Think of a house in a nice neighborhood. It starts off as a very nice new home with a picket fence, a lawn, shrubs, beautiful roof and a lovely porch. Over time, paint fades from sun damage, the lawn collects a few weeds, the roof becomes damaged from the elements. Perhaps a bit of junk starts collecting in the yard, and the gate on the picket fence starts squeaking from oxidation. This is quite similar to how animals, and in particular, humans, age. We collect damage and junk, lose the ability to create some vital enzymes and proteins, and the rest is the “circle of life.” It was thought until very recently that the best we could do is not die before “our time” and that this time was basically set in our genes with very little we could do about it. So the goal of modern gerontology has been to forestall the inevitable death we would all experience, half of us from heart failure, about 40% from cancer and the rest to everything else that puts us in the grave. Very recently it has begun to look promising that we might find the mechanism to overcome the damage we’ve collected, clean out the junk, and extend our lives farther than we thought possible before. There are serious people today who believe that it may be possible, in our lifetimes, to become immortal. Other, equally serious people have said that this is poppycock.
I am an optimist, and if there is even a small chance I don’t have to become worm bait any time soon I’m all in. So, before you get into all the cool research going on that may one day make it possible for us to live as long as we choose, we have to stay healthy long enough to make it that far. Lifespan before the time of the modern age, as shown in Figure 1 hovered between 30 and 40 years of age. Except for a few drastic plagues, that was the expected lifespan until the beginning of the 20th Century. Nothing increased lifespan like the invention of antibiotics in the 1920s. Because of sulfa drugs and then penicillin humans simply died of fewer things and tended to start living longer. But antibiotics were not the only thing. Fewer died of hunger because of modern farming practices.
Figure 1 Lifespan since the middle ages.
The chart looks very promising but if you were able to zoom in you would see that lifespan increase have slowed down considerably, about 1.5 year increase every ten years. Basically Americans live to an average age of 78. Of course, this is an average and we know that women tend to live longer than men, and some people live beyond the age of 100. We read every day of people dying in their 50s and 60s of cancer and heart disease.
So what causes some people to leave early and others live longer than a century? It’s complicated. Many scientists agree that it’s a combination of something called telomeres and a failure of a our cellular energy system. Telomeres are like end caps on our chromosomes. When we’re born we have about 10,000 base pairs of DNA acting as telomeres, and as we age, we lose telomeres, presumably because they are acting like sacrificial anodes, and giving up base pairs to protect our chromosomes from damage. By the time we’re down to 5,000 base pairs we’re looking at the end. Another important cellular chemical is called NAD and is responsible for energy transfer in the cell. As we age, levels of NAD decline. Both of these are considered predictive of when someone is going to die of “natural causes.”
The older we get the longer we expose ourselves to all sorts of toxins. Some of these toxins are in the air from cars and factories, some are the water we drink, some have accumulated in our foods from hormones, pesticides, coloring agents, anti-caking agents, preservatives, artificial flavorings, chemical outgassing of everything from your carpet to the BPA in the cans our food comes in. These toxins build up in our bodies and start doing us harm in primarily one of two ways. They either play holy hell with our arteries, causing the buildup of oxidized cholesterol and eventual blockage, or they cause cellular mutations leading to “cells gone wild” and ultimately to cancer.
The answer, limit the amount of toxins you’re exposed to. This is no simple task. For example, every time you go shopping the person at the register probably hands you a thermal paper receipt. Most likely they are covered in endocrine-disrupting Bisphenol-A. Next time, tell them you don’t need a receipt and don’t let them put it in the bag with your food. Buy organic, and non or minimally-processed foods. Make your own meals from fresh products. Cut way back on sugar. Get an alkalysing water filter. Eat fish that is less likely to contain mercury. Change your toothpaste to one that does not contain fluoride. Change your laundry detergent to a “free and clear” variety. All the major detergent manufacturers have this now. Get a hands free device for your phone to limit cell phone radiation. Drive an electric car and stay away from people that smoke. The list is endless.
Things we once thought we were doing to make ourselves healthy have later proven to be damaging. Did you know that many kind of NSAIDS (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and celebrex can adversely affect your cardiovascular health, and in some cases cause liver damage. Many NSAIDS have been removed from the market for this reason. Taking Nexium for that heartburn? Proton pump inhibitors like Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid can cause liver damage according to a warning from the FDA. Also, you can’t just stop taking them without severe consequences. Aside from that the lower pH of your stomach acid can no longer digest food properly and you end up with severe nutritional deficiencies.
The point I am trying to make here is that the very best thing you can do is to educate yourself. The motto of Livealonger.life is “Better health through knowledge.” The decisions about your health care should not come when you’re being rolled into the hospital on a guerney. My dad used to say, “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see.” Take this to heart. I know you trust your doctor but trust me, he does not go home at night and learn about what products are causing your arteries to clog. He just knows how to roto-rooter them when they need it. Sadly, the price of ignorance is death.
Create a relationship with the world around you. Decide that you really don’t want to die before you really want to go, and then educate yourself about how to build a world in which you are not killing yourself. If you think all you need are diet and exercise, you’re wrong. Some diets are healthier than others and some exercise will shorten your life. Livealonger.life will continually explore supplements that will help you with your nutritional requirements, how to exercise in a way that extends life, and will report on advances in the scientific community on life extension.