The Dietary Fountain of Youth

man with spadeWant to live a long time with your health and mental faculties intact?

Want to keep your youthful looks and vigour well into middle, and even old age?

If you answered yes to these questions, you’re not alone. According to Transparency Market Research the anti-ageing market is estimated to be worth USD$191.7 Billion globally by 2019.

In our youth-obsessed culture it seems there are no shortage of products and procedures to help make you look and feel younger – at a price.

But what if you’re not interested in cosmetic surgery, pills or supplements, botox, and anti-ageing creams and potions? Is there a natural, inexpensive way to reverse the ageing process and stave off the modern diseases that kill so many of us?

The answer is yes, and the answer is diet-related.

According to the Plant-based Dietitian, Julieanna Hever, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition,

“One of the worst things you [can] do is assault your body every day with anti-nutrients: animal protein, saturated fat, hydrogenated fats, dietary cholesterol, and processed foods.”

Best-selling author of ‘Eat to Live‘ and other books, Joel Fuhrman, M.D., says:

“Scientists have discovered a link between animal protein and cancer in both laboratory and human epidemiological studies, and reducing one’s consumption of animal protein slows the ageing process.”

Plant Foods for Better Skin

girl with appleWhen we think of improving our skin, we usually think of moisturisers and other cosmetics. But rather than focus on what we put on our face, we should first consider what we put in our mouths.

Whole plant foods are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants to help our skin have and maintain that youthful glow. Think foods such as walnuts, ground flaxseeds, avocado, brazil nuts, tomatoes, kale, spinach, bell peppers, blueberries, citrus fruits, broccoli, almonds, pomegranates, carrots, beans, sweet potato, lentils, watermelon, whole grains and pumpkin.

How Telomeres Relate to Aging

Each of us has 46 strands of DNA in each of our cells. These strands are coiled into chromosomes with a ‘cap’ at the end of the DNA strand which are called telomere. As we age these telomeres are shortened. When they die, we die.

“As scientists continue to examine the complex role of telomeres in the ageing process and the role they play in our health, we have come to understand that shorter telomere length is associated with biological ageing and lifestyle-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer, and premature death.” – Dr Joel Fuhrman

In a study by Dr Dean Ornish, it was discovered that a whole-foods, nutrient-dense, plant-based diet increased telomerase activity that is associated with slowing down the ageing of our cells.

“Telomerase is an enzyme that rebuilds the telomeres at the end of our cell’s DNA. Scientists believe that if we can slow down the loss of our DNA’s telomeres, we can slow down the aging process, allowing us to live longer.” – Dr Linda Carney

Foods that accelerate the ageing process and shorten telomeres:

  • Processed meats
  • Fish
  • Saturated fat (found primarily in meat, eggs and dairy products)

Foods that slow down the ageing process and boost the activities of telomeres:

  • Whole plant foods high in fibre and vitamins – fruits and vegetables (peppers, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, and root vegetables had the highest correlation to increased telomere length)
  • Regular exercise helps too!

The Dangers of IGF-1

As Dr Joel Fuhrman advises, IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor – one) is one of the body’s important growth promoters during fetal and childhood growth. However, later in life IGF-1 promotes the ageing process.

In adulthood, reduced IGF-1 levels are associated with reduced oxidative stress, decreased inflammation, enhanced insulin sensitivity and longer lifespan. On the flip-side, elevated IGF-1 levels have been shown to promote the growth, proliferation and spread of cancer cells, and are linked to increased risk of several cancers.

Foods that Raise IGF-1

  • Meat, including poultry and seafood
  • Dairy products
  • Refined carbohydrates, like white flour, white rice, and sugars

Plant Food Power Prevents Disease

root vegetablesOf the 63% of deaths worldwide due to chronic diseases and conditions in 2008, poor diets were a major contributory factor according to the World Health Organization.

The national or regional rates for main types of diseases such as certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes type 2, are considerably lower where plant-based diets are more common, compared to areas where animal-based diets are more prevalent.

Why plant-based diets are good at preventing disease

Mounting medical evidence shows that a plant-based diet supports longevity and good health. A balanced, varied whole-food plant-based diet protects health because:

  • It’s high in fibre.
  • It provides adequate protein for growth and repair.
  • It’s high in antioxidants that are critical to neutralizing free radicals that cause ageing and chronic disease, including cancer.
  • It’s high in vitamins and minerals.
  • It’s low in saturated fat that promotes heart disease and increases ageing

Our biggest killer disease

What is the biggest killer in our society? Is it suicide, substance abuse, violent attacks, car accidents, or cancer? These issues often receive major media coverage and sympathy, and rightly so. However they don’t kill the most people.

For most wealthy, western countries like my country, Australia, the largest single cause of death is the same – heart disease, or cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Consider these grim statistics:

Australia (data source: The Australian Heart Foundation):

  • Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in Australia, killing one Australian every 12 minutes, and claiming the lives of 45,600 Australians (almost 30% of all deaths)
  • Affects one in six Australians or 4.2 million
  • Lower socio-economic groups, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those living in remote areas had the highest rate of hospitalisation and death resulting from CVD in Australia

United States (data source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

  • About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year – 1 in every 4 deaths
  • Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack
  • In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 42 seconds.
  • Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States $207 billion each year in health-related costs

Heart disease – a global disaster

It is not only affluent English-speaking countries that have high rates of heart disease though. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), heart disease is a global problem. Of the top 10 leading causes of death worldwide, the number 1 is – you guessed it – cardiovascular disease.

Interestingly, when you compare the leading cause of deaths for low income countries to that of middle income, and especially high income countries, heart disease is more prevalent with a higher income.

This implies a relationship between diet and lifestyle of affluent countries contributing to an increase in heart disease. Which leads us to the key lifestyle factors to help prevent heart disease.

Lifestyle Factors to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

Eat a heart-healthy diet – which is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and trans-fats, low in salt & sugar, and high in fibre-rich whole-grains (such as oats and barley), unsalted nuts (such as almonds and walnuts), legumes, soy products, beans, vegetables and fruit. Use fats sparingly, and include those found in whole foods such as raw seeds, nuts and avocado.

  1. Eat a heart-healthy diet
  2. Quit smoking
  3. Maintain a healthy weight
  4. Exercise regularly – 30 minutes per day
  5. Reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption
  6. Reduce salt intake
  7. Control diabetes
  8. Manage stress

Fat, cholesterol and L-carnitine

meatWe already know that the saturated fat and cholesterol in meat (and eggs) can contribute to increased cholesterol levels and blocked arteries. Recent research suggests another reason why red meat can be dangerous in your diet if you have high cholesterol or are at risk of heart disease.

According to a study published in the prestigious journal ‘Nature Medicine’, a compound in red meat called L-carnitine is associated with the build up of plaque in arteries that causes heart attacks, strokes and vascular disease.  (Fish, poultry, milk and other dairy products are also good food sources of L-carnitine).

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that the compound in meat, L-carnitine, is converted by the liver into a chemical called TMAO, Trimethylamine N-oxide. TMAO is found in abundance in red meat and crustaceans, and as an ingredient in energy drinks, energy pills and some weight-loss products. TMAO is also known to increase heart disease and hardening of the arteries, also called arteriosclerosis which is a known indicator of heart attacks and risk of strokes. Eggs are also implicated in studies as a leading source of TMAO.

According the leader of the study, Dr Hazen, chronic ingestion of carnitine fundamentally shifts the metabolism of cholesterol.

“It’s changing it in a way that will make you more prone to heart disease,” he said. “Eating carnitine causes more cholesterol to be deposited onto artery walls, and less to be eliminated from the body”.

The researchers found that adults who avoid meat and eat fewer animal products produced much lower concentrations of TMAO in the blood compared with the meat eaters.

As a result of these research findings, doctors are giving warnings about excessive consumption of red meat.

In Australia these warnings especially apply to kangaroo meat, which for a long time has been considered to be one of the healthiest meat choices because of its low fat content.

Executive chairman of Obesity Australia and Professor of Medicine at Monash University John Funder said given that kangaroos had more L-carnitine per gram than any other red meat. Professor Funder recommended that consumers be wary of excessive consumption of kangaroo meat.

What is known that plant foods such as soy and wheat do not contain other known factors in heart disease, such as high levels of saturated fat, cholesterol or L-carnitine (on the contrary, soy is known to help lower cholesterol).

Why take the extra risk with a high consumption of red meat, or supplements with added carnitine or TMAO when you can get plenty of protein and other nutrients from healthy plant food alternatives?

Cutting the Big C

The second biggest killer in our society, after heart disease, is cancer.

Eating red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) is associated with increased rates of cancer and heart disease. The American Cancer Society recommends eating a healthy diet for the prevention of cancer “with an emphasis on plant foods.

Foods high in animal protein, including meat, eggs and dairy products, may also contribute to increased cancer risk. When we consume too much animal protein, the body increases its production of the hormone IGF-1. As noted, elevated IGF-1 levels have been shown to promote the growth, proliferation and spread of cancer cells, and are linked to increased risk of several cancers.

eggsPlant based diets can also protect against the formation of blood vessels that feed cancerous tumors (angiogenesis). The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), published a report in February 2011 explaining how many cancers can be delayed or even prevented through a balance of regular physical activity and a plant-based diet.

Dietary choline in eggs has also been linked to the progression of prostate cancer. Studies have shown that men who eat 2.5 eggs or more a week have an 81% increased risk of lethal prostate cancer, compared to men who had less than 0.5 eggs per week.

6 ways to prevent cancer

Researchers with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine published six dietary guidelines for cancer prevention in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

The six dietary recommendations to reduce risk of several types of cancer are:

1. Limit or avoid dairy products to reduce risk of prostate cancer.

One glass of milk each day increases risk of prostate cancer by 10 percent. Consuming two glasses of milk each day increases risk of prostate cancer by 60 percent.

2. Limit or avoid alcohol to reduce cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon and rectum, skin, and breast.

One drink per week increases risk of mouth, pharynx, and larynx cancers by 24 percent. Two to three drinks per day increase risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent.

3. Avoid red and processed meat to reduce risk of cancers of the colon and rectum.

Each 50-gram daily serving of processed meat, equivalent to two slices of bacon or one sausage link, increases risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent.

4. Avoid grilled, fried, and broiled meats to reduce risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, breast, prostate, kidney, and pancreas.

Certain heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are associated with cancer of the colon and rectum. HCAs form in cooked skeletal muscle, increasing with higher cooking times and higher temperatures. When ingested, HCAs can disrupt DNA synthesis.

5. Consume natural soy products, such as edamame, to reduce risk of breast cancer.

A global study shows women who consume 11 grams of soy protein each day reduce risk for both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer by about 30 percent.

6. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to reduce several forms of cancer.

The fiber and phytochemicals available in fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens, help reduce overall cancer risk—while a Western diet (high amounts of meat and fat with minimal amounts of fruits and vegetables) doubles the risk.

Thanks to PCRM for this list.

Foods that protect against cancer:

  • Diets high in fruit may lower the risk of stomach and lung cancer.
  • Diets high in non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, and beans, may help protect against stomach and esophageal cancer.
  • Eating oranges, berries, peas, bell peppers, dark leafy greens and other foods high in vitamin C may also protect against esophageal cancer.
  • Foods high in lycopene, such as tomatoes, guava, and watermelon, may lower the risk of prostate cancer.
  • Beta-carotene, present in dark green and yellow vegetables, helps protect against lung cancer and may help prevent cancers of the bladder, mouth, larynx, esophagus, breast, and other sites.
  • Selenium is found in whole grains and has the same antioxidant effects as vitamin C and beta-carotene. Vitamin E also has this effect. Caution is advised in supplementing selenium, which is toxic in large doses.
  • Cruciferous (broccoli, kale) and Allium (garlic, onion) vegetables seem to be the most potent anti-cancer vegetables

NOTE: Please always see your doctor for advice or treatment for cancer or any other illness.

Medical Studies Show the Power of Plant Food

Numerous studies over the last few decades have shown that people whose diets include a large intake of plant foods tend to have a lower risk of chronic disease. The reasons are many:

  • Plant-based foods are naturally rich in antioxidants, which help eliminate free radicals that damage cells and cause chronic inflammation.
  • Dr. Dean Ornish’s research showed that eating a very low-fat, plant-based, vegetarian diet and other lifestyle changes could, in fact, reverse heart disease. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn also succeeded in arresting and reversing heart disease in patients who were seriously ill.
  • The Adventist Health Study-2 found that vegetarians had a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
  •  There is also compelling research indicating that eating meat causes the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract to produce a compound that may increase the risk of atherosclerosis (clogged arteries).

Go Veg – Live Longer

healthy heart foodA study published on the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) website shows that people who follow a vegetarian diet can enjoy an almost 12 per cent lower mortality rate than their meat loving counterparts.

Dr. Michael Orlich of the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California, the lead author of the study report, noted that vegetarian diets have clear beneficial effects in the prevention of chronic diseases and the improvement of longevity in humans.

More than 70,000 Seventh-Day Adventist participants were interviewed by researchers in this study. Those who identified as vegetarians were categorised included vegans (eating nothing but plant foods), lacto-ovo vegetarians (eating plant-foods as well as dairy products and eggs), and semi-vegetarians (eating mostly plant-foods but also some animal products like fish and poultry).

Over a six-year period researchers followed the study group to determine differences in mortality. They found that over a one year period five to six per 1,000 vegetarians had died compared to seven per 1,000 meat eaters. Importantly, this study yet again confirms that people who eat mostly plant-based foods are less likely to develop chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and certain forms of cancer.

“Vegetarian diets are associated with lower all-cause mortality and with some reductions in cause-specific mortality,” the authors concluded.

The point with following a plant-based vegan diet is not just a slower ageing process or longer life, but one marked by less obesity, less disease, and more enjoyment of all the things in life that are not just good, but good for you, animals and the planet.

Tom Perry