One of the most vexing problems I face as an expert on telomeres and telomerase activation is the issue of diet and telomere length. The problems come in many forms such as using vaguely related or truly unrelated studies to support an eating agenda, using poorly designed studies with inadequate measurements to claim positive results, and the complete lack of 3rd party verification to support statements.
If you don’t have time to read this blog (it’s a bit long!) here it is, as an aphorism: “test, don’t guess!”
I almost laughed out loud as I looked at the comments on the Amazon reviews page. As an author, (The Immortality Edge) I have come to know firsthand, what it is like to be in the hot seat of public opinion. But this time, the book was someone else’s and it was basically a diet book disguised as a longevity plan. The comments and reviews were more exciting than the book turned out to be. There were the usual “this guy is God and anyone who disagrees should be flogged” acolytes. And there were the usual small, but dissenting number of views, who subjected themselves to all kinds of abuse, because they did not agree. Even funnier was the suggestion that the really glowing reviews must have come from the friends of the author! I laugh, because this is exactly what was said about some of our reviews- “the authors must have a lot of friends”, even though the glowing reviews were done by total strangers.
Frankly, the only thing missing was the comment that the book had not been out long enough to get this many reviews. That comment was applied to our book, The Immortality Edge, after we had 30 some reviews in 4 months. This book had 600+ reviews in less than 2 months. I searched for the question about that, but could not find it.
In case you are wondering where my blog ideas come from, the answer is all over the place! This particular piece was generated by a long process that started with a request from a reader. This gal sent me a book title and said, “What do you think of this guy and his book?”
The author of the latest and greatest diet book has written many other books, has appeared on public television and seems to have a good idea about what people want to hear. The general gist of the book was slanted toward vegetarian behaviors, but with some “Paleo-like” recommendations, like avoid dairy and legumes, thrown in for good measure. Pretty much either side, (Paleo versus Vegetarian/Vegan) could find something they liked, or disliked.
Frankly, I get asked this question many times and of course, everyone wants me to say their diet is most healthy and best for humans. Paleos point out correctly, that genetically we are designed for this kind of diet and our ancestors subsisted on it for thousands of years, until agriculture and cities sprung up. They point out, quite correctly, that no one could actually survive a true vegetarian diet, until 1948 when oral B vitamins became available, making vegetarian/vegan lifestyles the true, new kid on the block. They don’t like when I say I am a neo-Paleo, most of the time, but freely admit, I wasn’t around 50,000 years ago, so I remain open to other ideas. They also don’t like when I point out that the Cleveland Clinic just released a diet that forbids red meat of any kind, for their heart attack survivors and high risk people. They do like when I point out the complete lack of studies on free range red meat and the absolute fallacy of including grain feed lot beef, in the same boat as free range. They hate when I point out that, no matter what dietary choices they make, they cannot realistically emulate the epigenetics of their Paleo ancestors. They like that we recommend Paleo, in The Immortality Edge, but they wish we did not mention the benefits of vegetarian/vegan diets, in the same breath.
Vegans/vegetarians like that I understand that longevity, health and wellness is not the only reason many of them chose the lifestyle they do. Animal husbandry figures highly into the choices. They love that I point out, that basically the same healthy reductions in cholesterol, inflammatory markers, blood sugar and body weight, so widely recommended, can be achieved by “their” diet. The results are as good as any healthy diet, if not better and basically the same as one can achieve, with full blown, hard core Paleo. They don’t particularly like when I show them the 100 vegan/vegetarian people I have Omega 6/3 ratios on and they are very poor, and that this may have long term consequences that do not show up in many of the short term dietary studies. They don’t like when I point out the “China Study”, which is not a study at all, but a bunch of cherry picked citations that substantiate the authors’ point of view. They hate when I point out, I could write the exact opposite book, supporting free range red meat consumption and in some cases, non-free range meat consumption! They like it even less, when I point out the book Food and Western Disease substantiates this and is a real study, by a real scientist, where the author lived and practiced among surviving Paleoliths for years, rather than merely visiting the country that supports his view point. They are not thrilled with Loren Cordain’s work, showing NEAP (net endogenous acid production) was very low among Paleoliths, blowing the argument that “red meat acidifies” to pieces. They love when I cite the extensive literature that shows a reduction, or at least a delay of onset of heart disease, diabetes and cancer in vegan/vegetarian practitioners. They hate it when I point out, the ties of the Whole Grain agenda to Monsanto, or the auto immune issues with legumes, including soy.
No one likes when I point out that there is no real data that shows any diet helps you live longer, that basically you just die of different things! And on both sides of the argument, no one likes the real application of epigenetics to marginalize their dietary choices. Simply put, most diets study specific populations, in specific areas, with specific ancestry, climate, cultural practices etc., etc., all of which determine their specific epigenetics. I called out one well-known “scientist” on this fact already. Very few people reading this blog have the same epigenetics as the folks in the “China Study”, or the Kitavans in “Food and Western Disease”.
So, if nobody likes what I have to say and few want to believe it, where do I really stand and what about this latest, greatest diet book?
Let me answer the latter first. The author of this latest and greatest diet book hit it right on the head. His is the perfect diet for all of humanity. Until the next greatest diet book comes out in say… ?… 3 months? Possibly, written by the very same author!
OK, now let me answer what is the best.
The best diet for you, my friend, fulfills the following requirements, and yes, ANY diet that meets these criteria, is fine with me. And yes, you can and obviously should include supplementation as part of this diet, unless you are a practicing Eskimo.
1) You feel good eating it
2) It supplies you with a low omega 6/3 ratio- the closer to 1-to-1, the better you are
3) It gives you 25-Vitamin D level between 50 and 75 ng/ml
4) It helps you maintain a short telomere percentage, (as determined by Lifelength’s new assay) that is at least 6 years lower than your chronologic age – again, a lower number of short telomeres is better
A couple of honest warnings: Diet alone will not get you there; it is merely a large piece of the puzzle. Everything we said in The Immortality Edge is needed, including supplements, meditation and exercise.
Next, my recommendations are strictly based on my little myopic corner of the world: health and longevity. They make no attempt to represent spirituality, morality, or really anything other than your own health and longevity. I respect anyone’s right to make different choices, based on different criteria. But if you come at me from a health and longevity angle, you better have some really new and different science that I don’t know about!
I chose the above tests, for one reason alone.** In all of my research and experience, those four things will give you the best statistical likelihood of living as long as you possibly can. And addressing those four things, in regards to your diet and your life in general, will give you the best likelihood of being at the top of the longevity AND health curve, especially if you address them before you are sick.
Surprise, surprise; I want you to test and not guess. How dare I, I know! You might find out the people you believed in were misleading you for fun and profit or simply ignorant. Very well, there is a simple way out. Those three tests I mentioned will cost you close to $1,000 every time you do them and I would like you do to them every 2 to 3 years, after your first baseline.
You may decide that your life is not worth that. You may decide that what you would have to give
up to do those “truth or die” tests, is more valuable to you than knowing the answer. Or you
could simply decide that I am a fool or worse, and not believe anything I say and continue
That is up to you!
I would also suggest the most expensive one be done(the Lifelength test is about $700 plus, whatever your doctor chooses to charge you, to present the data to you and go over it), whenever you incur a big change in your life. That includes a change in diet, location, exposure to toxins, athletic level, stress levels up or down and yes, new long term supplementation. If you had the money, you could do the Lifelength test as frequently as every 6 months, if the circumstances warranted. Most people would do fine with a baseline in all 3 tests and then a repeat in 1 to 2 years and at longer intervals, thereafter. That is the other warning: if you want the real answer to the diet question, you will have to do something that very few studies have ever done. You will have to follow yourself as a subject, for at least a decade or so, at the above intervals, to get the long term answers for your diet — because some diets are great for a year or two and then the deficiencies start to affect your health. Please note, the world of dietary recommendations and dietary results is sadly lacking in long term studies. Most are either short term, or “population based”. The first helps you short term, but ignores the rest of your life and the second, as I have explained, is likely not to include you because of all the things that determine epigenetics.
But, if you decide to do this, you would know some incredibly valuable information and if things did not turn out the way you anticipated, you would have the chance to address them, or willingly ignore them. You would know whether your diet is up to snuff, health wise or not, for sure.
Then again, ignorance is bliss… for some. And all those diet gurus and people fighting the diet wars would have nothing to stand on.
Shame on me! I must have a lot of friends!
Stay healthy and stay happy!
** Yes, these 3 tests are, in my opinion, far more important than things like cholesterol CRP, homocysteine and all the other tests that are commonly associated with longevity. Frankly, it would be almost impossible to have good looking numbers on my 3 and not have a great running body that is healthy and well. But, please be advised, these statements are not FDA, AMA, FTC, TSA, or SPCA approved. Also the other gurus, foundations, and clinics out there, do not approve either. Stay tuned in the coming months and I will give you a lot more detail on the actual longevity research that supports my choices!