A few years ago, I was invited to give the keynote speech at a charity event in Indian Wells, California. Just minutes before going on stage, a woman walked up to me, put her hand out to shake my hand, and said, “I’m Edith, 106 years old.”
Of course, I was taken aback. Remarkably, this 106-year old woman walked up to me without the assistance of a cane or walker. Her gait was brisk and assured. She related to me that, around 90 years earlier, she had attended a talk given by naturopath and chiropractor Gayelord Hauser, who later became health adviser to Hollywood stars such as Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson. In that talk, Hauser advocated a lifestyle free of grains (or, at least, that was how Edith interpreted his message). So Edith adopted this lifestyle and stuck to it over the ensuing 90 or so years. After telling me her story, she sat down and I observed during my presentation that she was conversing with 20- and 30-somethings, drinking wine, and laughing—no social isolation or slowed mentation for this centenarian.
While one woman’s experience, no matter how extraordinary, is proof of nothing, it is tempting to speculate that some of the strategies that I advocate, including avoidance of all wheat and grains, may provide advantage in maintaining youthfulness, perhaps even into our 80s, 90s, and beyond. It’s a tough premise to prove. Real proof, for instance, would require that we randomize study participants to a grain-containing or grain-avoiding diet, then observe them for, say, 40 or 50 years while chronicling various measures such as muscle mass, flexibility, gait, cognitive measures, and, of course, lifespan. As you can imagine, such a study has never been conducted and may never be conducted, given the huge logistical challenges.
There are several factors that drive aging: insulin resistance, inflammation, glycation (glucose-modification of proteins, an irreversible process), hormonal senescence, etc. Some factors are amenable to health efforts, others are not. For example, we have huge control over insulin resistance that contributes to risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cataracts, osteoarthritis, cancer, and dementia. We also have considerable control over glycation. We don’t have control over genetically-determined factors such as susceptibility to breast or kidney cancer. So we focus on the factors that are addressable with lifestyle efforts. I believe that, like Edith, we do indeed have considerable control over the phenomena of aging.
Consider the following:
- Elimination of all wheat and grains from the diet yields a marked reduction in inflammation and insulin resistance. These phenomena are measurable. You can track inflammation with blood levels of C-reactive protein, IL-6, TNF-alpha, and others. You can gauge insulin responses with fasting glucose and hemoglobin A1c (aiming for a fasting glucose of 70-90 mg/dl, HbA1c of 5.0% or less). By the way, look back at all the success stories I’ve shared over the years that included before/after selfies—you can see dramatic resolution of facial skin inflammation, a reflection of body-wide inflammation, in addition to a reduction in facial dimensions (especially visible in the cheeks). We amplify these effects by addressing nutrients that are lacking in modern life, namely vitamin D, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and iodine, all of which synergize to further reduce inflammation and insulin resistance.
- Elimination of wheat and grains, supplementation with vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium all minimize glycation. Recall that glycation refers to glucose-modification of proteins, a process that is irreversible. Every time your blood glucose exceeds 100 mg/dl, as it would after, say, a bowl of oatmeal or raisin bran (typically reaching levels >150 mg/dl in a non-diabetic, 250 mg/dl or more in a diabetic), glucose reacts with the proteins of the body. In the lenses of the eyes, it leads to opacities or cataracts. In collagen of skin and joints, it makes collagen brittle and accelerates skin and joint deterioration. Glycation occurs in every organ of the body and is a major driver of aging phenomena.
- Loss of visceral fat decreases inflammation and insulin resistance further.
- Increasing your vitamin D levels not only improves insulin responses and reduces inflammation, it also reduces endotoxemia, increases telomerase activity (that maintains telomere length, an index of aging) and may positively impact something called epigenetic aging, i.e., aging determined by epigenetic phenomena that control DNA activity.
- Omega-3 fatty acids provide DHA to the brain essential for brain health and reduces endotoxemia by increasing the activity of intestinal alkaline phosphatase that helps deactivate lipopolysaccharide endotoxin. Reducing endotoxemia adds to further benefits in minimizing inflammation and insulin resistance.
- The oxytocin boost we obtain by restoring the microbe lost by most modern people, Lactobacillus reuteri, exerts positive effects on muscle, bone, testicles, vagina, brain, skin and other organs. We are witnessing increased strength, increased libido, smoother skin and other benefits with this microbe.
- The reduction in inflammation leads to greater muscle mass and helps you avoid sarcopenia, age-related loss of muscle. Greater muscle mass is a sign of youthfulness, vigor, and flexibility.
In short, the lifestyle we follow has potential to exert youth-maintaining, age-resisting effects. Also, the earlier you begin this process, the greater the benefits.