy they felt and their stress levels.
The 6 Findings of the Harvard Study
Rather than keep you in suspense any longer, here are the six key findings of this study.
1. Buying time, rather than stuff, increased happiness by 16%.
2. Spending money to create more free time, instead of accumulating more material possessions, decreased perceived stress by 17%.
3. Regardless of whether you are a millionaire or just struggling to survive, buying time resulted in more happiness and less stress.
4. Contrary to conventional wisdom, cash strapped Americans benefited more from “buying time” than millionaires or people from any of the other countries. Perhaps this says something about how jam packed our lives are in the US.
5. Only 2% of people in the US, Canada, or Europe reported that they would ever spend money to free up more personal time.
6. Outsourcing some of your “to do list” seemed to be much more beneficial for women in reducing their stress and increasing their happiness.
Why Does Buying Time Increase Happiness?
You would think that all of our modern conveniences like the Internet, smartphones, and cars would save us time and make us happier. Rather, the more technology progresses, the more time stress we feel. Perhaps this is because of the more technology advances, the harder we have to work to get all of this new stuff.
In this study, spending money to free up more personal time was shown to help combat the challenges of modern life. Thus, money may assist you with time stress.
A second theory as to why buying time increased happiness in this study is because with all of our work, family, and community commitments many of us feel as if we have no control over our lives. Perhaps the reason why spending money to free up personal time was so useful is because it may bring back a sense of control over our lives.
Does Happiness Make You Live Longer?
The answer to whether happiness makes you live longer may come from an ongoing study that has been running for 78 years now and counting. In this study, researchers are closely following the lives of 268 Harvard University students who were at Harvard between 1939 and 1944.
Even our former US president, John F. Kennedy, was one of the 268 college students in this study. Now that the last of these students are now in their 90s, researchers can see what the key factors to longevity are.
Based on the Harvard Grant Study, the number one predictor of health and longevity was happiness. When they dug deeper, researchers found that the key to happiness in this life was relationships. Perhaps, if we weren’t such time stressed in our modern lives we would have more time for the relationships which matter most.
While this latest Harvard study showed that when it comes to happiness, buying time is much better than buying more stuff, I would argue that there is an even better solution. Rather than spending our hard earned money on outsourcing our lives in search of happiness, what if we just bought less stuff so that we didn’t have to work so hard?
A second practical tip is to remember that every time you say “yes” to something, you are in essence saying “no” to something else. Even little social obligations add up. Saying yes to helping with a community or work event means that you may have to give up your daily workout or time with your children.
The key then is to only focus on what is essential for your life. Only buy those things that you need in your life. Also, only say yes to social obligations that are essential for you and your family.
What are your thoughts on this buying time versus stuff study? I would love to hear from you. Please leave your thoughts and questions below, and I’ll do my best to answer every question. Of course, if you haven’t yet read our new Amazon bestselling book, The Longevity Plan, or subscribed to our free weekly newsletter and podcast, how about doing so now?
Does Artificial Light Cause Cancer?
A recent Harvard study reported that artificial light at night increases your risk of cancer by up to 21%. In this article, I discuss how artificial light at night might cause cancer and what you can do to eliminate this risk.
Mary had no choice but to work the graveyard shift. She was a nurse and shared childcare duties with her husband.
As he worked days and she worked nights, they always had one parent there for their children. Even though she rarely saw her husband at least, they could save on daycare.
This arrangement seemed to work for them until Mary hit her 40s. At age 43 she started developing heart arrhythmias, and by 46 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
For someone who was otherwise healthy and worked out regularly, this seemed like too much of a coincidence. At Mary’s last visit with me, she asked, “Do you think working nights caused my heart problem and cancer?”
“Possibly. Is there any chance you could switch to days?” I asked.
“I have enough seniority at my hospital so it shouldn’t be too hard,” she said.
The Harvard Artificial Light and Cancer Study
To better understand the potential cancer risks of artificial light, in this study Harvard researchers followed 109,672 female nurses for 24 years. To determine how much exposure these nurses had to artificial lights for 24 years, researchers studied nighttime satellite images of their houses and neighborhoods. Once they knew their artificial light exposure, they could then see if there was a link between artificial light at night and breast cancer risk.
In addition to looking at how bright their homes were on satellite images, they also factored in other things like working nights, smoking status, and other health and lifestyle factors. As you might have suspected, the more the artificial light at night, there was the higher the risk of breast cancer. Fortunately, for women with healthy lifestyles, this increased breast cancer risk was only 7%. However, in smokers and nurses working nights, the increased cancer risk from artificial lights was as high as 21%.
How Could Artificial Lights at Night Cause Cancer?
Was the methodology used in this study perfect? Of course not. For example, nighttime satellite images can’t perfectly calculate their exposure to artificial light at night. For example, the satellite images would never have been able to pick up bright lights inside of their homes if they had great window shades.
However, before you discount this study, it is important to remember that this is not the first study to link artificial lights at night to cancer. Indeed, there have been many published studies showing this association.
Although this study was in women, men also seem to be at risk. For example, studies show that artificial lights at night also increase the possibility of prostate cancer.
The reason why artificial light at night may cause cancer is likely due to shutting down natural melatonin production in the body. As a result, blue light at night disrupts natural circadian rhythms, sleep, and hormonal balance. Thus, the hormonally triggered cancers, like breast and prostate cancer, seem to be especially susceptible to nighttime blue light exposure. Certainly, one unanswered question from the medical literature is whether melatonin supplements could undo the risk of artificial light at night.
What is Blue Light?
Blue light has a very short wavelength. With this short wavelength, it also produces a higher amount of energy.
While blue light is good during the day as it boosts your energy, attention, reaction times, and mood at night it can be very disruptive. As blue light shuts down your natural melatonin production, your sleep may be less than ideal.
What Are the Risks of LED Lights?
While LED lights are brighter and more energy efficient, there is a downside. The problem is that these artificial lights emit more blue light than what you see with traditional lighting. If you are going to use LED lighting in your house, you may want to consider a dimmer switch on every light for nighttime use.
What Are the Risks of Blue Light at Night?
In addition to the cancer risk that we have already discussed, there are many additional risks of artificial lights at night. Here are some that are well backed up by many medical studies.
1. Blue light disrupts your circadian rhythm and makes it hard to sleep
If you want to compromise your sleep, then blue light at night is your answer. Indeed, even small amounts of blue light before bed have been shown to shift your circadian rhythm to a later time.
Because of the impact blue light has on sleep times, many scienticists now believe that there may be no such thing as a “night owl.” Rather, so called “night owls” may just be more sensitive to blue light than everyone else. This would explain why studies show that if you remove all artificial light from night owls that they quickly synchronize their sleep and wake times with the sun.
Thus, night owls become larks naturally if you remove all artificial lights at night.
Darkness triggers leptin production in our bodies. Leptin is what makes us feel full. As long as artificial lights are on at night, you may get the signal to eat. Perhaps this explains why so many people feel compelled to snack before going to bed.
3. Heart Attacks
As we have covered in previous articles, anything that disrupts your circadian rhythm could increase your risk of a heart attack. Studies show that even just losing one hour of sleep from daylight savings time puts you at risk of a heart attack.
In addition to making you want to eat more, studies show that circadian rhythm disruption may make you insulin resistant. In other words, the natural insulin your pancreas makes when you eat carbohydrates no longer has any effect. As a result blood sugar levels rise and diabetes ensues.
1. Get as much natural light during the day as possible.
Natural sunlight packs blue light. Get as much of this as you can during the day. Even getting outside during your lunch hour on a cloudy day will expose you to far more blue light than even the brightest of indoor lights.
2. Don’t look at electronic screens after dinner.
Indoor lights and electronic screen time are responsible for much of the sleep deprivation that is so common with modern life. If you can avoid electronic screens from TVs, phones, or computers at night, then your sleep and health will likely improve. If you absolutely must use an electronic device at night, then use an app to block blue light from your screen or wear glasses that block the blue light.
3. Minimize artificial lights at night
Keep the lights in your house as dim as it is safely possible at night. Consider warmer lights similar to what you might get from a candle at night. When it comes to circadian rhythm disruption, red light is least likely to cause harm.
4. Don’t fight the sun
Probably the most important tip is to live in your natural circadian rhythm. Don’t fight the sun. Get up when the sun rises in the morning and start preparing for bed soon after the sun sets in the evening.
If you have to work nights, then do the opposite. Try to keep things as bright as you possibly can at night and then as dark as possible during the day. While this may help, you are still putting yourself at risk of a heart attack or cancer. To eliminate this increased risk, you will need to work days as soon as it makes sense for you financially.
How do artificial lights at night affect you? Please leave your comments on this article below. Also, if you enjoyed this article, please be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter, podcast, or pick up a copy of our new book, The Longevity Plan.
Should You Eliminate Nightshades from Your Diet?
The Internet and popular health books would have you believe peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and other nightshades cause inflammation, autoimmune diseases, and gastrointestinal diseases. As I am often asked about nightshades, this article explores the research behind the misinformation and myths about nightshades. And when it comes to health books, it is important to remember the following quote from Mark Twain:
Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
What are nightshades?
Nightshades are the edible parts of the flowering plants in the Solanaceae family (pronounced sō-lə-ˈnā-sē-ē). In fact, there are thousands of plants in the Solanaceae family. While many are inedible, humans have eaten the edible nightshades like peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes for thousands of years without any problems.
Why are nightshades called nightshades?
It is unclear why nightshades are called nightshades. While there are many theories, my best guess is that it is because many of these plants prefer to grow in shady areas or they flower at night.
What Are You Giving Up by Avoiding Nightshades?
If you are going to follow the popular Internet and “health” book advice and avoid nightshades, you need to know what you are giving up. If you do choose to give up these foods, you will have to work hard to make sure you pick up these key nutrients and disease fighting abilities from other foods.
Tomatoes are one of the best sources of the powerful anti-oxidant, lycopene. Tomatoes are also high in vitamins A, C, and fiber.
Tomatoes have been shown in medical studies to help prevent heart disease and cancer. These two conditions alone account for approximately 80% of all deaths in the US.
Peppers are another nutritional powerhouse food. If you give up peppers you will need to make up for the lost vitamins A, C and B6 as well as folate and fiber from other food sources.
In addition to giving up these key nutrients, studies show you will also lose the weight loss benefits, metabolism boost, pain reduction, and heart disease protective effects of peppers.
While eggplant may not be as flashy as tomatoes and peppers when it comes to nutritional qualities, they can still hold their own. Eggplant is a high fiber food which is also high in anthocyanin.
Anthocyanin is that same purple color that is in blueberries. Many studies show that anthocyanin improves brain function and protects you from many brain diseases including dementia.
Potatoes have a bad reputation. This is probably because more than 90% of potatoes are eaten as french fries or potato chips in the US. However, if you bake a real potato, and eat it with the skin, you will get a heathy dose of vitamins B6 and C, potassium, and fiber.
For those with diabetes or blood sugar issues, potatoes can be eaten as a resistant starch. Merely the process of baking a potato, putting it in the fridge overnight, and then reheating it the next day changes it into a resistant starch with no significant blood sugar spike for most people. To learn more about resistant starches, please read blog number 164, How to Eat Pasta Without Gaining Weight.
Do Nightshades Cause Autoimmune Diseases
One widely propagated belief on the Internet and in “health” books is that nightshades causes autoimmune diseases. This belief arises from the alkaloids which are in nightshades.
Anecdotally, many people claim that eliminating nightshades helped their autoimmune diseases. And for those people who report an improvement in their autoimmune disease by cutting out nightshades, they should continue to avoid these foods However, despite these anecdotal reports, there are no credible studies in humans linking nightshades to autoimmune diseases.
Personally, I used to suffer from the autoimmune disease ankylosing spondylitis. In my quest to find relief, avoiding nightshades had no impact on my condition.
However, I did find that by following the healthy lifestyle of the people living in China’s Longevity Village, my autoimmune disease went into remission. If you want to learn more, it is all described in our new book, The Longevity Plan.
Do Nightshades Cause Leaky Gut?
A leaky gut is what medically we refer to as intestinal permeability. With intestinal permeability, the tight barrier between your gut and your blood stream is broken.
As a result, things in the gut can get in the blood stream without proper digestion. When this happens, autoimmune diseases may be triggered.
To support the claims made by Internet sites and popular “health” books, I could find one study suggesting that feeding processed potatoes to mice may lead to intestinal permeability. However, before you give up nightshades based on one obscure study, please remember that this study used processed potatoes not real whole baked potatoes. Also, please remember that this effect has never been shown to occur in humans.
Do Nightshades Cause Irritable Bowel or Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
As with autoimmune diseases and leaky gut, the Internet and popular “health” books would once again have you believe that nightshades are the cause of your gastrointestinal symptoms. As with the other claims, there are no scientific data to support these beliefs. The only study I could find on this topic was that same obscure study in mice demonstrating that processed potatoes may trigger inflammatory bowel disease that we already discussed.
Do Nightshades Cause Arthritis?
Some people believe nightshades cause arthritis. This belief arises from the theory that calcitriol in nightshades causes calcium to be deposited in joints.
While it is true that people with rheumatoid arthritis may have higher levels of calcium in their blood, there is no scientific proof that eating nightshades causes your blood calcium levels to go up. As with the other conditions discussed in this article, if you find that cutting out nightshades helps your arthritis then please avoid these foods. However, if you are like most people, you will probably find that nightshades have no impact on your arthritis.
Humans have thrived on nightshades, like peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and real potatoes (not french fries or potato chips) for millennia. Indeed, some of the healthiest and longest lived people on this plant, like the Mediterranean people eating tomatoes or the Japanese eating peppers, are proof that most people thrive on nightshades. It is also interesting to note that some of the lowest rates of autoimmune diseases and arthritis occur in people following either the traditional Mediterranean or Asian diet.
While the vast majority of people thrive on nightshades, we are not all created equally. Some of us may react differently to different foods.
For this reason, if you don’t do well with nightshades then you will need to work hard to make up for this nutritional and disease fighting deficiency from other foods. This means you will have to significantly increase your intake of a wide array of colorful fruits and vegetables.
How do you do with nightshades? Please leave your thoughts and questions below. As always, I’ll do my best to answer every question.
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3 Reasons Why Walnuts May Be the Healthiest Snack
What you snack on may be the most important health decision you make each day. In this article, I share the latest scientific findings on walnuts. Based on the results of this new study, I also discuss three reasons why walnuts may be the healthiest snack.
The Snacking Obesity Link
We are all wired a bit differently. Some of us do best with three meals a day while others may need many small meals or snacks to get them through the day.
What we don’t need are the typical snacks. Snacking now accounts for a third of all calories people eat each day.
The problem is that most snacks are not healthy food choices. Perhaps this explains why people who snack double their risk of obesity. For those who like to snack in the evenings, the risk is even higher. Indeed, studies show that evening snackers triple their risk of obesity.
If your metabolism does best with snacking then consider walnuts. Even if you aren’t a snacker, based on the data I’m going to present, you’ll want to consider walnuts if you are at all concerned about your weight.
The New Walnut Study
I really liked this new walnut study. All too often with nutritional studies, researchers just ask people to remember what they ate over the last 10 to 20 years. Then, based on what people report eating, researchers try to correlate this to health and longevity.
The problem with these sorts of studies is that most people don’t remember what they ate. For example, I can barely remember what I ate yesterday let alone 20 years ago.
While these types of studies may provide clues, the problem is that they are often inaccurate and lead to conflicting results. Thus, it is no wonder why there is so much confusion about what foods are healthy!
This study was different. In this study, Harvard researchers somehow convinced 10 people to be locked up in a hospital for five days on two different occasions. With the study participants locked up, researchers had 100% control of everything they ate. No outside food could be smuggled in.
On one of their 5-day stays, each study participant drank a daily walnut smoothie. On their other 5-day stay, they drank the same smoothie minus the walnuts. To keep the study results clear, the researchers kept the calories, taste, and nutritional composition of the smoothies otherwise the same.
3 Reasons Why Walnuts May Be the Healthiest Snack
1. Walnuts Fill You Up
While these study participants were locked up in the hospital, researchers asked them to rate their hunger. Interestingly, during the 5-days they unknowingly drank the walnut smoothie, people reported feeling very full.
To confirm that these study participants weren’t just imagining things, researchers also scanned their brains with a functional MRI. Sure enough, they found that those people who had walnuts slipped into their daily smoothie had the satiety center of their brain all lit up.
The key take away here is that if you struggle with hunger pangs between meals, as I often do between surgeries, try munching on a few walnuts. Or, if you want to avoid snacking all together, try eating a few walnuts with your meal. As each smoothie in this study only contained 48 grams of walnuts (about 20 walnut halves), it doesn’t take much to fill you up.
2. Walnuts Make You Choose Healthier Foods
The second interesting finding of this study is that researchers wanted to tempt these poor study participants after they drank their daily smoothies. On the days when walnuts were slipped into their smoothies, pictures of hamburgers and deserts didn’t seem to tempt them.
Even more interesting was that on the days they unknowingly ate walnuts, pictures of vegetables seemed to excite them. The message here is that walnuts can somehow reprogram your brain to shun junk foods and embrace healthy foods.
3. Helps with Cognitive Control and Food Cravings
The last key finding of this study is that walnuts light up an an area in your brain known as the insula. The insula is thought to help with cognitive control and food cravings. Thus, walnuts in this study appeared to give you more control over your thoughts and food cravings.
The Nutritional Benefits of Walnuts
What this study didn’t cover was the incredible nutritional benefits of walnuts. Walnuts are packed with the anti-inflammatory brain food known as the omega 3s. Walnuts are also high in protein and fiber which help to keep you full.
Fortunately, walnuts help to prevent almost every major chronic medical problem. To learn more about the many nutritional benefits of walnuts, please read this article I wrote on this topic.
How Should You Eat Walnuts?
As long as you don’t bathe your walnuts in sugar or oils, just about any way you want to eat them is healthy. Raw or dry roasted, it really doesn’t matter. While this study put walnuts in smoothies, there are certainly many other ways to eat walnuts.
Personally, my favorite way to eat walnuts is to put them on salads. I love the texture, taste, and nutritional profile they bring to my salads. Likewise, I also enjoy munching on them raw as a snack.
The biggest take away from this recent study is that most of us need more walnuts in our diet. Unless you have a walnut allergy, try eating more.
Make walnuts your go to food for smoothies and salads. Put them in your purse or bag for an on-the-go snack. Based on the science behind walnuts, they just might be the healthiest snack.
Do you enjoy walnuts? Please leave your thoughts and questions below. As always, I’ll do my best to answer every question as quickly as I can.
If you have not started reading our new book, The Longevity Plan, now would be a great time to start. Find out for yourself why this book has a 4.9 rating on Amazon and was a number one best seller. Please be sure to also sign up for my free weekly newsletter and podcast to stay up to date on every new development.
Reverse Aging with Sulforaphane
Could sulforaphane be the best superfood you have never heard of? If so, that would make broccoli sprouts the healthiest food on this planet. In this article, I’ll share the science behind why sulforaphane may be the best way to reverse and prevent almost every medical condition. I’ll also reveal the best 12 foods to reverse aging with sulforaphane.
What is Sulforaphane?
Sulforaphane is a sulfur-containing food molecule that reverses aging, stops inflammation, kills cancer, protects the brain, and puts an end to cardiovascular disease. While sulforaphane is found naturally in cruciferous vegetables, these vegetables must be prepared and eaten in the right way to maximize the bioavailability of sulforaphane. And it is this special preparation that explains why broccoli sprouts have so much more sulforaphane than all of the other cruciferous vegetables combined.
The Top 10 Effects of Sulforaphane
1. Slows Aging
Sulforaphane turns on your genes which make Nrf2. Studies show that Nrf2 is the master protein in the body to slow aging by activating whatever longevity genes you may have.
While you have probably never heard of Nrf2, there have now been more than 5,500 scientific studies published on Nrf2. What we do know is that Nrf2 prevents the cells in your body from growing old by protecting them from inflammation, free radicals, and the many other things that wear your cells out over time.
2. Stops Inflammation
Chronic over stimulation of the immune system causes inflammation. Chronic inflammation in turn causes rusting of our bodies.
Inflammation that is never turned off is one of the root causes of premature aging, autoimmune disease, arthritis, cancer, dementia, and heart disease. Through activation of Nrf2, studies show that sulforaphane stops inflammation and recalibrates the immune system to function properly again.
3. Fights Cancer
Cancer is perhaps the most feared of all human conditions. And when it comes to cancer fighting foods, sulforaphane seems to be the best.
Based on how effective sulforaphane is in destroying cancer in the laboratory, researchers are now studying it in humans. For example, there are now 12 studies assessing the cancer fighting effects of sulforaphane in humans.
4. Protects Your Brain
No one wants to lose their memories. As I discussed in blog number 81, BDNF or brain derived neurotrophic factor, is the most important protein to have around in your body if you want a sharp brain throughout your life.
Fortunately, studies show that sulforaphane also boosts BDNF. Perhaps this boost in BDNF helps to explain why studies of diabetic rats, who are known to quickly develop dementia, can preserve their memories with sulforaphane.
5. Protects Your Heart
It has often been said that you are only as old as your arteries. Indeed, your biological age is directly linked to how much plaque is in your arteries. If you can keep the plaque out, your body will stay young.
When it comes to staying young and preventing cardiovascular disease, you need more sulforaphane. As with cancer, many studies have reported that those people eating the most sulforaphane from cruciferous vegetables live longer and are much less likely to get heart disease.
Specifically, sulforaphane prevents atherosclerosis or plaque build up. For example, in one interesting study researchers pumped rabbits full of the highest cholesterol containing food they could find. Despite a diet literally off the charts in cholesterol, the rabbits who were also fed sulforaphane foods didn’t get hardening of their arteries.
6. Sulforaphane Detoxifies
If you do a quick Google search you will find many ads for ways you can detoxify your body. Sadly, most of these are scams.
If you really want to detoxify your body then you need sulforaphane. For example, sulforaphane has been shown in studies to detoxify pesticides on our food.
For those of you who like barbecued meat, but don’t want to increase your risk of cancer from the heterocyclic amines that form when you cook meat, eat sulforaphane foods with your meat. Studies show that sulforaphane can block up to 60% of these heterocyclic amines cancer causing compounds.
Studies also show that sulforaphane can detoxify the polluted air we breath into our bodies. In fact, one interesting study from a very polluted city in China showed that broccoli sprout juice detoxified the chemicals found in polluted air. Specifically, broccoli sprout juice detoxified 61% of benzene, which is a known carcinogen from air pollution.
7. Keeps You Thin
If you want to gain weight really fast, just eat the Standard American Diet (SAD). The Standard American Diet makes it almost impossible for anyone to maintain a healthy weight. This is because all of the sugars and processed carbohydrates screw up countless metabolic and hormonal pathways in your body.
In an interesting study, researchers put mice on the Standard American Diet. Not only did these mice quickly become very obese, they also became insulin resistant, had sky high cholesterol levels, and developed atherosclerosis.
Where this study gets interesting is that sulforaphane blocked the effects of the Standard American Diet. In other words, hunger hormone levels dropped so the mice weren’t always so hungry and lost weight. Insulin metabolism normalized. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels dropped and atherosclerosis was reversed.
8. Reverses Diabetes
Diabetes, or high blood sugar levels, is one of the fastest ways to age your arteries. Exciting new research is showing that sulforaphane may ultimately become the best diabetes drug.
Indeed, in a recently published study, researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden enrolled 97 obese people with type 2 diabetes. They then randomized these people to either broccoli sprouts or placebo.
After just 12 weeks, those people randomized to broccoli sprouts had blood sugar readings 10% lower than those randomized to a placebo. Probably the best part of this study is that researchers didn’t see all of the side effects that you would expect to see from the typical diabetes drug.
9. Lowers Cholesterol
Across the world, studies show that the longest lived groups of people all have low cholesterol levels. This is probably because when cholesterol levels are low, aging of your arteries slows to a crawl.
While few people want to take a statin drug to reduce high cholesterol, one possible alternative could be broccoli sprouts. Indeed, in one study broccoli sprouts reduced LDL or bad cholesterol by 7%.
Of course, if you have already been prescribed a statin don’t stop it. In fact, don’t ever act on anything I share in an article without talking to your physician first.
10. Treats Depression and Anxiety
More and more studies are pointing to inflammation as the cause of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. As sulforaphane is a powerful anti-inflammatory compound, then one would expect sulforaphane to help depression and anxiety.
While there aren’t any good studies showing that sulforaphane treats depression and anxiety in humans, it certainly seems to help mice with their depression and anxiety. Indeed, studies show that by blocking excessive inflammation in mice, sulforaphane makes mice less stressed and happier.
Does Sulforaphane Have Any Side Effects?
Fortunately, I have never seen any side effects from eating too many cruciferous vegetables in my cardiology practice. However, just because I have never seen any doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.
For example, there is a theoretical risk of developing a thyroid goiter from eating too many crucriferous vegetables. Despite this theoretical risk, I could find no studies showing that this happens in people who are eating a healthy diet which includes adequate amounts of iodine for optimal thyroid function.
Other possible side effects reported in the medical literature include DNA disruption from massive quantities of broccoli sprouts. Likewise, there was a case report of liver toxicity from drinking huge amounts of broccoli sprout juice.
How Do You Maximize Sulforaphane from Your Vegetables?
Cutting or chewing cruciferous vegetables unlocks sulforaphane. However, cooking cruciferous vegetables destroys sulforaphane. Thus, to unlock sulforaphane it is best to eat cruciferous vegetables raw.
The Best 12 Foods to Reverse Aging with Sulforaphane
As you undoubtedly have learned by making it this far in the article, raw cruciferous vegetables are the key to unlocking sulforaphane. However, when it comes to sulforaphane, not all cruciferous vegetables are created equally. Below, are the top foods for sulforaphane.
1. Broccoli Sprouts
Of all the foods studied, broccoli sprouts have the highest amount of sulforaphane. Indeed, studies show that broccoli sprouts have anywhere from 10 to 100 times the amount of sulforaphane than do the mature broccoli plants.
Fortunately, it is easy and very inexpensive to sprout your own broccoli at home. Most people just do it inside of their kitchen window.
For those of you who prefer not to sprout your own broccoli, there are other options. For example, our local Whole Foods grocery store sells broccoli sprouts.
While mature broccoli lacks the mega dose of sulforaphane that the sprouts do, it still has a lot of sulforaphane. In fact, of the cruciferous vegetables, broccoli and cauliflower pack the most.
As with broccoli sprouts, I was also surprised to learn that cauliflower sprouts are also high in sulforaphane. However, as no one that I know eats cauliflower sprouts, just sticking to the adult form will still give you a good dose of sulforaphane.
Kale is another one of my favorite foods that I eat on most days. Nutrient for nutrient, it is hard to find a food that packs in more than kale.
5. Brussels Sprout
7. Bok Choy
Based on thousands of medical studies, sulforaphane may be the best superfood. As these studies are so convincing, I make it a practice to include several cups of raw broccoli, kale, or cauliflower into my diet every day. This practice fits well with the many studies showing that people eating cruciferous vegetables live longer and have less cancer and heart disease.
As we really don’t know what the upper limit of sulforaphane is that we can safely enjoy, I don’t eat broccoli sprouts that often. This is because I haven’t seen any long-term studies of people getting mega doses of sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts. Until these studies are done, I’ll play it safe and reserve broccoli sprouts as an occasional treat.
What is your take on broccoli sprouts? I would love to hear from you. Please leave your thoughts and questions below.
As always, I’ll try my best to answer every question as quickly as I can. If you want to learn more about how food choices prevent disease and promote longevity, please be sure to read our new book, The Longevity Plan, subscribe to our free weekly newsletter, or listen to our podcast.
John and Jane Day Discuss The Longevity Plan on the Maureen Anderson Show
This is a special feature podcast episode. On this podcast, my wife joined me as a guest on the Maureen Anderson show.
As you can tell from this podcast, we quickly hit it off with Maureen and her husband Darell. The two of them run a nationally syndicated radio show called, Doing What Works.
If you haven’t yet listened to their show, I encourage you to do so. They share so much practical advice with each episode.
What did you think about this podcast? Please leave your thoughts and questions below.
4 Ways Time in Nature Extends Life
A recently published study reports that the more green space there is within 820 feet of your home, the longer you will live. In this article, I review this study and the scientific evidence that nature extends life. Armed with this information, I also share some real simple strategies that could not only add years to your life but more health and happiness as well.
Jeff recently came to see me for a second opinion. Jeff was struggling with a heart condition known as atrial fibrillation.
With atrial fibrillation, the heart is out of rhythm. This causes a rapid and irregular pulse. Not only does an out of rhythm heart make people feel poorly but it also increases their risk of stroke, heart failure, and dementia.
“How often do you get outside?” I asked.
“Rarely, if ever. Between my work and family responsibilities, there just isn’t any time,” Jeff replied.
It was at that time that it suddenly hit me. Jeff’s life was completely out of rhythm from the way we were designed to live. If his life was out of rhythm, how could we expect his heart to be in rhythm?
The Exposure to Nature and Risk of Death Study
In a recent study, Harvard University researchers wanted to understand the link between time in nature and risk of death. To answer this question, researchers studied 108,630 nurses.
In order to estimate the impact of nature on longevity, researchers measured the amount of “greenery” surrounding their homes. This was done based on satellite images looking for any green vegetation within 820 feet (250 m) and 0.8 miles of their homes (1250 m).
To put this study into perspective, most of these nurses lived in metropolitan areas in or around Boston. As there were so many things that could throw off the results of a study like this, these Harvard researchers adjusted for other factors that are known to affect longevity like age, ethnicity, smoking, and socioeconomic status.
Findings of the Time in Nature and Longevity Study
After following these 108,630 nurses for 8 years, these researchers came up with some very interesting findings. Below are the six key findings of this study:
1. People with the most green vegetation around their house had a 12% lower risk of dying during the study.
2. There was no difference in your survival advantage if the greenery was within 820 feet (250 m) or 0.8 miles (1,250 m) of your home.
3. Having “nature” near your home was associated with much a much lower cancer and lung disease risk.
4. Physically active nurses with a lot of green vegetation near their homes enjoyed the greatest life extending benefits.
5. Whether you lived inside or outside of a city didn’t seem to affect longevity.
6. Having greenery near your home increased your chances of never being on an anti-depressant, exercising regularly, having more social connections, and breathing less polluted air.
4 Ways Time in Nature Extends Life
Based on the findings of this study, these Harvard researchers proposed four reasons why nature extends life. While I am confident there are many other reasons why nature extends life, below are the four ways they came up with:
1. Green vegetation makes us happy.
Quite remarkably, how much greenery was near your house also predicted whether or not you would ever need an antidepressant. This finding raises the question that one potential cause of depression may be that modern life has us trying to live in a way that we were not designed to live.
Fortunately, this is something that is very easy to fix. While moving isn’t an option for most people, you could easily fill your yard, house, or office with plants. Surround your living space with living green things certainly has a lot less side effects than taking an antidepressant.
As a disclaimer, don’t ever stop a medication you were prescribed based on anything you read on this website. I only share general information, not medical advice, with each article that I write. Please discuss anything you read with your own healthcare provider.
2. Nature makes you more physically active.
Being physically active is hard for many of my patients. Whether it is from automobiles, elevators, or television remote controls, modern life has completely engineered physical activity out of our lives.
We all know physical activity is one of the most important things when it comes to health, happiness, and longevity. Indeed, studies show that physical activity can make us almost 10 years younger.
If you find it hard to be physically active, a simple hack may be to increase the green vegetation around you. Based on the results of this study, living near green space may subconsciously help you to increase your time outside and physical activity.
Thus, if you are not as physically active as you should be, spend more time outside. Escape from your home or office as much as you can.
Instead of going to the gym everyday, try mixing it up with some outdoor exercise activities. For family vacations, select locations that will get you in nature.
3. Green vegetation increases social connectivity
For reasons that aren’t fully understood, these Harvard researchers also reported that the more greenery that exists near your home the more socially connected you are likely to be. Perhaps this is because if you have green vegetation you will probably be outside where you could strike up a conversation with a friend or neighbor.
As I have discussed in previous articles, social connectivity is the glue that holds us together. It is also something that is required for a healthy and long life.
People who make it to age 100 and beyond are often surrounded by many close social connections. Indeed, studies show that when it comes to longevity, social connectivity may be more important than whether or not you are overweight or smoke.
A simple fix to boost social connectivity would be to grow something in your yard. If you don’t have a yard, then grow something on your balcony or inside a window. As you are caring for these plants you will undoubtedly connect with other people.
4. Plants purify the air we breathe.
Air pollution is a huge risk to our hearts and our longevity. Studies show that breathing polluted air can rob us of up to five years of life. While outside air pollution has tremendous health risks, reports from the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. indicate that the indoor air we breathe may be two to five times worse than what is outside.
When it comes to cleaning our air, we need more green vegetation. While having green vegetation outside of our homes is important, it may even be more important to have plants inside of our homes and work environments.
This is why the U.S. space agency (NASA) spent millions of dollars in a study looking at how plants can purify our air. This NASA study showed that plants are very effective in eliminating toxic chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air. In addition, they showed that plants can help to neutralize the effects of sick building syndrome.
Once again, there is another easy fix here. Plant as much green stuff in your yard, your home, and your office as you possibly can. Let plants clean your air naturally.
China’s Longevity Village and Time in Nature
Based on our five year study of the residents in China’s Longevity Village, we concluded that their complete immersion with nature played a key role in their health, happiness, and longevity. As this village has the highest percentage of centenarians in the world, it was pretty clear to us that nature extends life. If you want to learn more about our findings, it is all described in our new book, The Longevity Plan.
Inspired by what we learned in this Village, our family has set out on a new adventure. We are now trying “homesteading.”
While I still work at the same hospital, we recently moved to an old farm in the mountains. Currently, we are fixing up this old farm and are hoping to be as self-sufficient as possible in living off the land.
The Big Picture
The reason why I selected this study to review is that it serves as a great reminder that we all need to spend more time in nature. Just as we need air, water, and food we also need living green things around us. Our bodies weren’t designed to be trapped inside buildings.
My challenge to you this week is to either spend more time in nature or create more nature around you. Ideally, you will do both.
I would love to hear from you. How important has nature been to your health and happiness? Please leave your thoughts and questions below.
Just Thinking You Should Exercise More May Cause an Early Death
Do you ever feel like you should exercise more? If so, you may have just increased your risk of an early death by 71% according to a new Stanford study. In this article, I’ll review this latest study and offer practical tips to a more mindful approach to physical activity.
Like most young moms, Kristen had too many things on her plate. Trying to care for small children while at the same time meeting her employer’s demands and somehow also finding the time to get to the gym was too much.
She knew she should exercise more. However, there just were not enough hours in the day.
The guilt and shame that came from the feeling that she was slacking off on her exercise worried her. This worry ultimately led to heart palpitations, an emergency room visit, and then to a consultation with me.
Fortunately, all of Kristen’s tests came back normal. Knowing that her heart was still strong allowed me to help her develop a more practical and mindful approach to physical activity.
The I Should Exercise More Study
In another brilliant study on the mindfulness component to physical activity, Dr. Alia J. Crum and colleagues from Stanford University tackled the health risks that come from guilt and shame. To address these health risks, Dr. Crum studied 61,141 Americans over the course of 21 years.
In this study, Dr. Crum asked participants how they felt about the amount of exercise they were doing in comparison to others. Interestingly, those who felt that they just weren’t exercising enough were 71% more likely to die over the 21 years of the study.
What makes Dr. Crum’s study really interesting is that even if you were exercising, eating right, and maintaining a healthy weight, just thinking you were slacking off on your exercise increased your risk of dying prematurely. This study highlights the importance of a mindful approach to exercising. It also raises the possible dangers of a nocebo effect.
The Nocebo Effect
While everyone has heard of the placebo effect, many of you may not be aware of the flip side which is the nocebo effect. With the placebo effect, the mere thought that a food, supplement, medication, or procedure will help you causes it to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
For example, studies show that a “dummy pill” can actually be curative in up to 62% of cases. Studies like these highlight the untapped power of the mind to heal us.
However, their is a flip side to the placebo effect. It is called the nocebo effect. With the nocebo effect, people who believe that a food, supplement, medication, or procedure will harm them also causes it to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I see the nocebo effect everyday in my cardiology practice. People who are convinced that a treatment won’t work for them are generally right. Conversely, those people who are convinced that a treatment will work are also generally right.
While the mind can heal us it can also cause disease. This study from Dr. Crum and her team at Stanford University raises the question that the feeling we just don’t measure up when it comes to exercise may put our hearts and our lives at risk.
Eliminate the Word Exercise
I wish we could eliminate the word exercise from the English language. The problem is that when many people hear the word they immediately feel guilt and shame from not measuring up.
Too often, when we hear the word exercise we feel like we should be going to the gym more often. While hitting the gym is a great way to exercise, it is also a huge time commitment.
Most busy people that I know don’t have one to two extra hours to spend at the gym everyday. Not to mention the fact that many people, myself included, hate going to the gym.
Replace Exercise with Physical Activity
The solution is to replace the word exercise with physical activity. Physical activity doesn’t carry all of the guilt and shame that exercise does. It is also something that is much more practical.
For example, if the goal is physical activity then you will probably be much more likely to take the stairs, rather than the elevator. Also, if the goal is physical activity then you will be much more likely to walk over to a colleague or a neighbor than to use the phone, email, or a text message.
With a mindfulness based approach, we can reengineer physical activity back into our lives. Exercise is modern day phenomenon. Historically, our ancestors didn’t exercise. Rather, they were just physically active throughout the day.
Physical Activity in China’s Longevity Village
If you were to ask any of the centenarians in China’s longevity village what they do for exercise, they would look at you like you were crazy. No one exercised in the village. It never even occurred to them that they should be exercising.
The people in Longevity Village were physically active throughout the day. From the moment the sun rose until it set at night, their lives were in a state of continual motion. This perpetual physical activity helped them to escape most of the medical conditions that plague us in the modern world.
To better understand the people in China’s Longevity Village, as well as to learn the seven principles that may allow you to thrive to age 100 and beyond, please read our new book, The Longevity Plan.
As the thought I should exercise more may put you at risk of an early death, let me offer a few practical tips.
1. Set realistic expectations.
If you have a young family and a busy job, it will be hard for you to get to the gym. Likewise, if you are older and have mobility issues, it will also be hard for you to make it to the gym.
Rather than beat yourself up about not exercising enough, set realistic expectations. Start first with the simple things you can do to reengineer physical activity back into your life.
For example, if you have young children could you push them in a jogger stroller or pull them in a bike trailer? If your children are older, could you go on family bike rides?
At work, could you commit to never taking the elevator again? In addition, could you set your smartwatch or smartphone to remind you to get up and walk every 30 minutes?
At home, could you get rid of the TV remote control? Even better, could you either get rid of your TV or replace your couch with a treadmill? This would at least force you move your body more.
The key for busy people is to make the world “your gym.” If you view the world as your gym then it won’t be hard to reengineer physical activity back into your life.
2. Give yourself credit for what you are already doing.
Many people are too hard on themselves. Just like the 61,000 people in Dr. Crum’s study, many people are always comparing themselves to others.
Just because your friend is always wearing their workout clothes doesn’t mean they are any healthier than you are. Stop comparing yourself to other people.
Carrying a young child in your arms all day long may be a better work out than lifting weights at the gym. Likewise, walking up the stairs to the tenth floor may be a much better workout than the stair master or elliptical machines at the gym. Even the movements of yard work or house work may be as effective as stretching at the gym.
The importance of giving yourself credit for the physical activity you are already doing was brought home in a previous study by Dr. Crum. In this study, she studied hotel housekeepers.
These hotel housekeepers had a physically demanding job. Despite all of the physical activity associated with their jobs, they didn’t give themselves credit for this physical activity in their minds. Thus, they suffered from a myriad of chronic medical conditions.
However, once Dr. Crum educated them about the huge amounts of physical activity they were already doing, everything turned around for them. Suddenly, many of their chronic medical conditions started going away. This study reminds us that for the full benefit of physical activity, we need to give ourselves credit for what we are already doing.
3. Track yourself.
Tracking brings awareness. For many of us, life is kind of a blur.
Studies show that the mere act of tracking your steps subconsciously increases your daily step count by 2,491 steps! When you do the math, 2,491 steps translates into walking more than one extra mile each day.
I can’t think of an easier way to boost your physical activity. Just tracking yourself increases your daily walking by more than a mile with absolutely zero willpower required.
Long-term, tracking your physical activity could lead to the same scenario of “should exercise more.” With a more mindful approach to physical activity, you don’t need to track yourself forever. Just periodically check in to see if you are still on track.
As many people feel they should exercise more, probably an equally high number of people overestimate their physical activity. In my experience, not giving yourself enough credit and overestimating what you really are doing should both be avoided for optimal health and longevity.
What do you think?
What are your thoughts about this Stanford University study? Do you agree with their findings?
Please leave your thoughts and questions below. As always, I will do my very best to answer every question in a timely manner.
3 Reasons Why Reading Books Extends Lifespan by 2 Years
A recently published study of 3,635 people shows that reading books extends lifespan by two-years. Could longevity really be that easy? In this article, I’ll review this recent study and then share three reasons why this could actually work.
Reading Books Extends Lifespan Study
Dr. Becca R. Levy and colleagues from Yale University came up with a most fascinating study. As it is well known that education extends life, Dr. Levy and her team wanted to know if there is something about reading that could also add extra years to your life.
To answer these questions, they studied 3,635 people over the course of 12 years. Their main finding in this study was that those people reading books more than 30 minutes a day lived 23% longer. This 23% better survival translated into two extra years of life.
As these types of observational studies are not always accurate, Dr. Levy wanted to make sure they weren’t missing anything big that could possibly skew their results. To this end, they statistically controlled for age, sex, race, education, other medical problems, self-rated health, wealth, marital status, and depression.
Interestingly, they found that what you choose to read matters. For example, those people who read newspapers, magazines, and other things didn’t live any longer than did the non-readers in this study.
Lastly, not only did reading books extend lifespan but the quality of their life was also improved. Book readers enjoyed much better cognitive function over the 12-years of the study when compared to those who read other things or didn’t read at all.
3 Reasons Why Reading Books Extends Lifespan
How is it that reading books extends lifespan? What makes books so special? While there are no clear answers yet, I personally have three reasons why this might be the case.
1. Stress Reduction
Most people read books for pleasure and enjoyment. And, as a byproduct of reading, most people become entranced in their book and forget about their daily stresses. Thus, stress reduction could be the reason why book readers lived longer in this study.
For example, studies show that people who perceive that their lives are always stressful age their telomeres by 10 years. In other words, chronic stress may shorten your life by 10 years.
If a good book can help you reduce stress then that could help explain why reading books extends lifespan. It could also help answer why the potentially stress inducing newspapers and magazines don’t seem to extend life.
2. Cognitive Training
Reading a good book trains the mind. Books require a form of deep concentration. Book readers have to focus on the words, sentence structures, and then draw conclusions that relate to their personal lives.
All of this cognitive training may provide a survival advantage. For example, studies show that someone who has graduated from college is destined to live 9 years longer than someone who never graduated from high school.
When it comes to reading newspapers and magazines, very little brain power is required. Thus, cognitive training is largely absent when reading a newspaper or magazine. While this study didn’t explore Facebook or Internet reading, I suspect the cognitive benefit of Internet surfing is no different than that of a newspaper or magazine.
3. Increased Emotional Intelligence
Lastly, books may improve our emotional intelligence. In other words, as we are immersed in a good book it can enhance our empathy for others as we get into the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the characters in the book. This increased emotional intelligence that comes from empathy may improve our own social connections and promote longevity.
For example, studies show that when it comes to longevity, real social connections may play a larger role than obesity or even smoking. As newspapers and magazines generally don’t foster increased empathy for others, they wouldn’t be expected to have the same survival benefit.
Fiction vs. Non-Fiction Books
One unanswered question from this study is does it matter if your book is fiction or non-fiction? Sadly, Dr. Levy and her team didn’t drill down to find out what types of books offer the greatest longevity benefit. Suffice it to say, both fiction and non-fiction books were included in this study.
Do Audiobooks and Kindle Books Also Offer a Survival Advantage?
Another unanswered question is does the book have to be a traditional book in order to count for a longer lifespan? Personally, I hope it doesn’t matter how you digest the book. As an avid listener of audiobooks during my daily workout and commute, I’m counting on these extra two years of life.
Take Home Message
The key take away from this study is that reading books for more than 30 minutes daily may lengthen your life by two years. In my opinion, reading books has to be one of the easiest ways to extend your life. Whether this life extension benefit is due to stress reduction, cognitive training, or increased emotional intelligence, it isn’t clear yet.
In addition to a longer life, reading books may also help you to enjoy life more. As was observed in this study, book reading not only extended life but also improved cognitive function.
Of course, while it seems very plausible that reading books extends lifespan, this should be taken with a grain of salt. As this was an observational study, there could be many other reasons why book readers live longer.
What is your take on the longevity benefit from book reading? Please leave your thoughts and questions below. As always, I’ll do my best to respond to every question as quickly as I can.
Do Artificial Sweeteners Really Cause Weight Gain?
Once again, artificial sweeteners dominated the medical news this week. This time it was from a study suggesting that artificial sweeteners might cause weight gain and heart disease. In this article, I’ll dissect the latest research and offer a practical approach to artificial sweeteners.
The Latest Artificial Sweetener Study
I really liked the quality of this latest study. The researchers did a great job of trying to make sense of every study that has ever been published about artificial sweeteners.
While most health conscientious people consider artificial sweeteners as harmful, the health food industry has gravitated to stevia as a “healthy” alternative. Fortunately, this study also included stevia.
To make sense of every credible artificial sweetener study that has ever been published, researchers divided these studies into two groups. The first group consisted of randomized controlled trials or RCTs.
RCTs are considered the very most accurate type of a medical study you can do. In RCTs, researchers randomly divide the participants into two groups. This way, you can minimize confounding factors that might give you the wrong results. In this study, researchers included 7 RCTs involving a total of 1,003 people who were then followed closely for an average of six months.
In contrast, this study also reported the results of 30 observational studies involving 405,907 people who were followed for an average of 10 years. While these observational studies aren’t very accurate, they can raise questions about the long-term safety of artificial sweeteners.
What Do RCTs Tell Us About Artificial Sweeteners
From the 1,003 people included from seven randomized controlled trials (RCTs), this study reported that when it comes to weight gain, artificial sweeteners are neutral. In other words, they don’t cause people to gain or lose weight.
Interestingly, when you look at all the studies published from the artificial sweetener companies, these studies almost always show that people lose weight. However, when you look at studies that are not sponsored by artificial sweetener companies, there generally is no weight loss from artificial sweeteners.
Thus, if you can’t give up your daily Diet Coke habit, then you can hold fast to the results from RCTs. At least when you look at the health effects of artificial sweeteners out to six months, they don’t appear to cause weight gain.
However, because RCTs are very costly to do, follow up periods tend to be very short. Thus, with this average follow up of just six months, it is impossible to know if artificial sweeteners put you at risk for other diseases, like diabetes or heart disease.
As you know, most people don’t just drink Diet Coke for six months. Rather, they tend to drink it over a lifetime. This is where the less accurate but long-term observational studies can be helpful.
What Do Observational Studies Tell Us About Artificial Sweeteners?
While artificial sweeteners, including stevia, looked relatively harmless in the six month long randomized controlled trials (RCTs), the results were quite frightening when you look at the 10 year observational studies. Indeed, the 30 observational studies involving 405,907 people paint a completely different picture of artificial sweeteners.
The observational studies clearly linked artificial sweeteners to weight gain over time. Not only do these studies report weight gain but they also show that artificial sweeteners may increase your risk of diabetes by 30%!
If diabetes wasn’t frightening enough, these observational studies also report a 13% increased risk of high blood pressure, a 26% increased risk of a stroke, and a 32% increased risk of heart disease! Clearly, these are all conditions that will shorten your life.
Do You Believe the RCTs or Observational Studies?
So which studies do you believe? Do you believe the very accurate six month small studies which show that artificial sweeteners don’t seem to pose much risk or do you believe the less accurate 10 year long big studies which link artificial sweeteners to many scary diseases?
The truth is that when it comes to your health and longevity, we just don’t understand the long-term effects of these chemicals. Even the “healthy” stevia didn’t do any better than the other artificial sweeteners in this study.
While artificial sweeteners might be “less bad” for you than sugar, that certainly doesn’t make them health foods. When I try to put our “modern foods” into perspective, I like to think about what they would do in Longevity Village.
Artificial Sweeteners in the Longevity Village Diet
It probably goes without saying that you’d be hard-pressed to find a can of soda on a Longevity Villager’s dinner table. Largely because of advertising we’ve been exposed to since childhood, not to mention the addictive combo punch of sugar and caffeine, a lot of people have convinced themselves that their Coke-a-day habit is little more than a minor health indiscretion.
In fact, just a single can of soda pop each day can put you at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and overall poor health. If there was an illegal drug that did all these things, we’d call it a menace to society. But because so many of us associate fizzy drinks with the frivolity of childhood, we treat a global health scourge like a treasured friend.
My “buddy drink” was Diet Coke. And while I never assumed it was healthy, I justified my habit by telling myself that it was healthier for me than a regular soft drink. After all, Diet Coke doesn’t have any sugar. And that, I figured, meant it was “less bad.”
Magan, one of the village centenarians we met in our recently published book, The Longevity Plan, was the one who put “less bad” into perspective for me. “If something is bad it is bad,” she said. “Even if the damage is not very much right now, it builds up over time. These are the most dangerous kinds of habits.”
When we make the switch from regular sodas to so-called diet drinks, we might be abusing ourselves a tad less, but we’re not actually doing ourselves any good. What’s worse, because we feel as though we’ve taken steps toward a healthier life, we’ve slowed and sometimes halted progress toward the elimination of unhealthy consumables, which should, of course, be our ultimate goal.
Of course, all of this is assuming that diet drinks are, in fact, less bad for us. And while some would say so the jury is still deliberating on that question, I’d argue we haven’t even finished the trial yet. We’ve been studying artificial sweeteners for more than 140 years, but every year researchers discover something new. What we do know, though, is that these substances may have a similar effect on our metabolism and gut flora as high fructose corn syrup.
Such findings shouldn’t really be that surprising. Most artificial sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than natural sugar. When we expose our bodies to such extremes, we should expect extreme reactions.
That’s not just a lesson when it comes to drinks. There’s simply no extra sugar in the traditional village diet. There are so many foods out there that already pack a sweet punch in their natural state. Because villagers include these foods with almost every meal, they’re simply less inclined to seek out even more sugary foods.
Do You Want to Learn More?
Do you want to learn more about how to free yourself from medical conditions? If so, be sure to pick up a copy of our number 1 Amazon best selling book, The Longevity Plan. This book summarizes everything I have learned from my own health journey and will help you to enjoy great health to age 100!
Until next week’s article, what is your take on artificial sweeteners? Have you found them hard to give up?
Please leave your thoughts and questions below. I’ll do my best to quickly respond to every question posted. Also, if you haven’t yet signed up for my free weekly newsletter and podcast, now would be a great time.
3 Reasons Why Meal Timing Matters for Health and Longevity
In our new book, The Longevity Plan, we report that living in rhythm is a key component for health and longevity. In this article, I share the latest research showing why meal timing, or eating in rhythm, can allow you to eat more without gaining weight, prevent heart problems, and possibly even extend your life.
What is Meal Timing?
Just as it is important to sleep at approximately the same time each day, so too is eating at about the same time each day. Emerging research shows that eating according to your natural circadian rhythm can optimize your body weight, prevent heart issues, and promote longevity. In contrast, eating “out of rhythm” can set you up for a life of health struggles.
Longevity Village Meal Timing
“My life is simple. Because of this, it is easy to know when something is out of balance.”
Maxue, one of many centenarians we met in Longevity Village, rose each morning with the sun. And by the time it had crested over the lush, green mountains, she had finished her simple breakfast of porridge and vegetables.
She ate her midday meal at about the same time each day, and it always consisted of the vegetables, fruit, legumes, or possibly fish that had been gathered and harvested that morning. In the evening, she would sit down for a light and early dinner with her family.
The only exception came during Chinese New Year, when the workload was lighter, the meals were bigger and the nights were longer. Even this, though, came in rhythm.
In the fall of 2012 when we first met, Maxue was 103. She, like everyone else in the Village, had lived a life of almost perfect rhythm. And although she had been confined to a wheelchair for nearly a year following a fall that broke her hip, she was in good spirits.
When I asked if she had any other medical problems, Maxue laughed. “This is the first thing that has been wrong with me that I can remember,” she said. “Until my fall, I had not needed a doctor in my life.”
I marveled at this as I checked her pulse. It was strong and steady, and I told her so.
Still, Maxue told me, she sensed she wouldn’t be alive much longer. And if these were her final days, she said, that was fine. She would rise each day with the sun, as she always had, and make the most of the time she had left. She would spend her time with her family and continue her work. She would live out her time with the same rhythm of life she’d always maintained.
“We are not supposed to be here forever,” she said. “It is very good to have a long and healthy life. And when it comes to an end that is good, too. That is part of the rhythm of our lives.” Sadly, Maxue died peacefully at home a few months after we met.
Keeping Your Heart in Rhythm
As a cardiologist, I have a privileged perspective on the importance of rhythm in our lives. No matter how often I look at a person’s heart, be it in surgery or through an echocardiogram, I never cease to be amazed at what this exquisitely designed organ does throughout our lives.
To do this so well, and for so long, our hearts must stay in near-perfect harmony with our bodies. The heart must speed up when we need more blood and slow down when that need has run its course.
Most people’s hearts beat about 100,000 times each day. Think of what that means when it comes to reliability. Can you imagine anything that, having been used more than 35 million times in a year, is likely to be just as good at what it does next year as it is right now?
When you think of it that way, it’s really quite astounding how rarely things go wrong. But sometimes they do. One of the most common problems is when the heart falls out of rhythm and the upper chambers are no longer beating in synchrony with the ventricles. When this happens, it is usually due to a heart rhythm abnormality called atrial fibrillation.
As a significant percentage of my cardiology practice is dedicated to atrial fibrillation, every day I have the opportunity of helping people to get their hearts back into rhythm. While drugs and procedures can help, they usually don’t work long-term unless people also work to get their lives back into rhythm as well. And when it comes to getting your life back into rhythm, meal timing, as well as sleep timing, play an important role.
3 Reasons Why Meal Timing Matters for Health and Longevity
Based on the latest research, optimizing your meal timing may allow you to eat more without gaining weight, prevent heart challenges, and it may even give you some extra quality years of life.
1. Meal Timing Allows You to Eat More without Gaining Weight
In a fascinating study, researchers from Tel Aviv University showed for the first time in a high quality study that meal timing optimizes body weight. In this study, researchers enrolled 93 overweight women and then randomized them to one of two groups for three months.
One group ate most of their allotted calories in the morning while the other group ate most of their portioned calories in the evening. Even though both groups ate the same foods, with the same total number of calories, those who “preloaded” their calories in the morning lost 2.5 times more weight.
Not only did consuming most of their calories in the morning turbo charge weight loss, it also dramatically reduced triglyceride levels, optimized blood sugar levels, and took away their hunger. In contrast, the late eaters struggled with weight loss, had high triglyceride levels, threw off their glucose and insulin metabolism, and were always hungry.
Once again, even though they ate the same food with the same number of total calories, meal timing determined their body weight and health. If you are already at your ideal weight, then meal timing could allow you to eat more without gaining weight.
2. Meal Timing Prevents Heart Disease
With the ever increasing number of studies showing that meal timing determines body weight, cholesterol levels, and whether or not someone gets diabetes and heart disease, the American Heart Association recently published a scientific document reaffirming how important meal timing is for optimal cardiovascular health. Quite remarkably, this American Heart Association report cited 138 well-done scientific studies supporting the importance of meal timing or eating in rhythm.
3. Meal Timing May Extend Life Through Intermittent Fasting
Having a light and early dinner, without a pre-bedtime snack, is probably the easiest way to lose weight and practice intermittent fasting. By going 12 or more hours without anything to eat in the evening, you allow your body’s metabolism to stay in rhythm. In addition, intermittent fasting also stimulates many DNA repair mechanisms that may help to prevent cancer and extend life.
While we don’t yet have human studies showing that intermittent fasting extends life, animal data certainly exists. For example, one study showed that rats live 83% longer when they have no choice but to practice intermittent fasting.
Take Home Message
The main takeaway of this article is that rhythm matters for health and longevity. Just as it is important to have your heart in rhythm, it is also important to live your life in rhythm. Even meal timing, or eating in rhythm, is important.
This is what they have done in Longevity Village for millennia without ever thinking about it. It just made sense for them to live all aspects of their lives in rhythm.
People who try to live their life outside of their body’s natural circadian rhythm put themselves at risk. Indeed, studies show that circadian rhythm disruption increases your risk of heart disease by 40%. While sleep timing is critical for living in rhythm, meal timing may be every bit as important as well.
My challenge to you this week is to try meal timing. Of course, if you suffer from diabetes or any other medical condition, please discuss meal timing with your physician first.
The easiest way to practice meal timing is to simply preload your calories earlier in the day and finish your day with a light and early dinner. As everyone’s schedule is different, the timing of your light and early dinner may vary. Regardless of when this occurs, try to finish eating at least by 7 pm.
Do you practice meal timing? What has your experience of eating in rhythm been?
Please leave your thoughts and questions below. I’ll do my very best to answer each and every question within 24 to 48 hours.
Also, if you want to learn more about living a life in rhythm, please be sure to buy a copy of our #1 Amazon best selling book, The Longevity Plan.
The Longevity Plan Reviews
The book critics loved The Longevity Plan. Getting great Longevity Plan reviews is quite impressive given that book critics generally don’t care for health and wellness books. Readers have also given great Longevity Plan reviews as witnessed by the book sitting for weeks as the #1 best seller on Amazon.
The Longevity Plan is Unlike Any Other Book
Perhaps the reason why the Longevity Plan reviews have been so strong is because The Longevity Plan is unlike any other book. It just isn’t another health or longevity book.
This probably explains why Amazon has classified it as a China travel related book and Audible put it in their spirituality category. Yes, there are definitely elements of both.
In The Longevity Plan, we take the readers to a remote village in the mountains of Southwest China, near the Vietnam border, which has the highest known concentration of centenarians in the world. This isolated village, has now come to be known as Longevity Village.
Here, aging slows to a crawl. People don’t grow old and they don’t get sick. They don’t need doctors and they don’t take medications. They also are not on a diet, don’t gain weight, and don’t go to the gym.
Our research team has done extensive interviews, physical examinations, and even genetic studies on the residents of Longevity Village. The Longevity Plan shares their 7 secrets to enjoying great health and happiness at age 100 and beyond.
In The Longevity Plan, we also explore the mindfulness and spirituality component of Longevity Village. Based on our research findings, their optimism, mindfulness, and spirituality was every bit as important as their diet and physical activity when it comes to excellent health at age 100.
The Longevity Plan Summary
For a great summary of the Longevity Plan, the New York Post ran an excellent piece. Their article, titled “The Secret to Living Past 100 Can Be Found in this Remote Chinese Village,” briefly shares the seven lessons we learned from Longevity Village.
The Longevity Plan Book Trailer
If you want to see Longevity Village, and even meet some of its centenarians, then you won’t want to miss the 4-minute video book trailer of The Longevity Plan.
What the Book Critics Say About The Longevity Plan
Of all the positive Longevity Plan reviews we received, my favorite is by book critic, Tony Miksanek. Tony Miksanek writes, “Listening to their stories feels like a dinner conversation between Henry David Thoreau, a Zen master, and Dr. Andrew Weil. Scrumptious. Inspiring.”
I also loved the title that Janet Tapper, writing for the Library Journal Reviews, gave to her Longevity Plan review. Her title was “Changing Your Life Expectancy.” In her review she wrote, “A universally appealing book for those interested in good health and life extension through natural living and a positive attitude.”
Publishers Weekly reported the following in their review of The Longevity Plan: “While not the first book to highlight the healthy habits of long-lived folks, this new offering is highly readable, thoughtful, and inspiring.”
The Kirkus book review wrote the following of The Longevity Plan: “Practical, applicable health guidance validated by a remarkable collective of revered Chinese elders.”
As you might imagine, my Longevity Plan review will be rather biased. That is because the 7 lessons we learned have forever changed my life. These 7 lessons have helped me lose 35 pounds without trying, cut my cholesterol numbers in half, and lowered by blood pressure by 30 points. They also helped me to get off of the five prescription medications I used to take.
Not only has The Longevity Plan forever changed my health but it has also forever changed the health of thousands of my patients and blog readers as well. And it can change your life as well. If you haven’t yet purchased your copy, do so now by following this link to the book on Amazon.
The Longevity Plan
I never thought I would write a book. Much less, I never imagined that this book, The Longevity Plan, would sit for weeks as the number one Amazon best seller just from book pre-orders alone or be featured in world-wide publications like the Wall Street Journal.
The Longevity Plan came almost by accident. Six year ago I had lost my health. Even as a Stanford University trained cardiologist at the top of my field, I was taking five different medications just to get me through the day.
Something had to change. Not only for me but for the lives of thousands of my patients who also felt horrible taking many mediations.
The seven lessons we learned from China’s Longevity Village not only cured me naturally from the many medical conditions I was suffering from but have also helped thousands of my patients, blog readers, and podcast listeners as well.
The Longevity Plan represents five years of research and writing. In this book you will find everything you need to reverse or prevent any medical condition you may be facing. Better yet, you will feel much more energetic, stronger, and happier than you do today.
On July 4th, The Longevity Plan will be released. If you have not yet ordered your copy, do so now by clicking on this link. You will never regret this decision!
As The Longevity Plan has not yet been released, I would like to share an excerpt from the beginning of the book with you…
The Longevity Plan
By mid-morning the doughnuts would be gone.
That fact was an essential part of my planning each day as I prepared my breakfast in the doctor’s lounge at the hospital where I work. I’d always grab a doughnut, a bagel, and a Diet Coke. Then I’d grab a second doughnut, wrap it in a napkin, and stash it in a cabinet just outside of the operating room.
My colleagues laughed and rolled their eyes. I just shrugged. It all seemed perfectly rational to me.
My Life as a Cardiologist
My days as a cardiologist were filled with pacemaker implantations, procedures to three-dimensionally “map and zap” potentially fatal heart arrhythmias, and defibrillator surgeries. In between I’d snack.
Lunch on most days was a slice of pizza, or two, and another Diet Coke. On long days, I dined in the hospital cafeteria on a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate chip cookie.
I knew these weren’t good food choices. But I told myself, given my hectic schedule, I didn’t have time for anything else.
Besides, I justified, many other doctors also partook of the free junk food at the hospital, and all of them seemed reasonably healthy. And my hospital was just like all the others I’d ever worked in or visited. At Johns Hopkins University where I graduated from medical school. At Stanford University where I did my residency in internal medicine and fellowships in cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology. As an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Utah. At nearly every hospital I’d visited as a guest lecturer. If this is the kind of food offered to doctors all over the country, I reasoned, it couldn’t be that bad.
I Thought Exercise Could Fix a Bad Diet
I always figured I was making up for it with exercise. I was a religious runner—a marathoner, no less—and had been for twenty years. It’s one thing to eat healthy and be able to run 26.2 miles. I was eating trash and was still able to do it. Surely, I told myself, that wasn’t just an indication I was healthy, it was an indication I was more than healthy.
Except I wasn’t. Not even close.
Life Was Too Busy
It wasn’t just what I ate; it was how I lived. I worked too many hours. I took too few vacation days. I didn’t spend nearly enough time with my family. I spent a lot of time considering my productivity, and not much time contemplating my purpose. Life was a bit of a blur.
I was overweight, overworked, hypertensive, and had a cholesterol level much higher than it should have been. I was tired and stressed all the time.
I was also in constant pain. There was pain in my chest from acid reflux. There was pain in my back and neck from an autoimmune disease called ankylosing spondylitis. Food often became lodged in my esophagus from a condition called eosinophilic esophagitis, which made it difficult for me to swallow.
Many of these conditions ran in my family. And so I blamed my genes. I figured there wasn’t much sense in trying to fight it. This was just part of getting old. This was my lot in life.
I took five medications daily. And that helped . . . a bit . . . for a while.
I Dreamed of Retirement
At forty-four years old, I found myself daydreaming about retirement. Someday I’d settle down and life would be good again. Or maybe it would just be less bad. That was the same thing, wasn’t it?
In the meantime: One more busy week. One more missed vacation. One more doughnut.
I don’t particularly enjoy talking about the way I was back then, but my hope is that, in coming clean about my challenges, you’ll come to see that the health struggles you’ve faced in your life can be resolved with a few minor course corrections. Forgive me if I shed a bit of modesty here to drive this point home, but I’m a good doctor.
I’ve recently been named the president of the Heart Rhythm Society, an international organization of thousands of cardiologists in more than seventy countries. Over my twenty-year career I’ve performed more than 6,000 catheter ablations and more than 3,000 pacemaker or defibrillator implantations. I’ve treated tens of thousands of patients.
I had access to more information about healthy living than most people could ever dream of, and all the resources I needed to make changes. In spite of all of that, I was still confused about what I should be doing to get myself back on track to a happier and healthier life. So whether this is the first time you’ve ever considered making changes to your life to improve your health or you’ve been trying for years, you’re in good company.
Find Your Longevity Plan
And the truth is that even though I’ve turned my life around in a way that feels to me and my family like a miracle, I’m not here to peddle miracles, least of all by telling you that you should do everything I did, because it doesn’t work that way. Everyone’s a bit different, and some of us are a lot different.
So what I’d like to do is help you figure out what works for you. Regardless of our individual circumstances, there do exist basic principles of well-being that can lead us all to a better life, but you get to choose how to adapt these principles in your own journey.
And on that journey, I’d be pleased to be your guide.
The Longevity Village Centenarians
Not by myself, though. In these pages, I’m going to introduce you to some of the world’s most qualified people on the subject of living longer, healthier, and happier lives. Their names are Boxin, Magan, Maxue, Mawen, Masongmou, Makun, and Makang.
In 2012, they were the seven centenarians of Bapan, a village in southwest China, not far from the Vietnamese border, that rests in the middle of a region with one of the highest known concentrations of people over the age of one hundred anywhere in the world. These six women and one man have lived by these basic principles of well-being without ever thinking about it. It’s simply part of their lives.
I’m not only going to tell you how they live today, because no one wants to live like a centenarian, no matter how healthy they might be. I’m also going to tell you how they lived throughout their lives. I’ll also introduce you to some of the other people, from every generation, who live, laugh, love, and work in this remarkable place. Together, these people have helped me shape my ideas on well-being, and those ideas, in turn, have helped me help lots of my patients be well.
The Longevity Plan Changed My Patients’ Lives
In 2014, I began a series of four-month support groups comprising patients who worked together to apply the lessons of Longevity Village to their lives. Even having come to believe strongly in the power of the Longevity Village lifestyle, I was astonished by the results; 92 percent of the participants were able to adhere to their plans and stay on pace to reach their health goals.
These are people who often had abused their bodies for years, had decades upon decades of bad health habits, and often had no real support at home. Despite these challenges, most have been able to reverse at least some of their chronic medical conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, atrial fibrillation, insomnia, fatigue, acid reflux, heart failure, and high cholesterol.
I’ve seen similar outcomes among hundreds of other individual patients who have embraced these lessons. After launching a website dedicated to helping people live happier and healthier lives, people from around the world have shared with me their stories of radical personal transformation. And, of course, my own life stands in testament to the effectiveness of this model; it has been completely transformed.
Why Does It Work?
Why does it work? Janine, a 41-year-old programmer from San Francisco, was battling obesity and some associated heart irregularities when she first came to see me. In nine months, her weight was down more than 45 pounds and her heart troubles were sub-diagnostic, as though they’d never occurred at all.
“For me,” she wrote six months into her Longevity Village journey, “this way of living just feels right. It’s hard to explain, but it’s almost like this is the way we would all be living if our ancestors had just recognized that, as we modernized, we couldn’t simply leave everything that was good about the old ways behind.”
With those words, Janine eloquently shared something I’d had a bit of trouble expressing when I was first explaining this health model to my patients. The Longevity Village lifestyle isn’t about living like people in a remote part of China did in the past; it’s about living in the modern world with a bit of ancient wisdom to guide our way toward happier, healthier futures.
The Story Behind the Longevity Plan
I came to learn about Bapan almost by accident. When I was nineteen-years old, as part of my faith, I’d spent two years working with the Chinese immigrant population in New York City. Until that point, I didn’t know the first thing about China. I didn’t know anything about its rich history or cultural traditions. I didn’t know a word of Mandarin. I didn’t even like Chinese food.
But during that amazing time in my life, I came to adore the language, the culture, and the people I lived with and worked among. Long after I returned home to Utah from New York, I remained fascinated by China, and continued working to develop my language skills, such that today I am one of few Caucasian doctors who regularly gives medical lectures in Chinese.
I’m told my accent isn’t half bad. “You’re like a proper Běijīng rén,” a friend from China’s capital city told me recently, using the words that describe a resident of Beijing. I beamed with pride.
Mandarin isn’t an easy language to master, though, and thirty years after first learning how to say nǐ hǎo with appropriate intonation, I’m still working on it. So each week, over a video conference call, I meet with my Mandarin language coach, Zheng Lv, who lives in Xi’an, the starting point of the northern route of the famed Silk Road and the home of Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s incredible Terracotta Army.
As we chat, Zheng helps correct my tones and pronunciation, and sometimes introduces me to new words and Chinese concepts. Our sessions together are generally conversations, prompted by something we’ve heard about in the Chinese or American news media, and sometimes I tell her about an article of particular interest I’ve read in a Chinese or American medical journal.
That’s what happened in 2012, when I mentioned to Zheng an article I’d read about the Bama County Centenarian Study, which had been published in a Chinese medical journal. At the time I was exploring the literature on how certain groups of people, living in certain ways, seem to be defying the conventional laws of aging.
When I mentioned the article, Zheng told me she’d just seen a TV program about this region of China, where people reportedly live remarkably long lives free of the conditions that typically come with aging. The village of Bapan, Zheng said, was getting quite a bit of attention in China. “They say the land has magical properties,” she told me. “In China they now call this place Longevity Village.”
The Longevity Village
Longevity Village, I learned, was a small, poor and remote town of just a few hundred people in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. I’d never been to that part of China before, but I knew that rural villages in China’s more remote areas often suffered from a lack of quality medical services.
I also knew that, in general across the world, poor people don’t tend to live as long and often have poorer health than people who live in more developed areas. Yet if what I was learning was true, none of that seemed to matter. Through happiness and hardship, into their eighties, nineties, and one hundreds, with few modern conveniences and even less medical intervention, the people of Bapan survive and thrive.
Over time, Zheng and I would return to the subject of Bapan again and again. I’d tell her what I’d been learning in my studies of the medical literature, and she would tell me what she was hearing about this area in China’s popular media. I felt like I simply couldn’t get enough information.
“Qǐng duō gàosù wǒ yīdiǎn,” I’d say to her. “Please, tell me more.”
Zheng probably wondered why I was so obsessed. What she didn’t know was that I’d finally hit a health crisis and the solutions I’d tried simply weren’t working. My conditions had worsened. My pain had, too. I couldn’t run like I used to, so I was putting on even more weight. At the end of each day at the hospital I felt exhausted, but at night I was restless. I was tired all the time, so I was irritable.
I’d lost hope.
Bit by bit, though, I was finding glimpses of it in what I was learning about Longevity Village, and every time I’d find a new bit of research, or found another doctor who had done work in Bama County, I’d feel as though I was further unlocking some sort of magical treasure chest. For most of my life I’ve been an early-to-bed sort of guy, but I spent long hours, late into the night, hovered over my computer, poring over the Chinese medical literature in search of more information about Bapan.
It was my wife, who quickly came to share my excitement, who finally convinced me we needed to go.
So that’s what I did.
And it changed my life.
Our First Visit to Longevity Village
My first trip to Bapan came in the summer of 2012. With me, as she has been on all our excursions to Bama County, was my wife Jane. Joining us was our eldest son, Joshua, who was then nine years old.
We’d intended to arrive in the village the evening before, rest up, and head straight to the home of one of the village centenarians at first daylight. Getting to Longevity Village had proved to be a challenge, though. We’d faced torrential rains on narrow mountain roads as we moved deep into northwest Bama County only to find, as night fell and the thunder and lightning pounded the skies, that we’d been dropped off at the wrong village.
We stayed in a guesthouse and, when we awoke the next morning, learned we were not far from Bapan. We made our way there in a rickety three-wheeled moto-taxi, which dropped us off on the main road.
Day One in Longevity Village
I probably should have been tired after such a long trip. It had been a three-day journey from our home in the United States and, troubled by the notion that we’d already been steered off course, I hadn’t slept well the night before.
But as we stepped into the village and saw a welcome sign festooned with the photos of the village’s seven centenarians, I felt a surge of energy and excitement unlike anything I’d ever experienced. And as I looked around at my traveling companions it was clear they felt the same.
Underneath each photograph was a brief biography of each of the elders in Chinese characters. I translated the words for my wife and son.
“Some of these people were here a hundred years before I was even born!” Joshua marveled.
“Who should we meet first?” I asked.
“I’m dying to meet Boxin,” Jane replied, pointing to the weather-faded photograph of the man at the center of the sign. “Can we find him first?”
In Search of the Oldest Centenarian
Boxin, pronounced (bwo-sheen), was the oldest man in the village, purportedly having been born in 1898. He wasn’t hard to find. Everyone in the village knew who he was and where he lived, and they were anxious to take us to see him.
We were led first to a narrow set of concrete stairs leading from the village’s main road, along the riverfront, to a second flight of homes. A few of the houses seemed to be very old, little more than sticks and mud bricks. Many more, though, were newer. Albeit still quite simple, they were of wood, cement, and cinder block construction.
As we walked, a local villager told us Boxin had attained a kind of celebrity status in the region, and even throughout China. When we arrived at his modest home, though, it was clear that “celebrity” didn’t come with any Western-style monetary rewards.
We climbed a small set of stairs into the second story of the basic cement home. The front room was three-sided, sort of like a dollhouse in which parts of the interior are visible to anyone from the outside. We stepped through the open space and into a small entryway. No one appeared to be home, but I heard faint sounds coming from the interior. A moment later, one of Boxin’s relatives appeared outside.
The man’s face contorted into what I read to be a mixture of surprise and puzzlement. As had been the case throughout our journey to this place, I sensed that my family and I might have been some of the first Caucasians these rural Chinese had ever encountered.
“Hello,” I greeted him in Mandarin. “We’ve come here all the way from America and we wanted to see Boxin. Is he home?”
Upon hearing my Chinese, the man lit up.
“Yes, yes of course. He will be so excited to see you,” the man said.
The man, who introduced himself as Boxin’s grandson, told us that like most of the village elders Boxin didn’t speak Mandarin, but offered to translate between my Mandarin and his grandfather’s village dialect, called Zhuàng huà.
We were ushered deeper inside the house, past a small partition into a kind of waiting room. The sounds from inside grew more distinct. We made our introductions to more of Boxin’s family members. His great-grandchildren crowded around us, as eager to see and speak with us as I was to meet their patriarch.
We were then led into a larger living room area. In a corner, to my surprise, were a few youngsters watching television; my preconception of a village where everyone is so incredibly healthy was that it would be a place where no one sat around watching TV.
One of the great-grandchildren explained that because of the number of Chinese people who wanted to meet Boxin, they’d turned this space into a kind of reception area. Along one wall sat an ornate cushioned settee, what Joshua later described as a throne.
A colorful ceramic relief with mountains, trees, flying geese, and a tremendously large red Chinese hieroglyph, which I recognized as the symbol for longevity, served as a backdrop. No one occupied the central seat, but it was clear who would.
A large plaque bearing a government proclamation honoring the home’s ancient owner hung as though this was some kind of museum. Along that same wall, and several others, were photographs. Almost all depicted a man with a narrow face and small, dark eyes, usually wearing a round cap. In one photo the little old man was at the center of a table with six elderly women, three on each side, smiling and conversing.
The Village Centenarians are Thriving
“Those are all of the centenarians together,” the grandson explained.
My mind was having trouble registering what I was seeing. The people in the photograph looked as though perhaps they were in their mid-eighties.
“But this must have been very many years ago,” I said.
“Not at all,” the grandson replied. “That photograph was taken last year.”
I looked again at the photo and four smaller ones below it depicting the same meal. All of the people in the pictures were sitting perfectly upright. Each was balancing a bowl in one hand with chopsticks deftly perched in the other. They were smiling and laughing. One was rising from her chair, stretching out to reach for something across the table.
Jane’s attention was drawn to another room. She motioned to me. I stepped toward the doorway and heard a younger woman engaged in an animated conversation with someone. She seemed a bit exasperated, urging whoever she was speaking with to hurry up. A moment later, I got my first glimpse of Boxin.
Our First Meeting with Boxin
At a reported age of 114, he was the oldest person I’d ever seen, and the oldest person in this village, but instead of being seated in a wheelchair or residing in a bed, he was searching intently through a closet, then under his mattress, then back to the closet again. He moved with a fluidity and intensity that surprised me, bending and stooping, turning to respond to a woman who must have been one of his great-granddaughters.
He moved like our nine-year-old son! He bent at the waist, flexed his knees, and turned his head, with the freedom and energy of someone less than half his age. I didn’t hear the sort of grunting that accompanied nearly every one of my exertions.
When one of his great-granddaughters finally said, “American,” the spritely old man froze. He stood fully erect and turned to look at us and his face exploded into a wide smile. He reached out to Jane and, holding her hands in his, exclaimed, “Americans! We are friends! China and America are friends!”
“Yes!”, Jane responded enthusiastically in her best Mandarin, “We are friends!”
As we walked to the reception room, I learned something remarkable from one of Boxin’s great-grandsons. Even after Boxin had passed the hundred-year mark, he had continued to work in the fields, and was the extended family’s main provider of food and income. Long after many of his fellow centenarians had stopped this kind of work Boxin had continued to do arduous labor.
“Only in the past two years has he slowed down a little bit,” the great grandson said.
I chuckled at that. Boxin’s “slow” mode was considerably quicker than many people’s “fast.”
Several minutes later, Boxin returned, smoothing his traditional changshan and black trousers.
“Come,” he said. “We will eat.”
I would have been perfectly content to simply sit and talk with Boxin for hours to come, but our relationship began with an invitation to share food. And that, I believe, is a very good place for relationships to begin.
Start with Real Food
I think that was the very first thing Boxin taught me. Nourishment is, after all, the beginning of everything else we do. If we’re going to do something radical, such as resolving to live longer, happier, healthier lives, it should begin with what we eat.
That’s where this book will begin, but this is a not a diet book, especially if you think of a diet as a plan that limits the amount of food you can eat. Instead, this is a story about a village where eating real food, and plenty of it, is just part of a lifestyle where no one stresses out about living long, healthy, and happy lives. They just do it.
And if they can, all of us can.
My Failed Attempts to Lose Weight
Like almost everyone else in the United States, I’d tried a lot of different diets and exercise regimens over the years, without much success or benefit. I’d consulted fellow doctors and nutritionists. Everyone seemed to have a different answer for me.
But everything began to change as I came to know the villagers of Bapan.
Here was a place where people age very slowly and don’t struggle with diets or obesity. It’s a place where people in their nineties and even one hundreds are often still out in their gardens and farm plots, growing their own organic food.
It’s a place where there is virtually no heart disease or cancer. It’s a place where dementia is all but unheard of. And because of these and other factors, it’s a place where people have an optimistic outlook on growing old. In fact, the oldest people in the village were the most adamant that life just keeps getting better with age.
They Don’t Get Sick in Longevity Village
To be honest, all of this was a bit destabilizing for me. It stood in stark contrast to much of what I’d learned at Johns Hopkins and Stanford. In those places, I’d been taught that chronic medical problems were just part of aging and that we have medications and surgeries to treat these conditions. In this way of looking at life, a painful decline was pretty much inevitable; all we could do was make it more tolerable.
This was also in line with the hundreds of medical studies, abstracts, and book chapters I have published over the years on cardiovascular disease, strokes, and dementia. All along I had just considered these conditions to be a normal part of the aging process.
As a cardiologist specializing in the treatment of atrial fibrillation, a condition most often brought on by our modern lifestyle, high blood pressure, and obesity, I was treating thousands of patients with that same logic. Lots of medication. Lots of procedures. Lifestyle changes that accommodated their ailments, rather than addressing the root problems.
Bapan was like a tonic to all of that.
Longevity Village’s Centenarians
At the time of my first visit, there were only about 550 people living in Bapan. Not surprisingly, the number of centenarians fluctuates from time to time as the eldest residents die, quickly and peacefully in their sleep, in most cases, and the relatively large number of people in their tenth decade cross the threshold into their 100s. Conservatively, though, there’s usually at least 1 centenarian for every 100 people living there.
It’s one thing to live long, but in the time I’ve spent with the folks who live in Bapan, I’ve learned that these people don’t just survive into old age; they thrive in every way. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually.
Here, the elderly rarely need medications or surgeries and they don’t hobble around or live in nursing homes. They’re active, engaged members of their communities. They take walks. They work in the fields. They greet visitors. They play mahjong. They cook and clean for themselves and others. They take care of children.
They even do kung fu! To witness, as I have, a 110-year-old woman walking down the street throwing kicks and chops is a wondrous experience.
This is what makes Bapan so fascinating, and what makes the lessons its residents can share with us so important. Because, while I was certainly interested in meeting these centenarians, I wasn’t that taken by the mythical status of attaining one hundred years on the planet.
To me, longevity wasn’t a goal but an indicator. Surely, in order to grow so old, the people in Bapan must have been doing something to stay healthy, not just in their final years but throughout their lives. I wanted to know what it was. I wanted to know how they lived, what they ate, how they exercised, and what their environment looked like. And if they were doing something so right, maybe I could, too.
They Never Needed a Doctor
After all, most of the living centenarians in Bama County reached their eighties and nineties without ever having been to see a doctor, let alone visit a hospital. While they do have health care services available to them, now, that’s a relatively recent development; it has only been within the past ten years that they’ve had access to modern doctors.
Before the late 1990s, when this village slowly became known throughout China, the average income was about 120 yuan; that’s roughly $20 a year. For the vast majority of their lives, these villagers received no medical care whatsoever. Yet today they are as active and vital as people half their age, and often showing few signs of slowing down.
Chronic Medical Conditions
And it’s not just how they act, it’s what’s going on inside their bodies, too. American twenty- to thirty-four-year-olds have a substantially higher incidence of high blood pressure than the hundred-year-olds in Bama County.
Meanwhile, the rate of heart disease in the United States is 17 times higher than it is in rural China, even though there is no culture of “exercising” there. The rate of breast cancer is 10 times higher in the United States, even though there are no screening mammograms in areas of China like this. The rate of dementia is more than three times higher, and no, they don’t do crossword puzzles to combat memory loss.
This isn’t a case of a few random people in a remote village who happen to live longer than Americans do. This is the case of a special place in the world where health, happiness, and longevity have been a way of life for a very long time.
Longevity Village is Changing
How much longer will Longevity Village be Longevity Village? That’s a very open question. There is a concern among some people in Bapan that the fundamental things that make the village so incredibly special are being inexorably changed as modern society encroaches on this little part of the world.
In just the past few years, as greater China has become aware of the “miracles” that happen there, Bama County has become a vacation destination for rich Chinese seeking quick cures to their ailments. Ironically and tragically, because they’re often looking for miracles, rather than wisdom, many of these “medical tourists” have brought with them their cars, their soft drinks, their cigarettes, their smartphones, their exercise habits and their stress. An industry catering to these visitors has developed.
Bapan itself is still quite small and remote, but thousands of Chinese who had no previous roots in the area have moved into greater Bama County to participate in this “health miracle economy.”
As one of the few Westerners, and even fewer Western medical researchers, to have visited before these changes really began to gain ground in the village, I feel exceptionally fortunate to have gotten to know many of Bapan’s residents. We’ve eaten together, worked side by side, and spent countless hours talking about our different lives.
Over time, they’ve come to trust me as a friend, doctor, and researcher. I’ve studied their lives extensively. I’ve translated studies about them that have been published in the Chinese medical literature. My research team has even done genetic testing on many of these centenarians, and when we did, we discovered something fascinating.
The Perfect Experiment
It’s worth noting that the residents of Longevity Village exist as an almost perfect experimental control group, quite ideal for a long-term study where results must be verifiable and extremely reliable. That’s because all of the residents I’ve studied have lived their entire lives within the borders of Bama County.
Additionally, because of the advanced age of these individuals and their history of remaining in one place for so long, variable environmental factors and influences have been kept to a minimum. In other words, the villagers were all essentially exposed to whatever was contributing to their great health and longevity in equal measure.
All too often we see diet and lifestyle studies with follow-up periods ranging anywhere from three weeks to five years, hardly long enough to really learn about long-term health benefits and consequences. Our bodies are incredibly complex machines and, like any machine, there are both short-and long-term effects to every action we take. You simply can’t always infer long-term data from short-term sampling.
That’s what really makes Bapan so remarkable: We can see the lifetime effects of diet and lifestyle choices, because everyone in the village shared those experiences over the course of many, many decades.
Change Your Genes, Change Your Health
Now, for the most part, our genes are quite similar. If you were to pluck up any human from anywhere in the world and compare them to another randomly selected human, you’d find that their genomes are likely to be about 99.5 percent the same.
Does that diversity mean that some of us are genetically destined to live long lives and others not? Not at all. Today we’re learning the impact we can have on our genes is profound. Rather than being stuck with what we’ve inherited from past generations, research shows the expression of our genes can change significantly, and positively, as a result of the decisions we make every day. That’s what we’ve found is happening in Bama County.
Longevity Village Residents Also Have Bad Genes
Preliminary genetic work my team has conducted on six of the centenarians of Bapan has shown that the majority have genes that should predispose them to hypertension, atrial fibrillation, myocardial infarction, hypertriglyceridemia, and hypercholesterolemia. One of the centenarians has gene markers for an increased risk of all five of these conditions. Two of the centenarians have greater than a 120 percent increased risk of developing hypertension, based on what we know about how these genes typically act, yet their blood pressure is remarkably steady.
Our findings are not the exception. Other studies of people in Bama County have revealed genes that, based on everything we know about genetics, should actually predispose these folks to heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
In one study, researchers found that 516 people from Bama County, all over the age of 90, carried a gene that often results in elevated homocysteine and cholesterol levels leading to heart attacks and dementia. Despite being genetically “programmed” for early heart disease and memory impairment, though, these people showed almost no signs of these diseases.
Perfect Health Despite Bad Genes
In fact, studies of Bama centenarians have shown that even in those over the age of 100, heart disease is only seen in 4 percent. Another study looking at 267 long-lived Bama residents at an average age of 88 could only find one case of dementia. To put these numbers in context, about 85 percent of people over the age of 85 in the U.S. have already developed heart disease, and roughly half of all people in the U.S. age 85 or older have developed dementia.
As it turns out, the only measurable genetic difference between the people in this region who live a long time and those who don’t is something called methylation, a mechanism our cells use to change the way our genes are expressed in response to how we live. And we know from studies of people from gene pools all across the world that everyone has the ability to positively impact their genomic expression, for good and for ill.
We’ve all known someone, for example, who was gifted in some way but didn’t work to hone that gift, with rather predictable consequences. We’ve also all heard the inspiring stories of people who are naturally disadvantaged in some way, but are able to overcome that disadvantage through hard work and dedication. That’s how our genes work, too.
Your Genes Are Not Your Destiny
That’s why, after a group of researchers considered the genetic and environmental factors impacting the lives of nearly 3,000 identical and fraternal twins from Denmark, they concluded that “longevity seems to be only moderately heritable.” For women, the researchers concluded, only about 26 percent of longevity was the result of heredity. For men it was about 23 percent. The rest, the scientists concluded, is up to us.
When I came to recognize this, it was exceptionally freeing. For years I’d blamed my health problems on a rather poor draw in the genetic lottery, and in some ways it was true. When I had my DNA analyzed, the lab report was downright depressing.
I carry variations of genes associated with obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and inflammatory arthritis. But what the people of Longevity Village have taught me is that our genes aren’t a prison sentence.
Rather than being genetically destined to live long and healthy lives, it’s quite clear that the people of Bapan have benefitted from lifestyle choices and attitudes that have actuated their genes in ways that have allowed them to thrive to one hundred years of age and longer without medications, surgeries, or doctor visits.
We know this, too, from looking at what happens when people leave the village and significantly alter their lifestyle. When one young man I met left the village to seek work in the city of Guangzhou, for instance, his job in a factory sweatshop and changes in eating habits took an almost immediate toll on his health. After suffering from the effects of stress, a lack of healthful physical activity, a poor diet, air pollution, and weight gain, he decided to return to the village and re-integrate, best he could, with the traditions of his ancestors. His health was remarkably restored within months of his return.
What the Longevity Plan Did for Me
The 7 lessons I learned from China’s Longevity Village have changed my life. I’m no longer taking any of the medicines I once was. I’ve shed 35 pounds. My total cholesterol level has dropped from 211 to 118 and my blood pressure has dropped from 140/90 to 115/70.
More important than those quantitative measurements, though, is this: I’m once again able to pursue activities that helped give my life meaning, like skiing, running, biking, and basketball. Most importantly, I’m no longer haunted by the thought that I might not be around to see my children grow up. I plan to be around to see my grandchildren and great grandchildren, too!
What the Longevity Plan Did for My Patients
These 7 lessons have also changed my patients’ lives. Hundreds of men and women, young and old, who have applied these lessons to their lives are living better, more active, and more fulfilling lives free from medications and without any procedures. Some of their successes make mine look quite unimpressive by comparison. And while I still do treat some of my patients with surgical and pharmacological interventions, when necessary, those are not the first solutions we turn to as we work together to address their health needs.
What the Longevity Plan Can Do for You
All of that is why I can be very confident in saying that these 7 lessons can change your life, too. To learn how these 7 lessons can change you life, please be sure to buy your copy of The Longevity Plan now by clicking on this link.
6 Ways to Slow Aging
How old are you? Is it the number of candles on your birthday cake or your mindset? In this article, I will teach you how to slow aging and reverse your biological age.
Aging and the Medical System
Just prior to giving the keynote lecture at a large medical conference organized by Northwestern University in Chicago on the subject of “How to Thrive to 100,” a surprising number of conference attendees I met said something to the effect of, “who in their right mind would want to live to be 100?” That sort of response completely ignores the fact that a person who arrives at 100 in good health most likely enjoyed great health when they were 60, 70, 80, and 90, too. What these doctors didn’t understand is that people who live to 100 have learned how to slow aging.
But even doctors are products of their environments. They have been bombarded with messages that make getting old look awful. The have spent their careers examining people who have confirmed through their struggles the idea that getting old is a painful, lonely, and frightening ordeal. Of course, healthy people don’t spend a lot of time at the doctor’s office, so what doctors don’t see nearly so often are the examples of slow aging that have inspired me to believe that calendar age is little more than a condition of our mindset.
Don’t Act Old
I just had my 50th birthday. Is there a certain way I should act and feel now that I am 50?
Inside I don’t feel any older. In fact, I actually feel younger now than I did in my 30s.
Instead of simply denouncing those who respond with malice toward the idea of getting old, I try to change their minds. I share examples of people who have learned how to slow aging.
I tell them about Fauja Singh, who took up marathon running when he was 80 and continued running distance races well past his hundredth birthday. I tell them about Teiichi Igarashi, a former lumberjack from Japan who summited Mount Fuji for twelve years in a row, starting when he was eighty-nine. I tell them about Georgina Harwood, who celebrated her hundredth birthday by jumping out of an airplane and then swimming with sharks off the coast of South Africa. And, of course, I tell them about the amazing people of China’s longevity village who stand as proof that the process of growing older isn’t something that should be feared, but rather something that should be craved.
In fact, every last one of the centenarians I’ve spoken to in China’s longevity village have told me they are living the best years of their lives. Those in the village who were not yet 100 longed to get there. And looking forward to golden years that have the potential to be truly golden might be one of the best things you can do for your health right now, no matter what age you are.
Your Mindset Determines Your Biological Age
It occurred to me, as I watched the centenarians in China’s longevity village garden or take their daily walks, that no one every told them that there was a certain way people in their 100s were expected to feel and act. That’s because none of the centenarians in Longevity Village think about “growing older,” let alone worry about it. There is no fear in the passing of another year. They have learned naturally how to slow aging.
We should follow their example. Although our age is often a tremendously large part of our mindset about “where we’re at” in life, it is a perfectly pointless measure of who we are.
Inherently we all do know this. Not everyone “acts” his or her age after all. Almost all of us have met children who are “old souls” and adults who act like kids. The number of times we’ve circled the sun has far less to do with our well-being than we typically think.
To take advantage of what science actually tells us about aging, though, we have to get into the habit of ignoring the other messages we get about what is “supposed to happen” as the calendar flips from one year to another. To this end, it’s important to know that a lot of the social and cultural messages we get about age, sometimes from our own friends and family, are wrongful and can even be harmful. And these messages can even come from those we trust most to provide us accurate information about our health and well-being.
Your Mindset Can Slow Aging
There are tremendous health advantages to anticipation. Studies show, for instance, that the mere knowledge that a vacation is coming makes people feel happier at work and that the mere expectation that sleep is on its way lowers blood pressure. It’s hardly a stretch, then, to conclude the mere belief that growing older is a positive thing might be a significant influencer of good health.
In a study of 660 older Americans, researchers found that regardless of socioeconomic status or even age, people who embraced the aging process and felt like life would continue to get better lived nearly 8 years longer than those with a more pessimistic view about aging and the future.
As part of life, everyone sooner or later will face a medical condition. Once again, studies show that those who embrace the aging process are 44% more likely to recover from any medical condition they may face in this life.
That could be because pessimism can actually deteriorate our DNA—or, to be specific, the curled ends of nucleotides, known as telomeres, which cap our chromatids. Telomeres are sort of like helmets for our chromosomes, and when they deteriorate in a process known as shortening, it leaves us vulnerable to aging-related diseases.
Your Daily Health Choices Determine Biological Age
Just as your mindset can slow aging, so do your daily health decisions. Studies show that most of us can expect at least 90 years of great health provided we make the right daily decisions. Given that the average American looses their health at age 69, that means we are leaving 21 excellent years of life on the table.
While genes certainly play a role as to whether we can slow aging, each little health decision you make everyday plays a much bigger role. Indeed, studies show that just 25% of your health and longevity is influenced by your genes. The other 75%, though, is entirely up to you and the health decisions you make.
6 Ways to Slow Aging
To keep the 90 years of great health your body was programmed to enjoy, focus on each of these 6 ways to slow aging. To see the studies supporting each of these 6 ways to slow aging, just click on the link embedded in the numbered section title.
Embrace aging. Expect that life will just get better with each new year. Don’t act old.
2. Don’t Smoke
Nothing more needs to be said here. Smoking will rob you of 10 years of life. Breathing in polluted air triggers an inflammation process that causes intense premature aging.
As with smoking, weighing more than you should can also rob you of about 10 years of life. Carrying extra weight around triggers an inflammation process throughout your body that speeds up biological aging. While diets don’t work long-term, healthy lifestyles do.
In my cardiology practice I have hundreds of patients who have successfully kept the weight off for years. As I have asked them their secret, most of these patients have used one or more of the following three strategies.
The first is that they eat a light and early dinner and then nothing more for the rest of the day. This is the cultural norm in China’s longevity village. It is also a form of intermittent fasting which I covered in blog #51.
The second strategy is to eliminate added sugars and processed foods. In addition to the traditional sugars this also means eliminating other forms of sugar like honey, maple syrup, or fruit juice. Instead of shopping the processed food packed isles of the grocery store, they just shop the periphery. They only eat real food or the food our bodies were designed to eat for slow aging.
The third successful strategy is to track what you eat or keep a food journal. Knowing what you are putting in your mouth each day brings mindfulness and awareness. Most people drop the weight fast when they know what they are actually eating.
To claim the 90 years of excellent health your body is programmed to enjoy, you have to move your body. Sitting more than you should can rob you of 10 years of life.
When you are sitting your body is rusting. Almost without exception, my patients who move the most during the day live the longest and healthiest.
The only people without stress in their lives have already passed away. To live means to experience stress. If you feel like your stress is not helping you, your life may be cut short by 10 years.
The key is how you perceive and manage your stress. To learn more about keeping your stresses in the healthy zone for slow aging, please read blog #158.
Diabetes is a medical condition where the blood sugar is abnormally high. High blood sugar robs you of 10 years of life by causing premature aging and deterioration of almost every aspect of your body.
For people with adult-onset or type 2 diabetes, weight loss, daily exercise, and eliminating all added sugars and processed carbohydrates cures most people. For those with forms of diabetes that can’t be reversed, do everything possible to keep your blood sugar in the normal range.
Take Home Message
At the end of the day, your calendar age doesn’t really mean that much. No matter how you look on the outside, it’s how everything is working on the inside that really counts. Regardless of wrinkles, gray hair, or any other cosmetic feature of your outside body, there’s a tremendous difference between calendar age and biological age.
For most people, your body comes fully programmed to enjoy great health to 90 years of age. If you can just give your body what it needs, it will heal itself and support you for many years to come. This is the secret to slow aging.
What is your take on biological versus calendar aging? Please leave your thoughts and questions below. I will do my best to answer every question as quickly as I can.
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Is Coconut Oil Good for Your Heart?
Coconut oil is the health food darling on the Internet. However, media headlines this past week proclaimed “coconut oil isn’t healthy” based on a new report from the American Heart Association. So who is right? In this article, I’ll answer the question, is coconut oil good for your heart? I’ll also share with you four ways to enjoy coconut oil without putting your heart at risk.
The American Heart Association’s Coconut Oil Stance
As part of the low fat craze in the 1980s, coconut oil was something that should be avoided. Now with the low carb craze, coconut oil has suddenly become a health food on the Internet.
This past week, the American Heart Association (AHA) published a warning on coconut oil and other foods high in saturated fats. Their stance was that saturated fats increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and that a high LDL puts you at risk of cardiovascular disease and a premature death.
The AHA’s hope is that Americans will replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat from nuts and seeds or complex carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables. In contrast to previous publications, the AHA clearly warned that replacing saturated fat with sugar or processed carbohydrates was a recipe for a cardiovascular disaster.
As coconut oil is 90% saturated fat, which is far more than butter (60% saturated fat), beef (40% saturated fat), or even lard (40% saturated fat) it should be avoided according to the AHA. Interestingly, while there are no specific studies linking coconut oil to heart disease in their publication, the AHA still argues that because coconut oil sends your LDL (bad cholesterol) through the roof, it must be causing harm.
4 Arguments for Coconut Oil as a Health Food
In sharp contrast to the AHA, many Internet sites claim coconut oil is a health food. Here are the four main arguments in support of coconut oil.
1. Saturated fat isn’t bad.
The belief that saturated fat isn’t bad comes from studies showing that when you replace saturated fats with carbs, people did worse. The problem is that you really need to look at these studies closely. In most of these studies, people replaced saturated fats with sugar and processed carbs.
While saturated fat is “less bad” for you than sugar or processed carbohydrates, that doesn’t mean it is a health food. Indeed, if you carefully review all the studies published, when people replace saturated fats with healthy fats and unprocessed carbohydrates they do much better.
2. Coconut oil raises HDL and lowers triglycerides.
Studies show that coconut oil raises HDL or good cholesterol and lowers triglycerides. HDL is like the garbage truck taking bad cholesterol (LDL) out of your body. This is why the saturated fat in coconut oil carries a much lower risk of heart disease than the saturated fat in cheeseburgers and bacon.
Triglycerides, or the little fat particles in your blood, also cause heart disease. Triglycerides shoot up if you eat sugar or processed carbohydrates. If you are eating more fats then you are also probably eating less sugar and processed carbs. Thus, triglycerides tend to be much lower on a high fat diet.
3. Pacific Islanders on a coconut diet don’t get heart disease.
Studies of Pacific Islanders show that islanders eating a high coconut diet have very low rates of cardiovascular disease. However, these were studies of lean Pacific Islanders who were physically active and were otherwise eating a healthy diet. Sadly, once Pacific Islanders immigrate to the U.S., coconuts lose any possible protective effect.
4. Coconut oil may prevent diabetes.
Studies show that coconut oil may improve insulin sensitivity and prevent diabetes. As diabetes is one of the biggest causes of heart disease, anything you can do to keep your sugar levels low will minimize your risk.
So Who is Right?
As with most things in life, rarely is anything all bad or all good. And when it comes to the question of is coconut oil good for your heart, the truth is it depends.
That is because we all have different genes and lifestyles. In health conscientious people with good genes, saturated fats probably don’t cause any harm when eaten in moderation.
This would be like the Pacific Islanders living a traditional lifestyle. With their traditional lifestyle, they weren’t eating much sugar and certainly didn’t have access to processed foods. They were physically active during the day and didn’t have all of the stresses of modern life. In this type of an environment, saturated fats couldn’t cause any harm.
However, if you are overweight, don’t exercise, are stressed out all the time, or have bad genes then saturated fat is probably going to trash your heart and your arteries. Certainly, in animals the studies are pretty clear. If you pump animals full of saturated fat they will develop blockages in their hearts. However, in the world of saturated fats, coconut oil is much better for your heart than cheeseburgers or bacon.
4 Healthy Ways to Enjoy Coconut Oil
As lifestyle choices and genetics play a role in whether or not saturated fats cause harm, let me share with you four healthy ways to enjoy coconut oil.
1. Be Like the Pacific Islanders
If you enjoy coconut oil then live like the Pacific Islanders did historically. Make sure your plate is mostly vegetables, you exercise every day, you have optimized your sleep, you are connected socially in meaningful relationships, and that you embrace the stress in your life. With a healthy lifestyle, saturated fats in moderation won’t likely cause any harm.
2. Eat According to Your Genes
Depending on what type of genes you inherited, saturated fat may not pose any risk for you. For example, if you have one or two copies of the Apo E2 gene then a high fat (ketogenic) diet may be the best thing for you. However, if you have the Apo E3 or Apo E4 gene then saturated fat may put you at increased risk.
If you want to find out the status of your Apo gene, you can do so at home with the $199 23andMe kit. Basically, you just spit in a test tube and then they will run the tests.
However, if you want to know your Apo gene status, you will need to pay an additional $5 to have your data transferred to Promethease. This is because the FDA won’t let 23andMe release these sensitive data.
These data are sensitive because if you have one copy of the Apo E4 gene, you have three times the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. With two copies of the Apo E4 gene, your Alzheimer’s disease risk is 20 times higher. However, even if you have the wrong Apo gene, studies show that a 100% healthy lifestyle can completely eliminate any increased Alzheimer’s disease risk.
3. Check Your Coronary Calcium Score.
If you are over age 50, and don’t mind a little radiation, you can have a coronary calcium score done. This is a cheap test that most insurance companies cover if it is part of a stress test.
Basically, it is a limited CT scan that measures the calcium plaque in your heart. If your arteries are plugged up then your score will be high. However, if you are over 50 and have no calcium plaques then saturated fat is unlikely to cause any harm regardless of how high your cholesterol is.
4. Do Advanced Cholesterol Testing.
While it is very clear that coconut oil will shoot up your LDL cholesterol, this may not be as bad as it appears. Not everyone with a high cholesterol gets heart disease. This is because cholesterol is just one of many different things that can cause heart disease.
Also, not all LDL cholesterol particles are created equally. When it comes to heart disease, the highest risk is associated with the small and dense LDL molecules. Also, the content of the LDL and HDL molecules may also matter when it comes to heart disease risk.
The saturated fat from coconut oil is more likely to increase the big and fluffy LDL molecules. These big and fluffy LDL molecules are less likely to get stuck in your arteries.
With this in mind, if you love coconut oil and have a high LDL, talk with your doctor about advanced lipid testing. However, please be aware that detailed lipid testing is controversial and your doctor may not go for it.
This is because some studies show that advanced lipid testing can better assess your risk whereas other studies show it doesn’t offer any benefit. Regardless of whether or not your doctor believes in more detailed lipid testing, all of my cardiology colleagues feel that if you had to pick your LDL, big and fluffy is better.
Take Home Message
The key take away from this article is don’t panic if you love coconut oil. You can still enjoy coconut oil in moderation provided you live a healthy lifestyle. Even if your lifestyle isn’t that great, if you have the Apo E2 gene, a coronary calcium score of zero, or have the right kind of cholesterol particles then there also isn’t much to worry about with coconut oil.
Has coconut oil affected your cholesterol numbers? Please leave your thoughts and questions below. I’ll do my best to answer every question posted as quickly as possible.
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Anything discussed in this article, or any other article I have written, doesn’t constitute medical advice. The only thing I share is general medical information.
Because everyone is different, what works for some people may or may not work for you. This is why you shouldn’t act on anything discussed in this article without first speaking with your doctor.
The 3 Secrets to Perfect Gut Health
More and more research is pointing to optimal gut health as the secret to a long life free of medical problems. In this article, I share the 3 secrets to perfect gut health.
Could Gut Health Be the Fountain of Youth?
As most readers know, we have a new book, The Longevity Plan: 7 Life Transforming Lessons from Ancient China. This book represents five years of research and writing.
In this book, we identified a small village in Southwest China that was cut off from China and the rest of the world. Here, people often live into their 100s without growing old or getting sick. These centenarians are still doing everything they want to do and don’t require help from anyone else.
While we identified seven factors that explain this health miracle, other researchers have concluded that the secret is their gut health. Indeed, one recently published medical study reported that the reason why these people live to 100 and beyond was because of their gut health. Namely, it was their high fiber diet, natural probiotics, and the absence of gut toxins that accounted for their longevity.
Worry About Your Gut, Not Your Belly
Personally, I’ve never been that concerned with the size of a patient’s body. Certainly, there is a relationship between weight and health, but it’s not a perfectly linear one. We all come in different shapes, and those shapes have less to do with health than a lot of people think.
Instead of worrying about our bellies, we should be worried about our guts. Research shows that having the wrong sorts of bacteria in our digestive tracts can cause everything from weight gain and allergies to autoimmune diseases and heart disease. In fact, gut bacteria might be the absolute best indicator of personal health.
The 3 Secrets to Perfect Gut Health
When it comes to perfect gut health, we really need to learn from China’s longevity village. They enjoyed great gut health and didn’t have to deal with all of the health challenges that we do. Here are the 3 secrets to perfect gut health.
1. Get the Right Kind of Fiber
The best fiber comes from real foods. I have yet to find a study showing that fiber supplements can even come close to competing with the fiber in real food.
To optimize your fiber intake, pile on the vegetables with every meal. Eat plenty of fruit, especially berries. Lastly, don’t forget legumes like lentils, peas, and beans which are also loaded with fiber. Even nuts and seeds can be high in fiber.
Studies show that for every 10 extra grams of fiber you can get in your diet, you can decrease your heart disease risk by 20% and increases your lifespan by about 10%. Getting 10 extra grams of fiber each day is incredibly easy to do. For example, just one small cup of great tasting raspberries will almost get you to 10 grams of fiber.
Along with fiber supplements, avoid highly processed high-fiber foods. If you’ve been to the grocery store lately you know exactly what I am talking about.
Basically, avoid anything that has a label advertising its fiber content. Even if these processed foods are fiber-rich, the impact of the other ingredients can wipe away any advantages the fiber might offer.
Real food doesn’t require a label. When was the last time you saw a label advertising the fiber content of fresh broccoli, kale, or spinach?
2. Get the Right Fermented Foods
Getting a daily dose of fermented foods can be a great way to replenish your gut flora and keep your immune system working well. If you are new to fermented foods, build up gradually.
As with fiber, stay away from fermented foods with added ingredients, especially sugar or other sweeteners. For example, kombucha is well established to be a great probiotic, but the drinks popping up in supermarket coolers are loaded with added sugar and other ingredients. Instead, try kombucha, kefir, yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh or miso in their most unadulterated form. Then, season and flavor these foods, if needed, with natural foods.
Personally, I like a heaping spoonful of natto, fermented soy beans, every morning. As I am asked by so many readers where I buy my natto, here is a link to the company I use. Alternatively, you could also buy fresh natto from your local Asian food store.
Please be aware I’m about 99% confident that, unlike the Japanese who consider natto a delicacy, you will absolutely hate the taste of natto. Also, in full disclosure, I have no relationship with this company. They haven’t even so much as given me a discount on anything I buy from them.
For those who can’t stand the taste of natto, try some miso in your homemade salad dressings. Miso is proof that probiotics don’t have to taste bad. For a great tasting salad dressing, try my wife’s miso vinaigrette recipe.
If you would prefer to stick with the tried and true yogurt form of prebiotics, just be sure to buy those brands with live cultures and no added sugars or sweeteners. To sweeten your yogurt, and get a healthy dose of fiber in the process, be sure to add fresh or frozen berries.
3. Steer Clear of Gut Toxins
If you want the right gut flora to keep you young and free from illnesses, you have to avoid the gut toxins. The health producing bacteria lining your gastrointestinal system can be easily be wiped out by ingesting the wrong stuff.
Of the various gut toxins, the main culprits are added sugars, processed carbohydrates, antibiotics, and other medications. While antibiotics and medications, like acid reducing or anti-inflammatory pain medications are sometimes needed, there is absolutely no health reason why you need added sugars or processed carbohydrates.
If you must take a medication, like an antibiotic, talk with your doctor about boosting your fiber and fermented food intake while you are on the antibiotic. This way you can kill off the bad bacteria with antibiotics while still giving your good bacteria a chance to survive.
Take Home Message
To enjoy perfect gut health, make sure you get enough fiber and fermented foods while at the same time avoiding gut toxins. Those are the keys to keeping the bacteria in your gut happy. And when the bacteria in your gut are happy, the rest of your body will be happy, too.
If you can add at least one high-fiber menu item to each meal and one fermented food each day, you’ll soon realize that when you start worrying about your gut, your belly will take care of itself.
What has helped you to keep your gut happy? Please leave your thoughts and questions below.
Of course, when it comes to gut health please be sure to speak with your physician. For some people, like those with serious gastrointestinal issues or a weakened immune system, fiber and fermented foods could cause harm. Also, never stop a medication without first speaking with your physician. Everything I have shared in this article should be considered as general information not medical advice.
The Top 5 Causes of Fake Hunger
If you’re like most people, you think that feeling hungry is a signal that you need to eat. And you likely try to quell it by eating something right away, regardless of whether it’s something you really need or even want. Would you believe me if I told you that your sensation of hunger may not even be real physical hunger? In this article, I will show you how to stop the top 5 causes of fake hunger.
The 5 Fake Causes of Hunger
Hunger doesn’t just mean you need food. It can mean all sorts of things. Below are the top five causes of what I like to call, “fake hunger.”
1. It could be a micronutrient deficiency.
Medical studies show that hunger or being overweight could be a sign that we’re simply running low on one specific kind of nutrient. In other words, something as simple as not getting enough magnesium in your diet could cause you to feel hungry all the time.
Perhaps this could explain why most people crave chocolate. As chocolate is so high in magnesium, a chocolate craving could really just be our bodies trying to tell us we need more magnesium. Fortunately, nuts, seeds, and especially greens are also very high in magnesium.
2. It could be a metabolism problem.
Hunger can be a sign your metabolism is off. Studies show that added sugars and processed carbohydrates can make us feel hungry all the time.
I know this was definitely the case for me. At one point, I had snack between every meal. By simply eliminating all added sugars and processed carbohydrates from my diet, I no longer need to snack.
3. It could be because you are dehydrated.
Interestingly, studies show that many people actually mistake a need for hydration as a need for food. Thus, it is always a good idea to try a glass of water before reaching for a snack.
4. It could be a lack of fiber.
Studies show that protein and fiber are the two best things to keep you feeling full. While most Americans don’t have any problem getting enough protein, very few get enough fiber. Thus, feeling hungry could really just be a sign that you are not getting enough fiber.
5. It could be psychological.
Many people feel hungry when they are bored, sad, or are just procrastinating something. This is why studies show that our moods are directly tied to our weight. After all, it is easy to rationalize eating more than we should when feelings of sadness are misinterpreted as hunger.
I also struggle with emotional overeating. For me, it is not due to boredom or sadness. Rather, it is to procrastinate doing something that I really should be doing.
For example, if I have a big report to write, I’ll convince myself that I’m hungry. This will mean that I get to procrastinate writing the report as I now get to eat first.
What hunger almost never is, though, is a sign that you need any kind of food at all as quickly as possible. And yet far too many people think that the way to “solve” their hunger is to run to the nearest fast food restaurant, race to the fridge to grab the quickest thing to eat, or dip into their junk food stash for a fast snack.
Most People Don’t Know When They Are Really Hungry
Because so many of us live in an exceptionally privileged world in which the subtlest sensations of hunger can be quickly placated, most of us have lost the ability to truly understand what our bodies are actually asking from us. That’s a serious health problem — and one I’m worried might prove to be epigenetically aggravated, meaning that each generation of people who have lost touch with what hunger really means will be even more likely to produce subsequent generations that are even further removed from this vital connection to their bodies.
Tip: Reconnect yourself to healthy hunger.
I firmly believe there’s still time to reconnect humanity to healthy hunger. We don’t need to suffer from fake hunger. And it all starts with broccoli.
Or, at least that’s where it started for me. I’ve really come to love broccoli, but it took some time and effort for me to develop a taste for it.
We live in a world of such abundance when it comes to healthy food that my advice to many of my patients is similar to what I tell them about exercise: Don’t waste time forcing yourself to eat healthy foods you don’t actually enjoy. Thus, if broccoli is not your thing, then feel free to substitute in kale, spinach, or cauliflower for this tip. This tip is what I like to call the broccoli test.
The Broccoli Test
When I was trying to reacquaint myself with healthy hunger, I applied “the broccoli test.” Put simply: If I was hungry enough to eat broccoli, then my body really needed food. Thus, if you are wondering how to tell if you are really hungry or not, broccoli will make everything clear for you.
Water and Vegetables Can Get You to the Next Meal
If you’re between meals and feeling hungry, the best bet is almost always to start with water. It’s often the fastest and easiest way to stop fake hunger and help you get to a scheduled meal. If water doesn’t completely satisfy your hunger then go for the vegetables. You really can’t get too many of those.
If you want to minimize hunger between meals, studies show that protein and fiber are the most filling foods. While everyone knows vegetables are loaded with fiber, few people know that calorie for calorie, many vegetables have more protein than a burger or a steak.
If you don’t believe me, just look it up. One hundred calories of spinach has 13 grams of protein. However, that same 100 calorie serving of a T-bone steak only has 9 grams of protein.
As you ponder on how to tell if you are really hungry or not, spend as much time as possible being mindful about what your body is telling you. What you’ll also find — I can promise you — is that there is no specific real hunger signal for sugar and processed carbohydrates. Sugar and processed carbs just trigger fake hunger signals.
One of the keys to health and longevity is that every unique feeling of hunger we get can be addressed with something natural and healthy. Simply put, if you eat right you never have to feel hungry again.
Have you overcome any of the five causes of fake hunger? If so, please share your experiences below so that all may benefit.
Chocolate Prevents Atrial Fibrillation
If you read the news this past week, you saw the headlines. Chocolate prevents atrial fibrillation.
It seems to good to be true. How can something that tastes so good also be healthy for your heart? In this article, I’ll review the latest chocolate study and share what it really means to you.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Before I jump into the study, I want to first explain what atrial fibrillation is for those who may not be familiar with this heart condition. Atrial fibrillation is the most common arrhythmia which typically leads to a rapid and irregular pulse.
People with atrial fibrillation often experience shortness of breath and fatigue when their heart goes out of rhythm. The concern is that this heart rhythm irregularity may lead to strokes, heart failure, dementia, and a premature death.
The Atrial Fibrillation Study
In this study, researchers recruited 55,502 people who ranged in age from 50 to 64. They asked each study participant how often they ate chocolate and then followed these people to see who developed atrial fibrillation over the next 13.5 years.
At the end of their 13.5 year study, 3,346 of the original 55,502 people had developed atrial fibrillation. Quite remarkably, those eating chocolate at least weekly enjoyed up to a 20% decreased risk of atrial fibrillation.
For those looking for the optimal dose of dark chocolate, the greatest benefit was seen in people eating chocolate two to six times a week. For chocoholics like me, eating chocolate daily conferred a 16% decreased risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
These findings go against conventional wisdom. Historically, atrial fibrillation patients were told to avoid chocolate because of the concern that caffeine could trigger their arrhythmia. Now we know that this conventional wisdom is just not true for most people.
I need to point out that this was a Danish study. For those who have ever purchased chocolate in Denmark, chocolate must be at least 30% cacao. Thirty percent cacao almost meets U.S. standards for dark chocolate. Thus, the chocolate they ate in Denmark with this study is much darker than what Americans typically enjoy.
3 Reasons Why This Study May Not Be Completely Accurate
As much as I love dark chocolate, and would love for this study to be true, there are some problems with the findings. Below are the three biggest reasons in my mind of why this study may not be completely accurate.
1. Researchers determined chocolate consumption based on a questionnaire.
The problem with this is that most people don’t remember what they ate. For example, do you remember how much chocolate you ate each day this past month? How about for the last year?
2. Researchers didn’t ask what kind of chocolate people ate.
There is a big difference between milk chocolate, which is mostly sugar, and cacao nibs which don’t have any sugar. As these researchers never asked, we really don’t know what kind of chocolate they ate.
Even though European chocolate is much darker than American chocolate, we don’t know if they were eating 30% cacao or 90% cacao. When doing a chocolate study, you really need to know the cacao percentage and the amount of added sugar.
3. Chocolate eaters are different than non-chocolate eaters.
For better or worse, dark chocolate is now viewed as a health food. Because of this status, people who eat dark chocolate tend to be better educated and more health conscientious. This study also showed that chocolate eaters were somewhat better educated and lived a slightly healthier lifestyle. Thus, we can’t be sure whether the benefit was due to the chocolate or the type of person who ate chocolate.
Other Studies Looking at Chocolate and Atrial Fibrillation
You can never just look at one study to find the truth. To find out if chocolate prevents atrial fibrillation, you need to look at other studies as well. In this case, two other big studies have also tried to answer the question of whether or not chocolate prevents atrial fibrillation.
The first was the Women’s Health Study evaluating 33,638 American women. In this study, there was a trend toward less atrial fibrillation in chocolate eaters but these findings did not achieve statistical significance.
The second study was the Physician’s Health Study which included 18,819 U.S. male physicians. In this study, there was a trend toward more atrial fibrillation with chocolate eaters. However, as with the Women’s Health Study, these findings also didn’t reach statistical significance.
Because American chocolate contains less cacao and more added sugar, it is possible that this could explain why the two American studies failed to show any benefit. Thus, if you are hoping that chocolate prevents atrial fibrillation, you should shoot for dark chocolate with less added sugar.
How May Chocolate Help the Heart?
What makes chocolate so helpful when it comes to the heart? The answer really lies with the flavonoids. Flavonoids are the phytonutrients in plants which give them their colors. As chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, this is where chocolate gets its flavonoids.
First, when it comes to chocolate, the higher the cacao percentage, the more of these flavonoids you are getting. These flavonoids have been shown in studies to be anti-inflammatory, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and help to prevent diabetes.
Second, as counter intuitive as it may seem, dark chocolate may actually help with weight loss. For example, in one study, dark chocolate was shown to make people feel fuller so that they ate less. In contrast, the high sugar content of milk chocolate just made people want to eat more.
Lastly, it could be the magnesium in chocolate. Chocolate is very high in magnesium. Magnesium has been shown in countless studies to help prevent arrhythmias.
How to Hack Your Health with Chocolate
The key take away from this study is that chocolate, if done right, can be incredibly healthy. Below are 3 ways to improve your health with chocolate.
1. Aim for the Highest Percent Cacao Possible
As discussed, the higher the cacao percentage the more flavonoids you are getting. Ideally, your dark chocolate really need to be at least 70% cacao to see the most benefit.
2. Find Chocolate with Zero or Minimal Added Sugars
In a perfect world, you could satisfy your chocolate cravings with no sugar added cacao nibs. However, if you are like me, the taste is too bitter.
As I have eliminated virtually all added sugars from my diet, I now eat extra dark, stevia sweetened, chocolate. While this is not as healthy as no sugar added cacao nibs, it works for me. It also satisfies my sweet tooth so that I don’t need any other sweets or added sugars in my diet.
Wherever you are at, try to go as dark as you can with your chocolate. Also, look for chocolate that has the least amount of added sugars.
3. Use Chocolate to Replace All Other Sweets
In my mind, this is probably the healthiest way to approach chocolate. Our bodies are hard-wired to crave sweets. And this is especially true with children. When dark chocolate replaces cookies, donuts, or anything else sweet you might ever consider eating, this is where the greatest benefit is seen.
Question for You
How do you eat chocolate? Please share your comments and questions below. I’ll do my best to respond to any questions in a timely manner.
The 2 Secrets to Making Exercise a Daily Habit
Most people don’t really enjoy their workout. Perhaps that explains why so many people never get their money’s worth with the gym membership. In this article, I share the two secrets to making exercise a daily habit.
If your reason for exercising is to burn calories, build muscle or even improve your cardiovascular health, then chances are really good that you’re doing exercises that you don’t really enjoy all that much. And if that’s the case, then you’re missing out on one of the healthiest effects of exercise.
Exercise isn’t just for physical health. It’s also critical for optimal brain function — it’s vital “brain food.” But because most of us only think of the physical impact, we miss out on a good part of this benefit.
The Best Exercise
Exercise of any sort — but especially exercise we really enjoy — has been shown in studies to be as effective as pharmaceuticals for many people suffering from depression. Exercise we enjoy can also boost our memory, increase our brain processing speed, improve our concentration, reduce our stress, and help free us from addictions. Yet ask most people why they are exercising, and they’ll tell you it is because they’re trying to be physically healthy.
Tip: Only Exercise in Ways that You Love
I frequently have patients ask me what kind of exercise they should be doing. To be certain there are better and worse forms of exercise for any given person, but the starting point for anyone should be: Make it enjoyable and convenient. These are the two secrets to making exercise a daily habit.
Do What You Love
If you don’t enjoy it, after all, you’re probably not going to do it. You’ll have no trouble at all finding an excuse not to go to the gym, or not to run that extra lap, or not to make the walk on a cold winter morning to the local community pool.
Make it Convenient
Likewise, even if you love the gym, if it is 20 minutes from your house you probably won’t go there as often as you should. Most people don’t have an extra 40 minutes in their day to make that sort of round trip drive.
When we choose to exercise in ways that we love, the effects are essentially turbo-charged, because we’re getting the mental and physical health boost that any exercise offers, plus we feel the benefits of anticipation beforehand, feel happy during the exercise itself, and feel content after we’re done. All of that means we’re far more likely to exercise regularly and to continue doing so for a long time to come.
Making Exercise a Daily Habit
That’s why I tell my patients not to worry if their idea of enjoyable exercise isn’t physically akin to spending the morning at a CrossFit gym (although there are plenty of people out there who enjoy nothing more than AMRAPing at their local box — and that’s awesome.) But if you love nothing more than taking a daily stroll around the park, or taking a leisurely bike ride along the local riverfront, then those are the exercises that are right for you. As long as it is also convenient, it will be easy to keep that exercise habit for life.
How do get your daily exercise? Please leave your thoughts and question below. I’ll do my best to answer everything within 24 hours.
6 Foods to Reverse Aging with Lithium
Could a microscopic dose of the psychoactive drug lithium, which occurs naturally in mineral water and certain foods, actually be the secret to less heart disease, better moods, and a longer life? In this article, I share how eating six foods may reverse aging with lithium.
What is Lithium?
Lithium is a naturally occurring mineral in food and water. It isn’t just a psychoactive medication.
In fact, lithium is increasingly being recognized as an essential nutrient to human health. Indeed, it is now recommend that we get 1 mg daily of this nutrient daily. To put this tiny 1 mg dose in perspective, most physicians start patients at 600 mg daily when treating mood disorders.
Lithium for mood disorders
During my medical school training at Johns Hopkins in the early 1990s, I remember my first exposure to lithium being used as a drug. Many of our patients were on lithium for bipolar disorder, depression, or headaches. Without lithium, these people couldn’t function.
Lithium had a profound calming effect. It also helped them be less stressed and more focused. Until I recently came across a number or articles on its life-extending benefits, I thought it was just a mood-stabilizing drug.
Lemon, Lime and Lithium
Lithium isn’t just a drug for people suffering from bipolar, depression, or migraines. In fact, the original 1929 recipe for 7-Up contained lithium. I suspect that early 7-Up drinkers were less stressed, less depressed, and overall just felt better. Perhaps it was this calming effect that made this soda pop so popular.
Perhaps this is also why — thousands of years ago — Greek physicians treated their patients with mineral water, which is naturally high in lithium…
Is there something in the water?
While mainstream media has yet to pick up on the lithium story, quietly researchers have been publishing studies on naturally occurring lithium for years. Many studies have shown that naturally occurring lithium helps people (as well as animals, worms, and flies) live longer and healthier lives.
For example, studies show that cities around the world with mineral water, high in natural lithium, have low rates of suicide and depression. When it comes to longevity, a study of 1,206,172 people, showed that those with the most lithium in their drinking water lived much longer.
But lithium’s benefits extend far beyond depression or longevity. Worldwide, people who drink “hard water” — or natural mineral water — have been shown to not only live longer but also have less cardiovascular disease.
How can you reverse aging with lithium?
There are a few theories about how microscopic doses of naturally occurring lithium may extend life. For example, some researchers have reported that the stress reduction effects of lithium may be the answer. As readers well know, stress at least doubles your risk of a heart attack.
A second theory is that lithium increases NAD+, which is well-known to increase longevity. How to naturally boost NAD levels is a topic I discussed in a previous article.
A third theory is that lithium prevents age related degeneration of the mitochondria. For those unfamiliar with the mitochondria, it is the power plant portion of the cell. Without a normally functioning mitochondria, an organism can no longer produce energy and soon dies.
Lithium May Preserve Brain Function
As an added bonus, naturally occurring lithium may also help to preserve brain function. For example, recent evidence suggests lithium may protect against diseases like Alzheimer’s. In animals, low dose lithium has been shown to enhance cognitive performance.
What Are the Side Effects of Lithium?
High-dose lithium therapy, used to treat bipolar, depression, or migraines has many side effects. At doses of 600 mg or more per day, lithium may cause nausea, tremors, or drowsiness. However, with the naturally occurring 1-2 mg daily dose from mineral water, vegetables, fruit, and legumes, the only side effects seem to be the good ones.
6 Foods to Reverse Aging with Lithium
While the recommended daily amount of lithium is 1 mg, studies of cities with high levels of naturally occurring lithium from mineral water suggest that 2 mg may be the optimal dose for health and longevity. In addition to drinking mineral water, below are six foods to reverse aging with lithium.
1. Legumes, such as lentils, beans and peas
Legumes contain some of the highest amounts of lithium found in food. As I discussed in blog 151, one study showed that legumes were the number one food to live to age 100.
In addition to lithium, tomatoes are also high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C, and countless other essential nutrients. One critical nutrient of tomatoes, lycopene, is best absorbed by cooking tomatoes.
Mushrooms are one of the few foods high in naturally occurring vitamin D. In addition to lithium and vitamin D, mushrooms are also packed with the critical B vitamins.
While cucumbers are often ignored by many nutritionists, cucumbers are a vegetable that have high anti-inflammatory properties. As discussed in blog #197, a low inflammation diet may be the secret to living to 110 according to medical studies.
Cabbage is a member of the all-important cruciferous family of vegetables. As I covered way back in blog #19, when it comes to cancer prevention, the cruciferous family of vegetables may be the most important.
For those not only looking for natural sources of lithium, but for weight loss as well, look no further than cauliflower. As I discussed in blog #143, cauliflower is the best vegetable for weight loss. Additionally, cauliflower is part of the cruciferous family so you get cancer prevention with this vegetable as well.
Other Natural Sources of Lithium
In addition to mineral water and the six foods mentioned above, there are also trace amounts of lithium in fish, milk and eggs. However, if you are shooting for the 2 mg natural daily dose of lithium, you’ll probably need mineral water or the six foods above.
A Contrarian View of Lithium
While carefully designed animal studies have clearly shown a health and longevity benefit with lithium, the same may not be the case with humans. For example, the longevity boost seen from mineral water in human studies may have more to do with all of the calcium and magnesium in “hard water.”
Also, foods highest in lithium, like fruit, vegetables, and legumes, are good for you in so many other ways as well. Thus, people getting the highest doses of naturally occurring lithium may also be the people drinking the most water and eating the healthiest foods.
Take Home Message
While there’s no “fountain of youth” that can restore us to our younger selves, we may be able to reverse aging with lithium. When it comes to the life-extending benefits of lithium, you will never get there from a pill. The key is to get it naturally from water, fruit, vegetables, and legumes.
What is your take on naturally occurring lithium?
Please leave your thoughts and questions below. I’ll do my best to answer every question in a timely manner.
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