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Mediterranean Diet Improves Longevity, But Some Foods More Important Than Others June 23, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Longevity, Nutrition.
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It seems the much touted Mediterranean Diet is a bit more nuanced than we may have thought.  A recent study found that certain foods commonly found in the diet are more important than others.  Specifically eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts, pulses and olive oil, and drinking moderate amounts of alcohol was linked to greater longevity while eating more fish, seafood and cereal was not.  Read the whole article in the link below.


New Technique Kills Cancer By Cutting Off It’s Food June 15, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Genetics, Longevity.
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Cancer is the number one killer in the United States, is responsible for 13% of all human deaths, and even for those it doesn’t kill it leads to a drastic decrease in quality of life.  As such, any serious discussion about improving human longevity has to start with treating and curing cancer.  Thankfully scientist don’t need us to remind them of that and have been hard at work looking for better and better ways to stop this deadly disease.  One such group is a team at the University of Florida, who have developed a new gene therapy which treats cancer by cutting of the supply of blood to the tumor.

To do this, the researchers developed what they call a “fusion protein” which was delivered into the cells by a transposon they call Sleeping Beauty.  The imbedded protein does two things: first, it promotes thrombosis, or blood clotting, and second it reduces blood vessel density inside the tumor.  Both of these effects result in the tumor receiving less nutrients.  The researchers found that in their test mice tumor volume decreased 53 percent and cancer cell growth slowed by 49 percent.


S.O.D, Antioxidant Which Could Slow Aging Process June 11, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Longevity.
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Here’s an interesting article about an enzyme that may be an important factor in the fight against aging.  Superoxide dismutase (S.O.D, a rather amusing acronym)  is an important antioxidant that is produced in the body and helps eliminate the dangerous free radicals that we all hear so much about.

For those of you who don’t know free radicals are basically ions (oxygen ions being the most commonly talked about) that have lost an electron, usually during aerobic glycolisis when oxygen is used to produce energy.  Since they lack an electron these free radicals roam around the body searching for cells to steal one from.  In doing so they damage whatever part of the cell they took it from which can be very dangerous if they happen to take one from your DNA, damaged DNA being the main cause of cancer.  Antioxidants are important because they neutralize the free radicals by sharing one of their electrons, thus removing the danger.

S.O.D. is important for a few reasons.  One, it is an antioxidant which as we’ve already established is something you want in your body.  Two, it is produced by the body rather than being taken in from food.  According to the article “[internally produced] enzymes are vastly more potent than dietary antioxidants, such as vitamin C. S.O.D., for example, is 3,500 times more potent than vitamin C at reducing superoxide radical.”  Three, there seems to be some evidence that the amount of S.O.D your body produces is correlated with longevity.  Animals with large amount of S.O.D have longer lifespans than those with smaller amounts.

Unfortunately like most things in your body the production of S.O.D decreases with age.   As such researchers are attempting to find a way to keep levels of the antioxidant at youthful levels.  The article lists a few scientists who are working on a solution, though there products seem to fall under the category of promising, but not quite there yet.


Improving IQ by Improving the Brain’s Wiring June 10, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Human Enhancement, Transhumanism.
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Don’t get your hopes up, they haven’t invented a a smart pill for us yet.  Scientists at Utrecht University Medical Center have found that how efficiently your brain is wired may account for a large part of you intelligence.  Researchers studied the brains of subjects at rest using MRI and found that connectivity accounted for 30% of the difference between subjects studied, though interestingly enough researchers did not find a link between the total number of connections in the brain and IQ.   All this sounds pretty interesting but allow me to rain on your parade by pointing out that the study only contained 19 subjects.  Not to say the findings are false but I’d like to see a larger study.  Read the full story in the link below.


New “Tomato Pill” Reduces Risk of Heart Disease June 6, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Nutrition.
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I’m glad I eat tomatos.   Ateronon is a new supplement that’s being marketed as a way to stave off heart disease and stroke.  The pill contains a phytochemical called lycopene, which is commonly found in tomato skins where it is responsible for the red color.  What lycopene seems to do is reduce the oxidation of harmful fats in the blood.  While for most of us a diet high in fruits and vegetables is probably enough this sounds like a promising supplement for those with a high risk of heart disease.


Fantastic Voyage, Nutritional Advice for Immortality June 3, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Longevity, Nutrition.
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There are a plethora of diets on the market today, so it’s somewhat surprising that even with all the low-carb, low-fat, high-carb, high-fiber, Mediterranean, Caveman, celery and what have you diets there is only one diet that promises you immortality if you follow it. Well I suppose that’s not necessarily true. Even though the title of Ray Kurzweil’s and Terry Grossman’s book is Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever the doesn’t actually claim that the diet itself will accomplish that. The premise of the book is that we are on the cusp of developing radical new technologies that will allow us to drastically increase human life span (see Aubrey de Grey) and if you want to live long enough to take advantage of those technologies then you’d better start following the plan outlined in the book. Since I don’t consider myself a book critic this is going to be less a review and more a summary of the information contained within the book as well as my personal opinion on the veracity of some of it’s claims. So, let’s begin.

The first few chapters of the book are essentially introductions. The first one lays the groundwork for the rest of the book by explaining the basic premise which I outlined above. The second chapter outlines the Bridge idea that play’s a major part in the book structure. Basically, Ray and Terry both consider the information in the book to belong to Bridge One, current technologies that can be used to improve health and increase lifespan. These current technologies consist primarily of nutrition and exercise advice, some of which is pretty standard mainstream science and some which, as I’ll show later, is decidedly not. Bridge Two is biotechnology, which at some point in the near future will enable humans to control our biology and genetics and thus improve our health and longevity even further. This will lead to Bridge Three, nanotechnology-AI, at which point we will not be reliant on our biology and will be able to replace many or all of our, according to the book, sub-par biological features. Throughout the book there are side boxes containing information on Bridge Two and Three technologies usually in relation to what ever current technologies the book is talking about. While they are mostly theoretical they are still fun to read and think about and considering the authors ultimate aim is immortality they don’t feel out of place.

Ray and Terry both take a chapter to tell us there personal stories and how they became interested in health and longevity. Ray tells his now pretty famous story of his father passing away at a relatively early age of heart disease, his own diagnosis with diabetes and his subsequent rejection of conventional medicine in favor of at the time radical treatments that ultimately stopped and reversed his diabetes. Terry’s story is also one of growing dissatisfied with conventional medicine though obviously from the view point of a doctor rather than a patient. Both men met at a meeting of the Foresight Institute and struck up a friendship and correspondence, on result of which was ultimately this book. These chapters are nice little asides that give the reader a view it the authors motivations and backgrounds.

Now we come to the important part, what does the book actually say and is any of it true. Considering this book was written by a licensed physician and a genius inventor you probably won’t be surprised to learn that much of it is sound science. The book recommends a relatively high protein, low carb, low fat diet but presents a much more nuanced view than most low-something diets. For carbohydrates the book stresses avoiding foods with a high Glycemic Index (or more specifically a Glycemic Load.) The Glycemic Index is a measurement of how quickly carbs are converted into sugar and make there way into the blood stream. Carbs that break down quickly (candy, potatoes, refined grains) lead to a spike in blood sugar which then leads to a spike in insulin. Over time, heavy spikes in insulin can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. In addition diet recommends eating foods high in fiber as there is some evidence that high fiber diets can lower the risk of certain types of cancer. The book does recommend a much lower carbohydrate level then most diets (between 1/6 and 1/3 of your daily intake, which is still higher than the Atkins diet) but this can partially be explained by its emphasis on low calorie, high fiber carbs like vegetables, beans and whole grains. For fats the book emphasizes unsaturated over saturated fats, which is also good advice. While saturated fats have been linked to atherosclerosis, unsaturated fats have been shown to actually improve lipid profiles and thus aid in heart health. Finally the book also recommends slight calorie restriction, both to aid in weight loss and for the purported longevity benefits. While calorie restriction has not yet been shown to improve lifespan in humans it has been demonstrated in every animal species it’s been tried on so it’s a safe assumption that it works for people too. Overall, the books diet advice is pretty mainstream and spot on. Where it starts diverging from mainstream opinion is in it’s supplement recommendation.

Let’s get one thing straight, I take and recommend supplements. While it’s true that nutritional aids can never replace a healthy diet they can do what the name implies, i.e. supplement your diet to ensure no vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Kurzweil though is not satisfied with simply preventing deficiencies. His program calls for a massive supplement load with the goal of curing and correcting diseases and conditions in the body. Note that when I say massive, I mean massive. Kurzweil’s supplement recommendations are often 4-5 times the RDA currently prescribed and in some cases much more. Kurzweil himself takes upwards of 150 pills a day to reach the levels he prescribes. To be blunt, that’s a shit load of pills and there is a lot of disagreement over whether such aggressive supplementation is helpful, or even good. It’s a well known fact that excess levels of some vitamins, such as A, K and B12, can lead to severe side effects and most nutrition scientists seem to agree that supplements can be useful for special populations there remains a lot of debate over whether even simple multivitamins can be helpful to healthy population. To be fair Kurzweil address’ some of these points, none of his recommendations are above the UL (tolerable upper limit) and a some of his supplement recommendations are specifically for special populations. On the whole, I tend to lean more towards Kurzweil’s view of supplements than the medical establishment, but be warned that there is no consensus on there benefits.

There is a lot more information in this book that I could go into but since I doubt you want to here me talk about homocysteine levels and methylation for another three paragraphs I’ll wrap things up. Does this book offer good advice? Overall, yes it does. The dietary advice is based on sound nutritional science so you could sure do a lot worse than following the dietary regimen this book outlines. The exercise advice, which basically boils down to the standard recommendation of 30 minutes of cardio a day for 5 days per week and resistance training 2-3 days per week, is also sound. The supplement recommendations are a little more iffy, some of the claims are backed up with evidence while others are still up in the air, so think really hard before you shell out hundreds of dollars and start popping 150 pills a day.