Healthy Food and
The Key to Longevity
If you are like most people, you believe that your genes have predetermined just about everything about you. As you look in the mirror each morning, perhaps you see your mother’s eyes or your father’s smile. You may also be convinced that your genes have already predetermined the illnesses you are destined to suffer.
In her book, Living Downstream, Dr. Sandra Steingraber describes her health challenges in living with bladder cancer. Because her mother, uncle, and grandfather had all died of various forms of cancer, many people who knew Sandra assumed that she had inherited cancer genes. They were not aware that Sandra had been adopted. Her cancer, she believed, was caused by exposure to environmental pollution as a child.
Dr. Steingraber’s story reminds us of an important fact. Rather than supposed genetic predispositions, it is external conditions ― the circumstances to which your genes are exposed ― that contribute either to maximum wellness or to disease, accelerated aging and premature death.
According to leading researchers, only about 10 to 15 percent of cancers are genetic in origin; the rest are caused by a combination of environmental and lifestyle factors.
Here’s something else that perhaps you didn’t know.
Because you eat so often, food is the single most important way to maintain your genetic integrity or to destroy it. Many excellent scientific studies underscore this vitally important truth. Richard Weindruch, Ph.D., has conducted research into how genes are affected by dietary change. The results were published in Scientific American, back in 1996.
His paper, “Nutrient Modulation of Gene Expressions,” illustrates that simply by reducing the number of total calories eaten, the lifespan of a lab mouse could be prolonged by 30 percent. In human terms, that would translate into extending the predicted life span from an average of 76 years to a ripe old 93.
You would be very satisfied with that life expectancy, wouldn’t you? I’d gladly settle in advance for 90-some good years.
There are 6,347 genes in the typical lab rat. Dr. Weindruch discovered that during normal aging, when the animal was permitted to eat as much as it desired, five percent of the rat’s genes underwent an increase in activity and five percent decreased.
Ninety percent of the rat’s genes showed no change in activity levels. Are you surprised to learn that the five percent that rose in activity were stress genes and the five percent that fell were energy genes? For the sake of longevity, these percentages should be reversed.
This is similar to what I see in patients who are aging prematurely. They are fatigued, depressed and stressed. They describe having chronic pain, arthritis, memory loss and weak immune systems. Unfortunately, until I ask, they have rarely thought about how diet may have caused many of their symptoms.
Perhaps you are not interested in being able to run a maze at age 60, but I know you would like to have as much energy as possible and you want to be active at every age and stage of life.
Here’s how you can do it. Merely by cutting down on your total calories and eating healthy foods, you can send positive signals to your genes, thereby increasing your chances for a long, robust life.
All the research on caloric restriction points out that you are constantly speaking to your genes and the words are the foods you eat. This means smaller portions of nutrient-rich foods like lean protein, Omega-3 fish, good fats like avocado and extra virgin olive oil, and fresh fruits and vegetables are sending your genes an important message ― you want to live a long and healthy life by providing every cell in your body with the right amount of nourishment it needs to enable you to enjoy a ripe old age.
At the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, we know that the food you eat not only determines your longevity; it is a primary factor in the health of your brain and Alzheimer’s prevention. That’s why we have made it #1 in our 4 Pillars of Alzheimer’s Prevention. It’s your most important tool for a healthy mind and body at any age.
Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.
President and Medical Director
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