By Dr. Mercola
The last time you went to your physician, did he or she ask you about your diet, your exercise habits or your methods of stress reduction? These should be a key point of discussion, as research continues to pour in about their importance to human health, disease prevention and increased lifespan.
Recently, a small study published in the Lancet once again confirmed that eating a diet rich in vegetables while exercising and managing stress may modify cell aging and potentially help you live longer.1
It’s not rocket science… the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ really is true, and combined with other healthy lifestyle factors is the best ‘fountain of youth’ currently known to humankind.
A Healthy Lifestyle Is Your Ticket to a Long Life
You’ve certainly heard about the importance of a healthy lifestyle before, but it deserves repeating because it truly is the closest thing to a magic ‘pill’ for life extension that you can find. In the latest study, men followed a healthy lifestyle, which consisted of:
- Eating a mostly whole-food, vegetable-rich diet (with few refined carbohydrates)
- Walking for 30 minutes six days a week
- 60 minutes of daily stress management (mostly yoga and meditation)
- A 60-minute support group session once a week
After five years, men in the healthy lifestyle group had an increase in telomere (the ends of your chromosomes) length compared to the control group. It has been suggested, not without controversy, that increasing telomere length slows down or even reverses aging.
However, it may be possible that the modifications in cell aging being attributed to telomere length increases may actually be a byproduct of healthy genetic expression gained by eating a whole-food, low-sugar diet.
Dr. Ron Rosedale Explains Telomere Science…
Dr. Ron Rosedale, M.D. is widely considered to be one of the leading anti-aging doctors in the US, and as such is highly qualified to discuss the complex issues behind using telomere length as an indicator of lifespan. There are numerous problems with the theory, including that fewer than 1 percent of people have the telomerase enzyme necessary to increase their chromosome’s telomere length.
Further, many cells, such as liver and kidney cells can’t lengthen telomeres, while cancer cells can increase telomere length. As Dr. Rosedale said:2
“The fact that telomeres shorten may actually allow us to live longer, as it may reduce the risk of cancer. The good news is that the telomeres in almost all the cells other than WBCs and stem cells do not increase, for if they did, dying of cancer would be all but certain.”
It may very well be that controlling telomere length specific to different diseases and cells may be a powerful way to improve health. But right now, we just don’t know enough about it to be certain. And it might be that the association between increased lifespan and telomere length is simply a correlation, not a cause. Dr. Rosedale explained:
“A major mistake made so frequently in medicine… is the confusion and interchange between correlation and cause. An example is the consistent reference to cholesterol being a cause of heart disease, when in fact it is an association, and even a weak one at that.
…Getting wrinkles is far more correlated, and is therefore a far better biomarker for aging than telomere length, however undergoing a dermabrasion is not likely to extend lifespan. Once again, it is science 101 to not confuse correlation with cause.
It could very well be, and in fact is likely, that reduced telomere length is a byproduct of the cell damage and turnover associated with aging, rather than a prime cause of it, though it likely does have some adverse repercussions especially to the immune system and possibly stem cells.”
How the Foods You Eat Impact Your Lifespan
So what does all of this mean for you, and, importantly, what does it have to do with the foods you choose to eat? Choosing a diet that encourages proper level of leptin and insulin in your body, and thereby proper genetic expression, is likely the most powerful anti-aging diet there is – and may also be involved, or at the very least associated, with the length of your telomeres, although this is only beginning to be explored. Dr. Rosedale continued:
“Life is dependent on the coordination of its constituent parts. This is especially true pertaining to the length of telomeres of the various cells and organs to maintain health but prevent a high risk of cancer.
…we are 15 trillion cells and 90 trillion bacteria that must work harmoniously as one for us to be healthy and remain alive. This requires an intricate orchestration of communication between the different parts.
That includes the genes, telomeres, and telomerase. It is where, when, and how much they are played, like the keys of a piano playing an infinite variety of music from the same keys, that determine who we are, diabetic or not, and if we stay alive or die.
What we do want to do is slow down the reduction in the length of our telomeres in an organ and tissue-specific manner that can be orchestrated only through proper genetic expression. Leptin and insulin are among the most, if not the most powerful influences of this. And these in turn are controlled by what you eat.”
Insulin and Leptin Resistance: How These Disease-Causing States Happen
Leptin is a hormone that plays a key role in regulating your energy intake and energy expenditure. It may be one of the most important hormones in your body as it can determine your health and lifespan. Insulin is another, and work in tandem with leptin. Both insulin and leptin resistance are associated with obesity, and impairment of their ability to transfer the information to receptors is the true foundational core of most all chronic degenerative diseases.
Your fat, by way of leptin, tells your brain whether you should be hungry, eat and make more fat, whether you should reproduce, or (partly by controlling insulin) whether to engage in maintenance and repair. In short, leptin is the way that your fat stores speak to your brain to let your brain know how much energy is available and, very importantly, what to do with it.
Therefore, leptin may be on top of the food chain in metabolic importance and relevance to disease. You become leptin-resistant by the same general mechanism that you become insulin-resistant – by continuous overexposure to high levels of the hormone. This happens when you eat a diet that is high in sugar (particularly fructose), grains, and processed foods. The same type of diet that will also increase inflammation in your body – as the sugar gets metabolized in your fat cells, the fat releases surges in leptin.
Over time, if your leptin receptors are exposed to excessive leptin, they will develop resistance, just as your insulin receptors can develop resistance to insulin. The best way to reestablish proper leptin (and insulin) signaling is to prevent those surges, and the only known way to do that is via diet. As such, diet can have a more profound effect on your health than any other known modality of medical treatment.
Eat This Way to Maximize Your Healthy Lifespan Potential
A strategic whole food diet, as detailed in my free nutrition plan, that emphasizes good fats and avoids blood sugar spikes coupled with targeted supplements will enhance insulin and leptin sensitivity so that your brain can once again hear the feedback signals from these hormones. The vegetable-rich, low-refined-carbs diet described in the featured study likely also played a role in enhancing the study participants’ insulin and leptin sensitivity (although this wasn’t measured), and perhaps this was involved in the changes in telomere length, as Dr. Rosedale’s theory seems to support. To reverse insulin and leptin resistance:
- Avoid sugar, fructose, grains and processed foods
- Eat a healthful diet of whole foods, ideally organic, and replace the grain carbs with:
- Low-to-moderate amount of protein
- As much high-quality healthful fat as you want (saturated and monounsaturated). Most people need upwards of 50-70 percent fats in their diet for optimal health. Good sources include coconut and coconut oil, avocados, butter, nuts, and animal fats. Also take a high-quality source of animal-based omega-3 fat, such as krill oil.
Remember Exercise and Stress Management, Too
Remember, about 80 percent of the health benefits you reap from a healthy lifestyle comes from your diet, and the remaining 20 percent from exercise – but it's a very important 20 percent, as it acts in tandem with and boosts the benefits derived from a proper diet. Exercise is also one of the fastest and most powerful ways to lower your insulin and leptin resistance. For maximum benefits, you'll want to make sure to include high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which has been found to help slow down aging.
Of course, the connections between stress and physical health are undeniable, as well, with chronic stress linked to lowered immune system function, heightened inflammatory response, altered hormonal balance and more. Energy psychology techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can be very effective by helping you to actually reprogram your body’s reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life.
Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and meditation are also important “release valves” that can help you manage your stress. Together with a healthful diet and exercise, stress management makes up the ‘third Musketeer’ that is essential to leading a long, vital life.