May
23
2022

What Works for Permanent Weight Control

A recent publication examined what works for permanent weight control and what not. The study came from the Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., AdventHealth, Fla. and the University of Alabama, Birmingham, Ala.

320 sedentary adults who were overweight or had obesity were treated by monitoring alone or by doing “small change approaches”. Both groups were observed for 3 years. The “small change approach” consisted of increasing their activity by 2000 steps per day and by limiting their food intake by 100 kcal per day. The researchers measured the weight, waist circumference and cardiorespiratory fitness of all the subjects.

The results at 3, 6, 12 and 15 months from the start showed significant reductions in weight. However, by 24 and 36 months the subjects had regained body weight.

Results of the study

Results from both groups, the non-intervention group and the small change group, were stacked against each other. There was no significant difference in terms of weight loss between 24 and 36 months into the trial. The researchers concluded that the approach of small change interventions failed.

Another approach to permanent weight loss

Valter Longo, a professor at UCLA, California has established that the fasting mimicking diet can help people to lose the last pounds that are difficult to lose. Patients do a 5 day semi-fast for 5 consecutive days, once per month. They eat three meals per day, but the total daily calorie consumption is only 500 to 800 calories. The calorie deficit leads to a reduction in body mass index between 0.3 and 0.9 for every monthly fasting mimicking diet. I have followed Dr. Longo’s fasting mimicking diet since December 2017. This allows me to keep my body mass index between 21.0 and 22.0.

Conditions that respond to the FMD

The following list shows some of the conditions that respond favorably to the FMD.

  • Obesity, because of the weight loss effect
  • Diabetes: insulin resistance becomes lower and blood sugar levels drop.
  • High blood pressure reduced: many patients were able to reduce their medications or discontinue them
  • Prevention of heart attacks and strokes
  • Pain conditions improve as all kinds of pain disappears, an effect for which there is no explanation at this point
  • Autoimmune diseases like MS and rheumatoid arthritis improve, likely because of the effect of increased stem cell circulation
  • Prevention of heart attacks because of reduction of LDL, triglycerides and CRP
  • Cancer cure rates improved by protecting normal cells and bone marrow function
  • Longevity improved in mice with a 3-fold increase of their life span. Telomere length in humans was increased. Increased stem cells will find defective areas that need repair. This effect opens up a new chapter in medicine.

The above was previously published here.

Discussion

The 3-year study that I mentioned at the beginning of this article showed that for the group that made “small changes” for 2 years there was a slight weight loss with a reduction of 100 calories per day. However, the patients got tired of dieting and regained their lost weight between 2 and 3 years. In contrast, the fasting mimicking diet requires a 1200 to 1500 calorie reduction for 5 days of each month. After a few months the patient becomes highly aware what leads to weight gain and what not. I use electronic body composition scales daily where I can determine weight, fat percentage and muscle percentage. It also records calories consumed and the body mass index (BMI).

Watching your fat percentage and BMI

I record all this data in a little booklet. Once per month I see that the fasting mimicking diet lowers my body mass index by 0.3 to 0.9 points. There is the negative experience of eating ice cream or a New York cheesecake that within one day shows as an increase in fat and the BMI. On the other hand, it is encouraging to see your elevated BMI melt away in only a few days every month. This motivates you over the years to cut out the big diet offenders and to keep your eating portions smaller. Also, you value the neutral effect of berries and vegetables.

What Works for Permanent Weight Control

What Works for Permanent Weight Control

Conclusion

An interesting diet study of 3-year duration showed that small caloric reductions of 100 calories per day are ineffective over a longer period of time. In this study the effect of small caloric reductions wore off after two to three years. On the other hand, I experienced the effects of the fasting mimicking diet (FMD) of Dr. Longo for more than 4 years. This helps me to keep my body mass index (BMI) in the 21.0 to 22.0 range. Without the FMD I would slowly slip into the overweight category. Following the FMD every month and recording the body composition scale values daily keeps me motivated to watch what I eat resulting in persistently low BMI values. Knowing that this is also a key to health keeps should keep anybody motivated.

Mar
30
2022

Adolescents’ Lifestyles Are Linked to Faster Aging in Adulthood

A longitudinal study found that adolescents’ lifestyles are linked to faster aging in adulthood. The study started with a baseline examination in a group of adolescents around the age of 15. 30 years later doctors examined the same individuals again. The researchers found that smokers, obese people and people with untreated emotional problems were aging faster than controls who did not have these problems. CNN discussed this study as well. A fourth condition, asthma was also included in the study. Indeed, adolescents who suffered from asthma in their mid-teens were not more biologically aged at age 45 when compared to controls who never had asthma. The authors concluded that treated asthma did not prematurely age a person. However, lifestyle habits like smoking, excessive weight and untreated mental illness contributed to accelerated aging.

Does having a healthy lifestyle lower your risk of developing medical conditions and diseases?

It must be remembered that anti-aging medicine is watching out for new treatments that can prolong life. However, this is not just one “breakthrough”, but rather a number of factors that in combination lead to longevity.

Resveratrol

Resveratrol, the supplement from red grape skin can stimulate your mitochondria metabolism. Exercise more and regularly as this will also stimulate your mitochondria to multiply similar to the effects of PQQ, a supplement. I take 500 mg of resveratrol concentrate once daily.

Exercise regularly

The first thing to remember is that regular exercise will prevent about 50% of chronic diseases (diabetes, heart failure, arthritis). Consequently, this prolongs life: Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases.

Replacing missing hormones with bioidentical hormones

When you enter menopause or andropause replace missing hormones with bioidentical hormones. This will add 10–15 years of good life. This information comes from the anti-aging medicine circles and European studies of women on bioidentical hormone replacement. Here is a more conservative opinion from a US review: Counseling Postmenopausal Women about Bioidentical Hormones: Ten Discussion Points for Practicing Physicians.

Abandon sugar, starchy foods

Starchy foods (potatoes, pasta, rice, pastries and bread) and processed food accelerate aging. Avoid these foods for a healthier heart – Harvard Health. Many studies have confirmed that a Mediterranean diet is anti-inflammatory and prevents premature aging.

Are you deficient in human growth hormone?

Find out whether you are deficient in human growth hormone or not by taking an IGF-1 blood test. Dr. Hertoghe, an endocrinologist from Belgium said at various anti-aging conferences that HGH by itself prolongs life by about 15 to 20 years or more. I am deficient in HGH and I am injecting HGH myself regularly. My anti-aging physician orders my IGF-1 level three to four times per year to monitor the right dosage of HGH replacement. But it is crucial that the physician supervise the patient. This involves  giving the patient only minimal amounts of HGH, which keeps IGF-1 levels in the high normal range. This is also re-emphasized in this review: Growth Hormone and Aging: Updated Review. When you overdose HGH, you lose all of the beneficial effects that HGH replacement brings.

Fasting mimicking diet (FMD)

Fasting for Longevity: 9 Questions for Dr. Valter D. Longo. When you consume only 500 to 600 calories daily for 5 days out of every month you are stimulating your telomeres (the caps on your chromosomes) to grow a little bit longer. Longer telomeres translate into longer life expectancy. In addition, your stem cells anywhere in your body also undergo stimulation. Here is more information: fasting mimicking diet for 5 days every month.

Lifestyle factors

It is best not to smoke. Keep your body mass index in the 21.0 to 22.0 range. Get enough sleep (7–8 hours every night). Use a form of relaxing exercise (yoga, self-hypnosis, meditation, Tai-Chi). This will keep the stress hormone cortisol under control; if it is constantly high from ongoing stress, it leads to premature deaths. The Science of STRESS – SLMA

Take key vitamins and minerals

When you take key vitamins and minerals every day you can add another 5 to 10 years of disease-free life to your life expectancy. Ray Schilling’s answer to Is taking vitamin supplements helpful or quackery?

All of these factors taken together help you to not age prematurely. A healthy lifestyle elongates your telomeres, which prolongs your life without diseases. It also prevents heart attacks and strokes, which again prolongs your life. And a healthy lifestyle prevents Alzheimer’s disease, so you can turn old and not have to worry about memory loss. I cannot overemphasize how important a healthy lifestyle is!

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Conclusion 

As summarized above, a recent study going on for about 30 years showed that premature biological aging occurs in adolescents who smoked, were obese or had untreated mental illness. On the other hand, treated asthmatics did not show this biological aging effect. I summarized what factors contribute to slowing down aging. It is a combination of proper diet, regular exercise, hormone replacement as you age and taking some supplements. One key to slower aging is to be aware of how important a healthy lifestyle is for you.

The section about having a healthy lifestyle was published previously here: Ray Schilling’s answer to What are the most exciting breakthroughs in longevity research?

Feb
13
2022

How healthy are Carbohydrates?

A recent review article asked: how healthy are carbohydrates? The three food components that occur in natural food are carbohydrates, fats and protein. Among the carbohydrates it is important to distinguish between simple carbohydrates (such as sugar) and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are readily absorbed into the blood, which causes an insulin peak. After a few hours the peak is gone, and there is a “crash”. You will know the feeling of feeling hungry just a few hours after eating doughnuts! Complex carbs like peas, beans, fruit and vegetables take longer to get digested. The final breakdown product of the digestive process is sugar as well. But this process takes longer meaning that the concentration of sugar in the blood is much lower. There is also no “crash”. The result is that complex carbs cause less insulin secretion into the blood.

Long-term effect of eating too much sugar

Integrated over several decades of life, this means that a person who constantly consumes beverages with sugar and snacks containing sugar is at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In contrast, a person who eats well balanced meals where the insulin secretion is low, will not develop diabetes and have much less hardening of the arteries. This translates into a lower risk to develop heart attacks and strokes.

The types of carbohydrates

Before I discuss the health effects of various carbohydrates, we need to look at the types of carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates

Table sugar is a disaccharide, which consists of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose.

The enzyme amylase very quickly breaks down the chemical bond between fructose and glucose and creates these monosaccharides in the small intestine from which they are rapidly absorbed. Milk sugar is a disaccharide, which consists of a molecule of glucose bound to a molecule of galactose. Milk contains 2 to 8% of milk sugar. We have to watch these simple carbs, because they trigger insulin production and lead to accelerated hardening of the arteries, heart attacks and strokes.

Complex carbohydrates

In contrast, complex carbs are healthy, because they take some time to be digested in the digestive tract. They consist of polysaccharides, long chains of sugar molecules. Both starches and dietary fiber consist of complex carbohydrates. They often are present in vegetables and many fruit. Complex carbs slow down the absorption of their breakdown products and minimize the insulin response. Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of fruit and vegetables. It contributes to good gut health as the beneficial gut bacteria can multiply on the fibre particles.

Healthy carbs

When simple carbohydrates dominate in our food intake, we are in trouble because they are loaded with calories. Overconsumption of them leads to weight gain and obesity, to diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and even cancer. On the other hand, consumption of complex carbohydrates is healthy. We get them from eating apples, bananas, berries, vegetables like spinach, tomatoes and carrots. Other healthy complex carbs are whole grain flour, quinoa and brown rice. Black beans, lentils, peas and garbanzo beans are also healthy complex carbs. Dairy products like low fat milk, yogurt and ricotta cheese are healthy as well.

Mediterranean diet as an example of a healthy, balanced diet

In 2019 a study was published where women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) were either put on a Mediterranean diet or not. This study showed that a Mediterranean diet was anti-inflammatory, reduced insulin resistance and reduced testosterone levels in PCOS patients.  But the same is true in a general population. The Mediterranean diet is one example of a healthy, balanced diet with complex carbohydrates. It prevents insulin resistance, inflammation and hormone disbalance. Other diets have similar effects like the DASH diet, the Zone diet and the Pritikin diet.

Quantity and quality of your food intake matters

A 2018 study from India showed that it matters how many carbohydrates we consume.  On average Indians eat a diet with 65-75 percent of calories coming from carbohydrates. Many of these carbs are the unhealthy simple carbohydrates. How healthy are  carbohydrates? The authors recommended to reduce complex carbohydrates to 50-55% and to add 20-25% protein, mostly from vegetable sources and add 20-30% from fat. The fat consumption needs to include monounsaturated fats (e.g., olive oil, nuts and seeds). Among the carbs a lot of green leafy vegetables help to balance the diet. This prevents the development of type 2 diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

The above addresses the issue of quality of food. But it is also important what quantity of food we are eating. This is where counting or estimating calories comes in. If we overeat, we will very quickly gain weight and eventually can develop obesity.

The glycemic index and glycemic load

In order to help you with the choice of right carbohydrates the glycemic index was developed.

Here is another reference about the glycemic index/glycemic load.

In table 1 towards the end of the last link you find a column designated “GI” for glycemic index. All the foods that have a value less than 55 are foods that you can eat freely.

Problematical carbohydrate foods

Baked russet potatoes and boiled potatoes are very high on the GI index list. Puffed rice cakes, doughnuts, jelly beans and corn flakes measure high on the glycemic index list. But water melons, dried dates, white bread and white rice are also items to be avoided.

You best avoid anything with a glycemic index above 55. The column to the right of GI shows you a serving size and the last column on the right the glycemic load. The lower the glycemic load per serving, the better it is for your health. The glycemic index and the glycemic load are useful concepts of helping you to sort out your diet items.

My wife and I used this in 2001 to shed weight. We both lost 50 pounds (=22.72 kilograms) each in a period of 3 months.

Fasting mimicking diet (FMD)

According to Dr. Longo intermittent fasting stimulates the stem cells of the bone marrow. This leads to new clones of lymphocytes (B cells and T cells), which are part of the immune system. Your immune system becomes stronger from this.

Dr. Longo has done detailed mouse experiments, which inspired him to develop a new diet plan. Patients would receive a fasting mimicking diet (FMD) on 5 consecutive days per month. The rest of the month consists of a normal, balanced diet. 5 days of the month the person consumes a low 600-800-calorie diet. This reduced calorie intake is enough to ensure adherence to the diet, but low enough to lead to enormous positive metabolic changes including youth-preserving stem cell stimulation.

I am following the FMD

I have followed a FMD since December 2017. It helps me to keep my weight (BMI) in the 21 to 22 range. I feel more energetic and have managed to stay in good health.

The above chapter on the FMD was previously published here.

How healthy are Carbohydrates?

How healthy are Carbohydrates?

Conclusion

Healthy eating consists of 50-55% calories from complex carbohydrates; add to this 20-25% protein, mostly from vegetable sources and add 20-30% of total calories from fat. The fat consumption needs to include monounsaturated fats (e.g., olive oil, nuts and seeds). Unfortunately, most “convenience foods” (=processed foods) are incompatible with a healthy lifestyle. They contain too much simple carbs (sugar). Many people live on 65-75 percent of calories coming from simple carbohydrates, which are too many carbs. It should be complex carbs that digest slower and that do not induce insulin resistance. The glycemic index and glycemic load are useful concepts to help you chose the right foods that keep you healthy. The fasting mimicking diet can help you to take the last few pounds off that may be difficult to shed. Weight loss and weight maintenance are possible when you choose the right foods.

Sep
04
2021

Effects of a Plant-centered Diet on Cardiovascular Disease in Midlife

A study followed younger patients for 32 years looking for the effects of a plant-centered diet on cardiovascular disease in midlife. The researchers determined the heart attack and stroke rates when the participants were in their 50’s to 60’s. When on a plant-based diet cardiovascular disease rates fell by 52% compared to a control group with a meat containing diet. One subgroup changed the diet from a regular diet to a plant-based diet over 13 years. This reduced the risk ratio by 61% for heart attacks and strokes when assessed later.

Details of this study

There were 4946 adults as participants of this 32-year study. They were recruited in 1985 and 1986, at which time none of them had cardiovascular disease. The study completed in 2018. The results were published on Aug. 4, 2021. The researchers assessed the plant-centered diet quality using a tool with the name “A Priori Diet Quality Score” (APDQS). The higher the score, the higher the quality of the food. This means the person consumed nutritionally rich plant foods, limited amounts of high-fat meat products and less healthy plant foods.

Although a plant-rich diet consisted primarily of nutritionally rich plant foods, small amounts of animal products were also allowed. This involved low-fat dairy products, non fried poultry and steamed or grilled fish. This made the diet tastier and ensured that people would stick to this diet for decades.

Improvements of heart attack rates with plant-centered diet

After 32 years 289 cases of cardiovascular disease developed. The researchers compared participants with the highest food quintile to participants with the lowest food quintile. As mentioned, the risk for participants on a plant-based diet was 52% lower to get a cardiovascular disease. Moreover, a subgroup changed from a higher risk (fatter meals, meat, less vegetables) diet to a lower risk diet (lean fat, lean poultry, vegetables). Physicians followed this subgroup for 13 years and the risk ratio for heart attacks and strokes fell by 61%.

Comparison to other diet studies

There are other studies that looked at the effect of diet changes on the risk of developing heart disease. One such study examined 86 cross-sectional studies and 10 prospective studies in a meta-analysis. Vegetarian diets reduced deaths from heart attacks by 25% and brought down the incidence of total cancer rates by 8%. A vegan diet reduced the risk of total cancer by 15%.

In a study from the United Kingdom dated March 2019 several clinical trials were analyzed regarding non-diabetic populations. The question came up, what the effect of a Mediterranean diet was on cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality. The authors reviewed 30 RCTs (49 papers) with 12,461 randomized participants and seven ongoing trials. In one study the observation time was 46 months. A Mediterranean diet reduced the cardiovascular disease mortality by 65%!

Another study from Spain

Another study from Spain published in 2019 examined 7356 older adults (average 67 years) and followed them for 6.8 years. The investigators kept track of the physical activity and put everybody except the controls on a Mediterranean diet. The group on the lightest leisure-time physical activity consuming a Mediterranean diet had the lowest mortality. The all-cause mortality of this group was 73% lower than the control group.

What is so healthy about the Mediterranean diet?

Despite a wide variation between all the 15 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, there are common characteristics: an abundance of vegetables and fruit, along with nuts and legumes. Cereal products are largely whole grain. Olive oil is the principal fat source, and people eat fish, seafoods and poultry in moderation. They consume red meat rarely. Cheese and yogurt can be part of the diet, depending on the region.

The first clinical evidence supporting the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet came from the Lyon Heart Study. The researchers placed patients who had a heart attack either on the diet designed by the American Heart Association or a Mediterranean style diet. After a follow-up of 27 months, the group eating the Mediterranean diet had a reduction of heart attacks by 73% and a decreased mortality by 70% compared to the other group.

More detail on the ingredients of the Mediterranean diet

An analysis of the various foods of the Mediterranean diet shows the reasons for the health benefits clearly. The fats that people on a Mediterranean diet eat are heart-healthy monounsaturated fats like olive oil or fats that contain omega-3 fatty acids. They come from fish (tuna, salmon, trout, sardines) or from plant sources (walnuts, other tree nuts and flax seed).

As there is an emphasis on natural foods, the diet is extremely low in trans fatty acids (hydrogenated fats), which otherwise increases the risk for cardiovascular disease. As people consume more than 300g of vegetables per capita daily, the contents of antioxidants and other beneficial plant chemicals is much higher in comparison to Western diets. There are many individual components of the Mediterranean diet that contribute to the reduction of disease. This is particularly true for heart disease. It also is apparent, that there is not one single food or nutrient that is responsible for the health benefits. What matters are the interactive effects of all the nutrients that lead to the health benefits.

No processed food means healthier living

The practical application does not mean deprivation and starvation, but a move away from processed fats (margarine), baked goods (donuts, muffins, pastries), and high saturated fat snacks and trans fats (chips, crackers, cookies, pies). Food choices move towards those of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, fish, and olive oil. Portions or servings have to be adequate to maintain a healthy weight.

Mediterranean food is not the heaping plate of pasta with an afterthought of vegetables. It also is not the super-size fast food pizza with pepperoni and cheese. Mediterranean food incorporates fresh food rather than fast food. It entails a shift from large portions of red meat to smaller portions of fish, a transition from highly processed foods to ample helpings of dark green vegetables with a dose of olive oil. Low amounts of alcohol, especially red wine can make a meal enjoyable, which means that the limit is one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men. After dinner go for a walk!

Olive oil is one of the reasons why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy

In the past it was thought that the monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil would be the reason why it is protective of the heart. However, newer studies have shown that it is the polyphenols and among these in particular hydroxytyrosol that lower blood pressure and protect you from hardening of the arteries.

A 2012 study from Spain has found that mortality from heart attacks was 44% lower than that of a control group who did not incorporate olive oil in their diet.

How polyphenols in olive oil work for you

Only two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day protect you from heart disease. It does so by reducing the total cholesterol level in the blood as well as the LDL cholesterol level. When there is more polyphenol in olive oil (such as in extra virgin olive oil), the body produces more HDL, which is essential to extract oxidized LDL from arterial plaque. On top of that polyphenol rich olive oil increases the size of the HDL particles (these larger particles have the name HDL2), which are more efficient in extracting oxidized LDL from arterial plaques. A Sept. 2014 study in humans showed that higher polyphenol olive oil as found in extra virgin olive oil caused an increase in the more effective HDL2 particles. This cleans out plaques from arteries more effectively than the regular, cheaper olive oil.

Effects of a Plant-centered Diet on Cardiovascular Disease in Midlife

Effects of a Plant-centered Diet on Cardiovascular Disease in Midlife

Conclusion

Several large, well-controlled studies showed that there are pronounced effects of a plant-centered diet on cardiovascular disease in midlife. Heart attack rates and mortality rates were reduced by 25% to 73% on a Vegan diet or a Mediterranean diet. When people combine a plant-centered diet with regular physical exercise they also live longer. One of the ingredients of a Mediterranean diet is extra virgin olive oil. It contains polyphenols that lower total and LDL cholesterol. It also increases the larger particles of HDL cholesterol with the name HDL2. HDL2 is more efficient in extracting oxidized LDL cholesterol from arterial plaques.

What you can eat on a plant-centered diet

A plant-centered diet incorporates fresh food rather than fast food. It entails a shift from large portions of red meat to smaller portions of fish, a transition from highly processed foods to ample helpings of dark green vegetables with a dose of olive oil. Instead of large portions of beef and sausages shift to seafood (tuna, salmon, trout, sardines), walnuts, other tree nuts and flax seed. The statistics clearly showed the effects of a plant-centered diet on cardiovascular disease in midlife with a reduction of heart attacks and mortality.

Some of the text above was published previously here.

Oct
17
2020

What can Happen to Your Body Over Months of Isolation

A recent article by CNN describes what can happen to your body over months of isolation at home. The article is rather negative showing all the possible things that can go wrong. I have been isolated as well since March 2020. I handle the isolation differently than described in the article. I will comment to each point what can be done differently to avoid the complications mentioned.

Muscle loss

The CNN article makes the point that inactivity can make you lose muscle bulk within only one week. A lack of exercise weakens your muscle strength. And muscle strength has been associated with longevity.

My comment:

I do a brisk walk of 5 to 7 kilometers daily. This maintains my muscle bulk. But I have a treadmill in the basement and a couple of weights that I can use, if it rains outside.

There is a danger that heart and lungs get weaker

You need to raise your heart rate and you also need to perfuse your lungs through exercise. Many people do not like exercise. They sit in front of the TV for hours or they surf the net on the computer. Even just reading a book does not give you enough exercise to get your heart rate up and increase your lung perfusion.

My comment:

A brisk walk with proper distancing gives you fresh air, exercises your muscles, your heart and your lungs. It maintains your cardiovascular fitness.

Weight gain

Being home all the time allows you to look into the fridge more often and eat snacks that are processed. People tend to eat more often than 3 times a day. The end result is that you gain weight. In the beginning of the epidemic people stocked up on non-perishable foods. Often they contain more sugar and carbohydrates. Consuming these foods leads to weight gain. Wearing masks, frequent hand washing, isolation practices and change of normal routines makes people get stressed. Stress leads to overeating and weight gain.

My comment:

In the last 6 months that I did home isolation my body mass index (BMI) stayed in the 21.0 to 22.0 range. I ate three meals a day. I avoided processed foods as they are overloaded with sugar, salt and refined carbs. Once a month I do a 5-day fasting mimicking diet according to Dr. Longo. This ensures that my BMI stays within the range I indicated. Otherwise I eat a Mediterranean diet, which is anti-inflammatory.

Your posture could suffer

When you are seated in front of the computer or the TV you tend to engage in poor postures. This can lead to strains of your back, neck, shoulders and hips. Staring at the computer screen or the TV can also give you eye strain.

My comment:

The key is movement, such as getting up and walking around; doing other activities like lawn mowing, weed eating or doing dishes. This interrupts any longer stretch of bad posture.

Your sleep quality can suffer

The more exposure to sunlight during the day you get, the more vitamin D you produce in the skin. Some people lack the necessary enzymes in the skin to convert cholesterol into vitamin D. But exposure to sunlight also helps to reinforce your diurnal hormone rhythm. This is also called circadian rhythm. Avoid blue lights (TV, computer, iPhones etc.) in the evening before bedtime as this can interfere with a deep sleep later. Also go to bed early enough (between 10 and 11 PM) to allow your circadian rhythm to take over.

My comment:

Some people (above the age of 60) benefit from 3 mg of melatonin at bedtime. After the age of 60 people no longer produce enough melatonin in the pineal gland. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I take another 3 mg of melatonin prior to 3AM. Caution: after 3 AM melatonin can give you a bit of a hangover in the morning.

Your brain can slow down

The brain needs nutrition and exercise. Exercise can eliminate certain amino acid by-products that otherwise turn into neurotoxins. With exercise you even prevent neurotoxins to enter the brain.

My comment:

I find that I must at least do a brisk walk of 4 kilometers a day. It prevents back pain, helps me sleep better and keeps my mind clear. But as mentioned earlier I prefer doing a brisk walk for 5 to 7 kilometers a day. In the past (prior to March 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic started) I went to the gym every day. When it finally reopened, they had one Covid-19 case at the gym. I decided that it is too dangerous to go back to the gym until a safe Covid-19 vaccine is available in the summer of 2021. I feel the same way about flying. It is not worth the risk. I can just stay local and do my own program. The pleasure of traveling can wait until the summer of next year.

What can Happen to Your Body Over Months of Isolation

What can Happen to Your Body Over Months of Isolation

Conclusion

A recent CNN article described the dangers of passively staying in home isolation. I felt that this article was on the negative side. I found that by including a regular brisk walking program into my daily lifestyle the day got more structured. I felt I had more energy and I had no aches or pains. If I spent too much time watching TV or spending in front of the computer, I developed back aches and felt sluggish. I incorporated a 5-day fasting mimicking diet according to Dr. Longo once per month into my regular Mediterranean diet. This allowed me to keep my body mass index in the 21.0- 22.0 range. Doing what I described above I could continue to hold my weight, have energy and stay pain free for many more months. But when the Covid-19 vaccine arrives in spring/summer of 2021 I hope that things will return to normal.

Oct
10
2020

Medical Myths about Aging

Medical myths about aging are easy to debunk. Many people believe that it is inevitable that they become disabled as they age, their lives become unbearable, without passion, boring and full of pain. Some aspects of your health may decline with age, none of the myths discussed below is inevitably happening in everyone. Studies showed that a positive outlook on aging and life in general will help you to live longer and stay healthier.  Here I discuss 7 common myths about aging.

Myth 1: Everyone will experience physical deterioration

It is common for people to experience reduced muscle strength, increased blood pressure, excessive fat accumulation and osteoporosis. A study with 148 older patients showed that an expectation of reduced fitness in older age actually resulted in less physical activity when older age arrived.

But you can maintain good cardiovascular function and good muscle strength with a regular exercise program.  This study showed that men and women can reduce mortality by exercising regularly, even in older age.

Myth 2: Older adults cannot exercise

There are several reasons why older people stop exercising or are afraid to start exercising. People use the excuse of their arthritis getting worse from exercise. But studies showed the opposite: joint function improves and joint pains are getting better with exercise. Your muscles get stronger and you are less likely to fall. Your heart and lungs are improving their functions and your mentation improves. Exercise increases the HDL cholesterol, which reduces the risk for heart attacks and strokes.

Myth 3: As we age, we need less sleep

For many years there was the notion that older people need less sleep. What was not known then was that people above the age of 60 have no appreciable secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland. But when they replace their melatonin deficiency by taking a nighttime dose of 3 mg at bedtime, they will sleep better and longer. They may need a second dose of melatonin in the middle of the night. We need 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night for our diurnal hormone rhythm.

This will also slow down our aging clock.

Myth 4: Your brain slows as you age

Dementia is common when you get older. 13.9% have it at age 71 and older. 37.4% have dementia over the age of 90. But the majority, namely 86.1% in the 71+ age group and 62.6% above the age of 90 do not have dementia. A Mayo Clinic study showed that when the person engaged in artistic activities in midlife or later in life the risk for mild cognitive impairment (MCI) development was reduced by 73%, involvement in crafts reduced it by 45% and engagement in social activities by 55%. In a surprise finding the use of a computer late in life was associated with a 53% reduction in MCI development. These are very significant observations.

Physical activity reduces risk for dementia

Apart from stimulating your brain, physical activities also significantly reduce the risk for dementia. A synopsis of 11 such studies showed that dementia is reduced by 30% when physical activity is started in midlife and the person is aging compared to non-exercisers.

Myth 5: Osteoporosis occurs only in women

There is a serious misunderstanding about osteoporosis. Several factors work together that can cause osteoporosis. Women in menopause are more likely to develop it due to the missing ovarian hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones work together and stimulate vitamin D induced calcium deposition into bone as well as decreasing bone resorption.

Vitamin K2 also deposits calcium into the bone. In postmenopausal women who take bioidentical hormone replacement, vitamin D and K2 the bone density remains strong. Unfortunately, the opposite is true in postmenopausal women who take synthetic hormones. Synthetic hormones have side chains that do not fit the natural hormone receptors of a woman. This is why osteoporosis persist. And, yes, men get osteoporosis, but typically 10 years later. Typically, they get into andropause where testosterone production declines 10 years later.

Myth 6: People stop sex as they age

With age men can develop erectile dysfunction (ED) and women vaginal dryness, both of which can interfere with having sex. A large study showed that only 0.4% of men in the age group 18-29 had ED. In the age group of 60-69 there were 11.5% who suffered from ED. What this means though is that 88.5% of men age 60-69 did not suffer from ED. Fortunately for those who have ED drugs like Cialis and Viagra can correct their problem and they can have regular sex. What a change from 25 years ago when none of these drugs were available (approval of Viagra by FDA in 1998 and of Cialis in 2003).

Bioidentical hormone replacement beyond menopause and andropause preserves your normal sex drive as well. There are additional benefits of bioidentical hormones. They have positive effects on the heart, brain, bones and the muscle mass.

Myth 7: It is too late to stop smoking now

One of the myths that many older smokers like to say is that it would be too late to stop smoking. They think the damage to heart and lungs is permanent and quitting now is too late. Fact is that quitting smoking immediately improves your blood circulation and gives you more oxygen. In just 1 year the risk of getting a heart attack is cut into half. In 10 years, the risk of a heart attack or stroke is the same as that of non-smokers. There is a reduction of getting lung cancer by half.

Medical Myths About Aging

Medical Myths about Aging

Conclusion

There are all kinds of medical myths about aging. We may think that physical deterioration is inevitable. Or we believe that older people cannot exercise. And we cannot help it, but our brain slows down as we get older. And there is the question whether we need less sleep as we age. Osteoporosis is a disease of women, is it not? These older couples, they don’t have sex any more, do they? And is it too late to stop smoking now that I am 65 years old? All of these myths exist, but there is a need to debunk them.

The truth behind the medical myths about aging

I explained in detail what the medical truths are behind these questions. Many of these myths have developed in the past. But with regular exercise, balanced nutrition (Mediterranean diet) and a positive attitude much of these old myths can be overcome. Bioidentical hormone replacement when hormones are missing is another powerful tool. Yes, we all age. But we are still living and can enjoy life as long as it lasts.

Aug
29
2020

Health Benefits from Vitamin C Supplements

Notably, there are health benefits from vitamin C supplements as I will explain below. A recent publication in the Journal of Intensive Care stated that vitamin C may lower ventilator time for sick patients in the ICU. In this case, researchers performed  a meta-regression analysis. It is important to realize that higher doses of vitamin C changed the need for ventilation. Vitamin C given intravenously or by mouth significantly reduced the need for ventilation in sick patients. To explain, the researchers pooled eight clinical trials and compared them to a control group who did not receive vitamin C treatment. In detail, the researchers noted that there was a 14% reduction with regard to ventilator use in the treatment group. To clarify, they had received vitamin C infusions while patients who did not receive vitamin C infusions served as controls.

Five of the clinical trials involved patients who received 10 hours or more ventilation treatment. Certainly, these patients were sicker than the average ICU patients. They experienced a 25% reduction of ventilator time after receiving between 1 and 6 grams of vitamin C. The physicians gave this intravenous or orally.

History of Mega doses of vitamin C

Indeed, in the 1940’s mega doses of vitamin C were given intravenously in an attempt to treat polio. Eventually, in the late 1960’s Linus Pauling called high doses of vitamin C the “healing factors for diseases”. But subsequent clinical investigations showed that vitamin C had limitations. The Oregon State University website reports that some of the claims about vitamin C in the past went overboard. Here are some points about vitamin C that we need to remember.

  • Vitamin C is an important cofactor in many enzymatic reactions, such as the biosynthesis of collagen, carnitine and neuropeptides. In addition, the regulation of gene expression requires vitamin C and vitamin C is an important antioxidant.
  • A prospective cohort study showed that higher vitamin C blood levels lowered the risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and strokes.

More effects of vitamin C

  • Patients in need of a surgical procedure benefitted from vitamin C. Researchers showed that vitamin C was a valuable adjunct to conventional medicine in cardiovascular disease  Vitamin C reduced arrhythmia and myocardial injury following cardiac procedures.
  • There is insufficient evidence that regular vitamin C intake prevents cancer. Randomized controlled clinical trials reported no effect of vitamin C on cancer.
  • 10 grams per day of vitamin C has no association with toxic or adverse effects in most people. However, some adults are more sensitive to vitamin C and develop gastrointestinal disturbances and diarrhea with megadoses of vitamin C. For these people physicians recommend  taking up to 2 grams per day of vitamin C.

Vitamin C and disease prevention

Several clinical trials involving vitamin C supplements showed significant positive effects on patients. Below I am briefly reviewing these clinical trials.

Endothelial function

Endothelial function was improved with doses of above 500 mg of vitamin C. This likely is the reason that there is a reduction of cardiovascular disease in people who consume 1000 mg of vitamin C daily.

High blood pressure

Vitamin C at 500 mg daily lowers high blood pressure. A clinical trial found that 500 mg of vitamin C daily lowers the systolic blood pressure by 3.84 mm mercury and the diastolic blood pressure by 1.48 mm mercury. Over several years’ time this can prevent premature heart attacks and strokes.

Vitamin C and the immune system

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. It can neutralize reactive oxygen species, which are produced when the immune cells fight viruses and bacteria. Neutrophils, lymphocytes and phagocytes are all supported by vitamin C. Vitamin C and E co-operate in their antioxidant functions. Vitamin C is essential for a strong antibody response with bacterial or viral infections. I take 1000 mg of vitamin C once daily.

Heart failure, strokes and heart attacks

Many studies showed some effects on reduction of heart attacks, strokes and congestive heart failure. With respect to strokes there was a 42% risk reduction over 9.5 years when the highest vitamin C plasma level was compared to the lowest level. But results regarding heart attack prevention and prevention of CHF were only marginal.

Cancer and vitamin C

Stomach cancer: there was a 45% reduction of stomach cancer when high vitamin C plasma level cases were compared to low plasma level cases.

Colon cancer: A pooled study based on 13 prospective cohort studies showed that vitamin C supplementation reduced colon cancer risk by 19%.

Large B cell lymphoma: After 11 years of follow-up the Women’s Health Initiative found that vitamin C supplementation reduced diffuse large B cell lymphoma by 31%.

Researchers could not show significant effects of vitamin C on other cancers.

Type 2 Diabetes (=adult onset diabetes)

A large European study going on for 12 years showed a strong inverse relationship between blood levels of vitamin C and the onset of diabetes. Patients with the highest vitamin C blood levels had a 62% lower risk of developing diabetes. Physicians compared this to low level vitamin C controls.

Mortality reduction with vitamin C supplementation

In the EPIC-Norfolk prospective study a clear inverse relationship was found with higher vitamin C blood levels and a reduction in risk of all-cause mortality.

Recommended dietary allowance for vitamin C

The official dietary recommendation for vitamin C in adults is 90 mg daily for males and 75 mg daily for females. However, in view of the above mentioned clinical trials I would recommend the following. Supplement with 500 mg to 1000 mg of vitamin C daily to have enough vitamin C reserves. The reason I say this is that the official dietary recommendation was based on preventing scurvy, the historic insufficiency disease of vitamin C. In addition, as mentioned before, vitamin C is safe to take up to 10 grams per day. Many physicians recommend taking a smaller amount of vitamin C found to prevent strokes, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, improve endothelial function and strengthen the immune system.

Health Benefits from Vitamin C Supplements

Health Benefits from Vitamin C Supplements

Conclusion

In my review I discussed health benefits from vitamin C supplements. Briefly, doctors noted that severely sick patients on respirators in the ICU setting were able to reduce the ventilator use.  This was significant after they received between 1 and 6 grams of intravenous or oral vitamin C. However, patients with the highest vitamin C supplementation had a 62% lower risk of developing diabetes than low level vitamin C controls. Vitamin C lowered high blood pressure moderately and prevented strokes by 42%. Vitamin C stimulates the immune system together with vitamin D, A, E and some trace minerals. There are many more health benefits from vitamin C supplements. The official dietary recommendation for vitamin C in adults is 90 mg daily for males and 75 mg daily for females. However, I take 1000 mg of vitamin C daily as the evidence shows that this is healthier.

Aug
08
2020

Poor Diets Threaten Americans and Cause Diseases

A new Federal Nutrition Research Advisory Group stated that poor diets threaten Americans and cause diseases. More than 500,000 people in the US are dying every year because of poor nutrition. 46% of adults have unhealthy diets; but children have even more, namely 56%. In 1979 the US healthcare cost was 6.9% of the gross domestic product. Compare this to 2018 when the US healthcare cost was 17.7% of the gross domestic product.

The Federal Nutrition Research Advisory Group states: “Poor diets lead to a harsh cycle of lower academic achievement in school, lost productivity at work, increased chronic disease risk, increased out-of-pocket health costs, and poverty for the most vulnerable Americans.”

You can improve your diet quality 

When you start cutting out junk food and other processed foods, the quality of your food intake is improving. Eat more vegetables, and fruit. Eat wild salmon, which provides omega-3 fatty acids. Do not consume vegetable oils like soybean oil, canola oil, safflower oil, corn oil and grapeseed oil. They all contain omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids and they convert mainly into energy. But the problem is that our western diet contains too many omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids can convert into arachidonic acid, which causes inflammation. This in turn can cause heart attacks and strokes on the one hand and arthritis on the other. Use cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil instead for cooking and on salads.

How does poor quality food affect your health?

Researchers are aware of trans fats causing Alzheimer’s disease, heart attacks and strokes for a long time. They increase the bad LDL cholesterol, decrease the good HDL cholesterol. Rancid oils contain free radicals that oxidize LDL cholesterol and attack the lining of your arteries through small dense LDL cholesterol. The FDA has started to initiate steps in 2015 to make the use of trans-fats in the food industry illegal. Completion of this in the US occurs in early 2020.

Japanese trans-fat study (Alzheimer’s disease)

This Japanese study followed 1,628 Japanese community residents (men and women) for about 10 years. Researchers used the typical trans fatty acid, elaidic acid to monitor the accumulation of trans fats in patients. This is possible with a simple blood test, which serves as a marker for industrial trans fats. 377 participants developed dementia (247 Alzheimer’s disease and 102 vascular dementia). Based on the blood elaidic acid levels earlier in the study individuals with higher trans-fat levels were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as the study progressed. Patients whose trans-fat blood levels were in the higher range were 50% to 75% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Diseases caused by poor lifestyle habits

It is important to review the diseases that shorten life expectancy due to having poor lifestyle habits. Note that it is not only your dietary habits that determine this, but in addition, several lifestyle factors.

Cardiovascular disease

Smoking, lack of regular exercise and poor eating habits result in being overweight or developing obesity. All of these are risks with LDL cholesterol elevation and HDL cholesterol lowering that leads to heart attacks and strokes. Here is a study that shows how life is shortened after a heart attack. It is clear from this how important it is to give up all of the poor lifestyle habits to avoid this from happening.

Cancer

90% of lung cancers are the result of cigarette smoking. Heavy drinking can contribute and also lead to cancer of the liver, esophageal cancer, cancer of mouth and throat and cancer of the breasts in women. In addition, consuming too much alcohol causes cancer of the colon and rectum in both sexes.

Diabetes

There are a variety of risk factors causing diabetes. Obesity, a lack of exercise, a bad diet with too much carbohydrates and the aging process are what contributes to the development of type 2 diabetes.

We see again that it is largely lifestyle issues that drive the onset of this disease. People who have developed diabetes need to control their blood sugar very closely to avoid complications of diabetes. This includes making healthier choices.

Otherwise complications of diabetes are diabetic nephropathy, blindness from macular degeneration of the cornea, heart attacks, stroke and diabetic neuropathy. In addition, vascular complications also include artery occlusions in the lower extremities with frequent foot or below knee amputations.

Chronic diseases

Often chronic diseases develop when there is generalized development of inflammation. COPD, chronic kidney disease and arthritis are examples of such conditions. In addition, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, asthma, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis and diabetes belong into this category. All of these chronic diseases have in common that cytokines produce inflammation in the body. This keeps the chronic disease going and makes it more difficult to cure. When the person with a chronic disease makes poor lifestyle choices, the inflammation just becomes more chronic.

Smoking is one of the factors that makes chronic inflammation more chronic. Having a body mass index above 25.0 (being overweight) and above 30.0 (obesity) also creates more inflammation in the body. Excessive alcohol intake damages body cells and releases free radicals. These in turn cause inflammation and make the chronic disease more difficult to treat. An unhealthy diet tends to raise the bad LDL cholesterol, introduces pesticides and other chemicals into your system and adds to chronic inflammation. Finally, a lack of exercise is not contributing to a healthy circulation and lowers the protective HDL cholesterol, paving the way for heart attacks and strokes.

Poor Diets Threaten Americans and Cause Diseases

Poor Diets Threaten Americans and Cause Diseases

Conclusion

A new Federal Nutrition Research Advisory Group has been formed, which noted that many Americans follow very poor diets. 46% of adults in the US have unhealthy diets; but children have even more poor diets, namely 56%. This is of concern, because in time this causes a variety of diseases discussed here. Instead of just treating the symptoms of these diseases, it is important to improve the diet people are on, which prevents the development of these diseases. A well-balanced diet not only prevents diseases, it also leads to longevity and healthy aging without Alzheimer’s disease. Take care of what you eat, and be sure it is healthy!

Part of this text was published before here.

Aug
01
2020

Eating Fish Protects the Brain from Air Pollution

Research on white women aged 70 years or older found that eating fish protects the brain from air pollution. Dr. Ka He from the Columbia University of New York published the new study on July 15, 2020 in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

1,315 women who did not have dementia at the start of the study enrolled in it. Researchers measured the air pollution of the areas where the women lived. They also measured their omega-3 fatty acid blood levels. They found that women from polluted areas who ate the lowest amounts of fish and had the lowest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood, had the highest amount of brain shrinkage.

Methods of determining brain shrinkage, omega-3 fatty acids and pollution

The amount of brain shrinkage was determined with MRI scans of the brain. The amount of white brain matter was measured, particularly the size of the memory-sensitive hippocampus. Blood omega-3 fatty acid content was determined in red blood cells. Pollution was determined by the fine particulate matter in air pollution at the address where the patient lived. Every woman in the study received a diet questionnaire regarding fish consumption. From this information the researchers determined the average fish consumption per week. This included broiled and baked fish, non-fried shellfish, canned tuna, tuna casserole and tuna salad. Deep fried fish was not part of the list, because other studies showed that deep-frying damages omega-3 fatty acids.

More details regarding the study

The researchers adjusted the study according to age, smoking status, and other factors that could affect brain shrinkage. Women with the highest intake of omega-3 fatty acids had the highest volume of white matter in their brains as MRI scans showed. Specifically, the researchers noted the following findings:

  • Women with the highest omega-3 fatty acid level had 410 cubic cm white matter
  • Women with the lowest omega-3 fatty acid level had 403 cubic cm white matter
  • Each quartile increase in air pollution caused shrinkage of white matter by 11.52 cubic cm in those women with low omega-3 fatty acid consumption
  • In women with higher omega-3 fatty acid levels each quartile increase in air pollution caused shrinkage of white matter by only 0.12 cubic cm
  • Women with the highest omega-3 fatty acid intake had the highest volume of the hippocampus

Comments by the lead author of the study

Dr. Ka He stated: “Our findings suggest that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood from fish consumption may preserve brain volume as women age and possibly protect against the potential toxic effects of air pollution.” But Dr. Ka He cautioned: “It’s important to note that our study only found an association between brain volume and eating fish. It does not prove that eating fish preserves brain volume. And since separate studies have found some species of fish may contain environmental toxins, it’s important to talk to a doctor about what types of fish to eat before adding more fish to your diet.”

Limitations of study

The study was involving older white women. This means that the results cannot be generalized to Afro Americans, Hispanics or Asians. The researchers examined exposure to pollution only later in life, not in early life or midlife. Hopefully future studies will examine what happens with lifelong exposure to pollution.

How to limit mercury exposure when eating fish

Omega-3 fatty acids are abundantly present in fish. It has plaque-reducing properties and also reduces the risk for abnormal heart beats. Overall this means less cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends a 3.5 oz. serving of fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring or sardines) twice per week.

Mercury and other pollutants

Pollution of the air, soil and rivers is causing accumulation of mercury and other heavy metals in ocean water.

This affects fish that live in the ocean. There is a pecking order of predators with the larger fish feeding on the smaller fish. The bigger the predator fish, the more mercury and other pollutants they accumulate. According to this link the safest seafood is wild salmon, pollock and oysters.

High mercury content of predator fish

Tuna is too high in mercury, so is swordfish, and shark is even worse. I only consume fish from freshwater lakes or rivers, as well as salmon, oysters and shrimp. This way I get the lowest exposure to mercury. Why is mercury bad for you? It is a neurotoxin. It can harm your brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and the immune system. Specific symptoms can include loss of peripheral vision and lack of coordination with balancing problems. There may be impairment of speech and hearing. The key is to avoid mercury exposure.

Smaller fish low in mercury

The first line of defense is to stick to the smaller fish. They are they prey of the large predator fish. The following fish/mussels belong into the low mercury group (alphabetical order): anchovies, catfish, clam, crab, crawfish, flounder, haddock, herring, mackerel, mullet, oyster, perch, pollock, salmon, sardines, scallops, shrimp, sole, squid, trout and whitefish.

Molecularly distilled omega-3 fatty acid supplements

You may want to supplement your omega-3 fatty acid intake by fish oil capsules. It is important that you choose the more expensive higher potency products. A molecular distillation process that removes mercury, PCB and other heavy metals creates these higher potency products. This way you only get the enriched omega-3 fatty acids in pure form. EPA and DHA in one capsule should be in the 900 mg to 1000 mg range, not less. I take 2 capsules twice per day as a daily supplement. This helps you to balance the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, which cuts down any inflammatory process (from too many omega-6 fatty acids) in you.

Eating Fish Protects the Brain from Air Pollution

Eating Fish Protects the Brain from Air Pollution

Conclusion

A new study from the Columbia University of New York has shown that women older than 70 can preserve the white matter of their brains by consumption of fish. This included the hippocampus which is crucial for memory. The researchers measured the recent exposure of these women to pollution. They noted that the women who were exposed to the highest amounts of pollution had the best protection of the white matter of their brains by the highest consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish. Omega-3 fatty acids are also important to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Omega-6 fatty acids can cause inflammation, but when enough omega-3 fatty acids are part of the nutrition, the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio switches towards anti-inflammation and health.

How to consume omega-3 fatty acids safely

Omega-3 fatty acids are in fish and seafood. Unfortunately, mercury is contaminating these foods. But when you stick to the smaller fish and use molecularly distilled omega-3 supplements you can largely avoid this problem.

Parts of this text has been published before here.

Jul
25
2020

The Immune System Changes With Age

When we are young, we do not think about our immune system, but the immune system changes with age. When we are older than age 60, we notice that we may be taking longer to recover from a flu.

How does the immune system work?

There are two parts to the immune system, the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. The innate immune system works to protect us from bacteria, viruses, toxins and fungi from the time we are born. The adaptive immune system uses B lymphocytes from the bone marrow to produce antibodies against viruses. This provides often lifelong immunity against this specific virus, but takes 3 to 5 days to kick in. Vaccinations can also trigger antibody production to protect us from viruses in the future. Both the adaptive and the innate immune system work together closely.

What are the ingredients for a fully functioning immune system?

The immune system consists of various immune organs that are distributed throughout the body. The bone marrow produces lymphocytes, granulocytes, macrophages, eosinophils and basophils. The adenoids in the back of the nasal passages and the tonsils in the back of the throat contain a lot of lymphocytes that are ready to protect us from colds and flus. We have lymph nodes throughout the body and they are connected with lymphatic vessels. The lymph nodes filter the lymph fluid that travels in the lymphatic vessels.

Other sites of lymphocyte production

The small intestine contains the Peyer’s patches, a collection of lymphocytes that protect our gut from invading bacteria or viruses. The spleen is located in the left abdominal cavity under the diaphragm. It removes old red blood cells and provides lymphocytes for the immune system. The thymus gland is located between the breast bone and the trachea. It changes bone marrow derived lymphocytes (B cells) into T lymphocytes that can process antigens from viruses and pass them on to the adaptive immune system for a full antibody response.

Cellular interactions between various players of the immune system

Back in the 1970’s it was already known that there were bone marrow derived B lymphocytes and thymus processed T lymphocytes. We knew then that B cells were involved in antibody production (adaptive immunity). T lymphocytes were thought to turn into killer T lymphocytes to kill cancer cells. But some T cells were T helper cells to process antigen and present it to B lymphocytes for antibody production.

More research since then refined what we know about the cells of the immune system.

Natural killer cells (NK cells)

Natural killer cells (NK cells) are part of the innate immune system. They attack cancer cells and cells that are infected by viruses. It takes about 3 days for their full action to develop. NK cells utilize the cell surface histocompatibility complex to decide whether to destroy a cell or not. T cell lymphocytes do not have the ability to do that. In the Covid-19 coronavirus situation NK cells play an important role to combat the disease right away.

Monocytes

They are large white blood cells that can differentiate further into macrophages and dendritic cells. Monocytes are part of the innate immunity, but they have an antigen presenting capability, which makes them also part of the adaptive immunity.

Memory T cells

The immune system learns to adapt to viruses and bacteria that we have come in contact with. The reason for the memory of the immune cells are the memory T cells. They replicate like stem cells, which keeps a clone of T lymphocytes, T helper cells and cytotoxic T killer cells in the background. They circulate through the body including the lymph glands and the spleen.

Immunosenescence as we age

There are several factors that come together, which age our immune system. The term for this is “immunosenescence“. There are genetic differences and differences due to the sex hormones. Estrogens increase the response of the immune system. In contrast, progesterone and androgens (including testosterone) decrease the immune response. This may be the reason why women tend to live longer than men.

As we age there are more and more memory T cells (both cytotoxic T cells and T helper cells). This weakens the formation of the natural killer cells (NK cells) of the innate immune system. Even the initiation of the adaptive immune system can be slower when we age and also the response to the flu vaccine. In addition, this can pave the way to autoimmune diseases.

The immune system changes with age: Evidence of immunosenescence

The following 3 factors show whether a person has immunosenescence:

  • The immune system has difficulties to respond to new viruses/bacteria or to vaccines
  • Accumulation of memory T cells crowding out cells of the rest of the immune system
  • Low-grade inflammation that is chronic and persists (“inflamm-aging”)

The process of immunosenescence starts with the involution of the thymus gland around the time of puberty. At that time the sex hormone secretion is highest. At the same time a growth factor from the bone marrow and the thymus gland decreases. It has the name interleukin-7 (IL-7). The end result is a slow decrease of the innate immune system with age and a more substantial weakening of the adaptive immune system due to a lack of naïve T and B cells. 

Chronic viruses can weaken the immune system further

The varicella herpes zoster virus causes chickenpox. In some people the chickenpox virus can persist, but the immune system actively keeps it controlled. In the 60’s or 70’s when the immune system is weakened from aging, there can be a flare-up as shingles, a localized form of the chickenpox virus.

Another virus, the human cytomegalovirus can cause a chronic infection that often persists lifelong. In this case the immune system is chronically weakened because of a massive accumulation of T memory cells, which keeps the human cytomegalovirus infection at bay.

What we need when the immune system changes with age 

Vitamin A

Both the innate and adaptive immunity depend on vitamin A and its metabolites. The skin cells and mucosal cells function as a barrier, which is important for the innate immunity. The skin/mucosal lining of the eye, the respiratory tract, the gastrointestinal and genitourinary tracts help the innate immunity to keep viruses and bacteria out of the body. Vitamin A is important to support macrophages, neutrophils and natural killer (NK) cells. In addition, vitamin A supports the adaptive immune system, namely T and B lymphocytes, so that the body can produce specific antibodies against viruses.

I do not take vitamin A supplements as I eat diversified foods like spinach, vegetables, poultry, Brussels sprout, fish and dairy products that contain vitamin A and carotenoids.

Vitamin C

This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant. It can neutralize reactive oxygen species, which are produced when the immune cells fight viruses and bacteria. Neutrophils, lymphocytes and phagocytes are all supported by vitamin C. Vitamin C and E co-operate in their antioxidant functions. Vitamin C is essential for a strong antibody response with bacterial or viral infections. I take 1000 mg of vitamin C once daily.

Vitamin D

The immune system is very dependent on vitamin D as the immune cells all contain vitamin D receptors. People who have less than 10 ng/mL of vitamin D in the blood are vitamin D deficient. They have much higher death rates when they get infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Vitamin D regulates the expression of target genes. At the center is the vitamin D receptor, which is a nuclear transcription factor. Together with the retinoic X receptor (from vitamin A) the vitamin D receptor binds small sequences of DNA. They have the name “vitamin D response elements” and are capable of initiating a cascade of molecular interactions. The result is a modulation of specific genes. Researchers identified thousands of vitamin D response elements that regulate between 100 and 1250 genes.

You need enough vitamin D for your immune system

When enough vitamin D is present in the blood (more than 30 ng/mL) the immune system releases the peptides cathelicidins and defensins, which effectively destroy bacteria and viruses.

Vitamin D has mainly an inhibitory function regarding adaptive immunity. It inhibits antibody production from B cells and also dampens the effect of T cells. Researchers reported that vitamin D3 is useful in the treatment of autoimmune diseases.

I am a slow absorber of vitamin D3 as repeat blood vitamin D levels showed. I need 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily to get a blood level of 50-80 ng/mL (=125-200 nmol/L). This is the higher range of normal. Everybody is different. Ask your physician to check your blood level of vitamin D. Toxic vitamin D blood levels are only starting above 150 ng/mL (= 375 nmol/L).

Vitamin E

This is a vitamin that is fat soluble and helps the body to maintain its cell membranes. But researchers found that vitamin E also stimulates the T cell-mediated immune response. This is particularly important for the aging person to prevent respiratory tract infections. I take 125 mg of Annatto tocotrienols per day (this is the most potent form of vitamin E).

Vitamin B6

This vitamin is important for antibody production by B cells. Vitamin B6 regulates the metabolism of amino acids, which in turn form proteins. Antibodies and cytokines require vitamin B6. The T helper immune cells that initiate an adaptive immune response depend on vitamin B6 as well. I take a multi B complex vitamin (Mega B 50) twice per day, so I supplement with a total of 100 mg of vitamin B6 daily.

Folate

Folic acid is a coenzyme for the metabolism of nucleic acids and amino acids. Studies in humans and animals have shown that folate deficiency leads to increased susceptibility to infections. People with folate deficiency develop a megaloblastic anemia with immune weakness that leads to chronic infections. With my B complex supplement I get 2 mg of folic acid daily.

Vitamin B12

Methylation pathways depend on vitamin B12 as a coenzyme. Vitamin B12 is also involved as a coenzyme in the production of energy from fats and proteins. In addition, hemoglobin synthesis depends on vitamin B12. Patients with vitamin B12 deficiency develop pernicious anemia. These patients also have a weak immune system due to natural killer cell activity suppression and because circulating lymphocyte numbers are significantly decreased.

Treatment with cyanocobalamin reverses the immune weakness rapidly and treats pernicious anemia at the same time. I take 50 micrograms twice per day as part of the Mega-B50 multivitamin tablet. But I also inject 1000 micrograms of vitamin B12 every 6 months subcutaneously to be sure it is absorbed into the body. In older age the intrinsic factor from the stomach lining, which is required for absorption of vitamin B12 in the small intestine, can be missing, leading to vitamin B12 deficiency despite swallowing supplements.

Minerals required for a good immune response

Researchers identified five minerals that are essential for a strong immune system. They are zinc, iron, selenium, copper and magnesium.

Zinc

Zinc is important for a normal function of the innate and adaptive immune system. As zinc cannot be stored in the body, taking regular zinc supplements (30 to 50 mg daily) is important. I take 50 mg of amino acid chelated zinc daily.

Iron

Iron is important for cell oxygen transport and storage, DNA synthesis and for mounting an effective immune response. In particular it is the T cell differentiation and proliferation where iron is needed. Iron deficient people get a lot of infections because the immune system is paralyzed. I eat one spinach salad or steamed spinach daily, which gives me enough iron supply per day.

Selenium

Selenium is a trace mineral that is important for a normal immune response and for cancer prevention. When selenium is missing, both the adaptive and innate immune system are suffering. In this case viruses are more virulent. With selenium supplementation cell-mediated immunity is improved and the immune response to viruses is more potent. I take 200 micrograms of selenium per day.

Copper

Deficiency in copper results in a very low neutrophil blood count and causes susceptibility to infections. Copper is a trace mineral that participates in several enzymatic reactions. It is important for the innate immune response to bacterial infections. A well-balanced Mediterranean diet contains enough copper, which is why I do not supplement with extra copper.

Magnesium

An important cofactor for vitamin D in the body is magnesium. Magnesium participates in many enzymatic reactions. Between vitamin D and magnesium, the immune system is strengthened. I take 150 mg of magnesium citrate twice per day. By the way, magnesium also helps us to get a restful sleep, if we take it at bedtime.

Other dietary factors that strengthen the immune system

Polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids

It is important to note that polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the body and help to modulate the immune system. I take 1800 mg of omega-3 (EPA/DHA) twice per day. I also like to eat fish and seafood at least 3 times per week.

Probiotics

Prebiotics benefit both the innate and the adaptive immune system. They strengthen the epithelial gut barrier, which is an important innate immune defence. Probiotics also lower the risk for Clostridium difficile gut infections. I take one probiotic every morning.

The Immune System Changes With Age

The Immune System Changes With Age

Conclusion

The immune system consists of different organs like the bone marrow, the spleen, lymph glands, Peyer’s patches in the gut, the thymus gland and more. There is the innate immune system, which responds immediately to a virus like the Covid-19 coronavirus. The adaptive immune response involves antibody production against, for instance, the measle virus or the mumps virus. With the aging process the immune system slows down (immunosenescence). This involves an accumulation of memory T cells and a depletion of natural killer cells (NK cells). This means that the innate immunity is getting weaker as we age and chronic inflammation occurs more often. This is the reason why people above the age of 65 get more severe symptoms from the Covid-19 coronavirus. They are also more affected by influenza-type illnesses.

Take supplements to strengthen the immune system

I reviewed the cofactors of a healthy immune system in some detail. It is important that you pay attention to these, particularly the vitamin D3 intake. With a strong immune system, we can survive viral infections better, including the current Covid-19 coronavirus. Future research will likely detect how to reactivate a sluggish immune system in older people. This way vaccination responses following flu injections will become more reliable in seniors.