Death is surely inevitable, but I do believe you can live far longer than the average life expectancy tables (1) would predict, which in the U.S. is about 78. Genetics may play a role, but it is NOT the final determining factor for whether you'll live a long healthy life.
Barring an accident, your lifestyle has everything to do with your longevity.
It's already been established that diet can override genetic predispositions for disease (2), so don't fall into the trap of believing your health and longevity is somehow inescapably tied to what's polluting your gene pool.
The Leading Cause of Premature Aging and Death
Increased insulin and leptin receptor resistance (3) has clearly become the leading cause of premature aging and death. This results from two primary conditions: too much sugar and processed foods, combined with insufficient exercise.
Interestingly, controlling these two factors will likely eliminate more than 90 percent of the following medical conditions:
• High blood pressure
• High cholesterol
Of all the molecules capable of inflicting damage to your body, probably the most damaging are sugar molecules. Fructose in particular is an extremely potent pro-inflammatory agent that accelerates aging.
Today's excessive sugar consumption is mostly an artifact of the postindustrial agricultural revolution.
More than 30 years ago, scientists learned how to cheaply produce sugar from corn, and now it is loaded into nearly all processed foods and has become the number one source of calories in most developed countries.
Fructose is a major contributor to:
• Insulin resistance and obesity
• Elevated blood pressure (4)
• Elevated triglycerides and elevated LDL (5)
• Cardiovascular disease (6), liver disease, cancer, arthritis and even gout
How Fructose Accelerates Aging
Fructose adversely affects your body in a number of ways, but one of the mechanisms that causes significant damage is glycation, a process by which the sugar bonds with proteins and forms so-called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. It's a fitting acronym because--along with oxidation--it's one of the major molecular mechanisms whereby damage accrues in your body, which leads to disease, aging and eventually death.
When sugar glycates, it creates inflammation, which activates your immune system in a defensive maneuver. Macrophages are scavenger cells that are part of your immune defense, and as such they have special receptors for AGEs, aptly called RAGEs (think: raging inflammation). These RAGEs bind to the AGEs and get rid of them.
Unfortunately, this process can leave its fair share of battle scars.
Inside your arteries, for example, the scar tissue created from this process is called plaque. This process underlies the strong connection between diabetes and heart disease.
As a standard recommendation, I strongly recommend keeping your TOTAL fructose consumption below 25 grams per day.
However, most people would be wise to limit their fructose to 15 grams or less, particularly if you have elevated uric acid levels, which can be used as a predictor for fructose toxicity. (For more information on the fructose/uric acid connection, please see this recent article.)
This includes keeping track of your fructose intake from whole fruits. For a helpful chart showing the fructose content of many common fruits, please see this link. I recommend this lower level simply because if you consume processed foods or sweet beverages at all, you're virtually guaranteed to consume "hidden" sources of fructose.
Read this if you believe fruit is healthy and you can consume unlimited amounts:
Many people who eat large amounts of fruit are not convinced that fruit can be dangerous. However many fruits have a large amount of fructose that can worsen insulin resistance if you consume too much of it. It is also important to realize that 80 percent of Americans have diseases resulting from insulin resistance which are listed at the beginning of this article.
If you have one of these conditions you would be wise to limit your total grams of daily fructose to 15 grams per day until you resolve the insulin resistance. If you are still unconvinced you can measure your blood uric acid level and it will typically be greater than 5.5 if you are eating too much fructose.
New research has shown that uric acid is a far more accurate predictor of heart disease than your total cholesterol level and the more it is higher than 5.5 it is, the greater your risk. If your uric acid is between 3 and 5 than you do not need to be concerned about your current fructose intake, as you likely have a metabolism that can adjust for it and not cause you harm.
Fresh fruit is nearly always preferred to fruit juices as the processing destroys many of the nutrients in the fruit and many commercial fruit juices are also highly adulterated or deceptively labeled.
Additionally it is important to understand that most commercial fruit juices should be avoided as fruit juice typically has large amounts of methanol, which is wood alcohol, and a metabolic poison. Often the methanol is bound to pectin and when you consume fresh fruits the methanol passes through your body and causes you no harm. However, after the fruit is processed into juice and put into containers, the methanol gradually dissociates from the pectin and dissolves in the juice.
The longer the fruit juice is in the container, or the more heat it is exposed to, the more methanol that is released into the juice.
Next, in order to better understand the cause of aging, you need to become familiar with some nasty little compounds called "free radicals."
Free Radicals on a Mission to Damage Your DNA
The most widely accepted idea for life extension is the free radical theory, which says that as you age, you begin to "self destruct," courtesy of free radicals. Free radicals are aggressive chemical compounds, created as a byproduct of your natural metabolism, that damage your DNA.
Poor lifestyle choices (7) such as smoking, consuming processed foods laden with trans fats and other harmful chemical additives, along with pesticide and other chemical residue, further add to your free radical burden.
With time, your DNA eventually becomes damaged beyond your body's ability to repair it; and once your biological processes fail, you die.
Antioxidants continually combat these free radicals--which is why a diet high in natural antioxidants is so important for your health and longevity. Antioxidants are abundant in a number of foods, and your BEST source of high quality antioxidants is fresh, raw organic vegetables and fruits (especially berries).
To Supplement, or Not to Supplement
I have never been a fan of taking fistfuls of supplements in lieu of altering your diet to get the nutrients you need. However, supplementation can sometimes be useful.
There are three nutrients that have special importance with respect to aging:
2. Coenzyme Q10
3. Glutathione (GSH)
Resveratrol is one antioxidant that I often recommend as a supplement.
Sometimes referred to as a "fountain of youth" nutrient, resveratrol appears to be particularly potent (8) for extending lifespan. It is unique among antioxidants because it can cross the blood-brain barrier to help protect your brain and nervous system.
Another important but often overlooked antioxidant is coenzyme Q-10--but more specifically the reduced version, called ubiquinol.
Your liver produces CoQ10, which is actually an essential nutrient for health and longevity because it provides energy to every single cell in your body. Unfortunately, after age 25, your natural levels of this critical compound begin to decline, which is why I personally take ubiquinol every day.
CoQ10 is also an absolute necessity if you're on statin drugs as they can quickly deplete your body of this vital antioxidant. This is partly why statins are so harmful to your heart.
Glutathione is another important and underutilized antioxidant. Interestingly, increased glutathione levels may actually play a role in stopping telomere (9) shortening, which is one of the most exciting anti-aging discoveries in recent years.
Glutathione is one nutrient I believe you can optimize with proper diet, so it is probably unnecessary to supplement. If you are recovering from a serious illness, you certainly could consider supplementation.
I have reservations about most glutathione supplements, in general.
You can obtain it from raw organic milk, free-range animal foods and eggs. But probably your best source of glutathione (10) is a high quality whey protein.
If you want to use a whey product, realize there are vast differences among them. Many whey proteins on the market are highly processed and contain a number of undesirable additives. Make sure your whey protein is derived from grass-fed cows and is very carefully processed to preserve the fragile amino acid precursors.
I am so impressed by the research on telomeres and glutathione that I take a high quality organic grass fed whey protein called Miracle Whey protein every morning, and a second dose before my twice-weekly strength training sessions.
Learning from Those Who've Lived the Longest
Longevity researchers (11) have long searched for the magic common denominators that might explain the extended life spans of centenarians.
What they've found is the people who've lived the longest tend to eat large amounts of whole unprocessed minimally cooked plants and live in areas that promote regular physical activity, such as daily walking. They also tend to have effective strategies for coping with the inevitable stresses of life, such as prayer, meditation and strong social networks.
In fact, being able to effectively cope with stress, it turns out, is one of the MAJOR common denominators for people who live long, robust lives.
One of the proposed reasons for this strong link is that stress, just like fructose, promotes inflammation in your body.
Indeed, most of the research indicates that longevity hinges on preventing chronic inflammation. Avoiding sugar/fructose while consuming antioxidant-rich whole foods, together with physical exercise and stress reduction, will do just that.
Adopt the Anti-Aging Lifestyle
Of all the healthy lifestyle strategies I know of that can have a significant impact on your longevity, normalizing your insulin and leptin levels is probably the most important. And that means modifying your diet to avoid excessive amounts of fructose, grains and other pro-inflammatory ingredients like trans fats.
Here are the rest of my top "anti-aging" recommendations:
1.Learn how to effectively cope with stress. As discussed earlier, stress has a direct impact on inflammation, which in turn underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely every day. Therefore, developing effective coping mechanisms is a great strategy for increasing your longevity.
Meditation, prayer, physical activity and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium. I also strongly believe in using energy psychology tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to address deeper, oftentimes hidden emotional scars.
2.Eat a healthful diet based on your nutritional type. My nutrition plan should be your first step. This is so important that I now offer the full nutritional typing program for FREE (12).
3. Optimize your vitamin D levels (13) . This is another very powerful and inexpensive intervention that can have profound benefits to your health. You can either optimize your levels by carefully managed direct sun exposure, or use an oral supplement (typically 5-10,000 units of vitamin D3 for most adults).
4.Eat plenty of animal-based omega-3 fat (14) . Correcting the ratio of omega-3 to healthful omega-6 fats is a strong factor in helping people live longer. This typically means increasing your intake of animal based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil, while decreasing your intake of damaged omega-6 fats (think trans fats).
I do not, however, recommend the new prescription-strength fish oil medication, sold under the name Lovaza (15) . Don't be fooled by their "all natural" PR campaign. This is actually a drug to treat very high triglyceride levels.
As with most other drugs, Lovaza comes with potentially dangerous side effects that you would not experience with a natural fish oil or krill oil supplement. Side effects include flu-like symptoms, infections, back pain, skin rashes, upset stomach, taste changes, digestive issues, chest pain, migraines and respiratory problems.
Additionally, new research strongly suggests that 500 mg of krill oil is more potent and far less expensive.
5. Get your antioxidants from real foods. Good sources include blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries and most intensely pigmented vegetables.
6. Use coconut oil(15) . Another excellent anti-aging food is coconut oil, known to reduce your risk of heart disease and lower your cholesterol, among other things. In fact, it's doubly beneficial because it can be both eaten and applied directly to your skin. Coconut oil can be used in place of other oils for most of your cooking needs.
7. Get your resveratrol naturally. Resveratrol is one of the forerunners in the anti-aging pill race, but more than likely, by the time they've manipulated it into a synthetic pill (like the fish oil discussed above), it won't be healthy for you.
Although resveratrol is found in red wine, I can't recommend drinking wine regularly, in the hope of extending your life because alcohol is a neurotoxin that can poison your brain and harm your body's delicate hormonal balance. Instead, get your resveratrol from natural sources, such as whole grape skins and seeds, raspberries, and mulberries.
8. Exercise regularly, and correctly. Studies repeatedly show that regular, moderate-to-vigorous exercise can help prevent or delay the onset of hypertension, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis and the falls that lead to hip fractures.
Although a lifetime of regular exercise is ideal, it's never too late to start. It's been shown that even individuals in their 70s can substantially increase both strength and endurance with exercise.
I'm very excited about the research showing how high-intensity interval training can increase longevity as this specific style of training (Peak 8) promotes human growth hormone production--yet another aspect of the longevity puzzle.
9. Avoid as many chemicals, toxins, and pollutants as possible (17). This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.
10. Avoid pharmaceutical drugs. Pharmaceutical drugs kill thousands of people prematurely every year--they are now the largest cause of fatal drug overdoses (18). If you adhere to a healthful lifestyle, you are less likely to "need" drugs since a healthy immune system will protect you from chronic disease.
Incorporating these simple guidelines will help set you squarely on the path to optimal health and give you the best shot at living a long, happy life.
Dr. Joseph Mercola is the founder and director of Mercola.com. Become a fan of Dr. Mercola on Facebook, on Twitter, and check out Dr. Mercola's report on sun exposure!
(1) "List of countries by life expectancy," Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy
(2) Dai J, et al. "Mediterranean dietary pattern is associated with improved cardiac autonomic function among middle-aged men: A twin study," Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, 2010;3:366-373 http://circoutcomes.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/short/3/4/366
(3) Olatunbosun ST and Dagogo-Jack S. (April 16, 2010) "Insulin resistance." eMedicine from WebMD http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/122501-overview
(4) "Higher fructose intake tied to increased hypertension risk" (July 2, 2010) Modern Medicine http://www.modernmedicine.com/modernmedicine/Modern+Medicine+Now/Higher-Fructose-Intake-Tied-to-Increased-Hypertens/ArticleNewsFeed/Article/detail/677401
(5) Mercola.com, "This Common Food Ingredient Can Really Mess Up Your Metabolism" http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/01/26/sugar-may-be-bad-but-this-sweetener-is-far-more-deadly-part-2.aspx
(6) Bakalar N. (April 22, 2009) "Fructose-sweetened beverages linked to heart risks," New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/23/health/23sugar.html
(7) Kvaavik E, et al. "Influence of individual and combined health behaviors on total and cause-specific mortality in men and women: The United Kingdom health and lifestyle survey" Arch Inern Med. 2010 Apr 26;170(8):711-8 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20421558
(8) Daniells S. (September 14, 2009) Science: Resveratrol's miraculous promise" NutraIngredients http://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Research/Science-Resveratrol-s-miraculous-promise/?c=YcPaFAqXDgt92iRxXsRniQ%3D%3D&utm_source=newsletter_special_edition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Newsletter%2BSpecial%2BEdition
(9) Mercola.com, "Science Finally Reveals How You Can Actually REVERSE Aging" http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/02/23/science-finally-reveals-how-you-can-actually-revese-aging.aspx
(10)Palkhivala A. (July 30, 2001) "Glutathione: New Supplement on the Block" WebMD http://www.nutritionadvisor.com/web_md.htm
(11) Mercola.com, "See My Presentation at the Anti-Aging Conference" http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/03/18/see-my-presentation-at-the-antiaging-conference.aspx
(12) Mercola.com, "The Secret that is Stunning Nutritionists" http://products.mercola.com/nutritional-typing/
(13) Vitamin D Council http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/
(14) Herper M. "What you need to know about fish oil." Forbes http://www.forbes.com/2010/03/09/omega-fatty-acids-lifestyle-health-heart-disease.html
(15) Lovaza.com, http://www.lovaza.com/
(16) "Research on coconut oil" http: //www.coconutoil.com/research.htm
(17) Centers for disease control and prevention, National report on human exposure to environmental chemicals, the fourth report, July 2010, http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/
(18) Szabo L. (August 10, 2010) "Prescriptions now biggest cause of fatal drug overdoses" USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-09-30-drug-overdose_N.htm