Tag Archives: Aging

The Organ That Pleases Itself

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Intimacy releases endorphins and oxytocin resulting in bonding and improved health. Fraternal Twins By MultipleParent (CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Your brain is like a labyrinth that hides, deep within it, the Holy Grail of life. Simply put, your brain has secrets that it doesn’t want you to know!

“But why?” you ask, “would my brain keep secrets from little ol’ me?”

It boils down to this, your brain has to perform functions that your conscious ‘self’ may not like very much.  In order to accomplish its goals it is best if the conscious ‘you’ is left in the dark.

This strategy is an act of genius for survival of social organisms where the individual is important but secondary to the needs and survival of the group.  An example of this strategy is found in the cellular communities within our bodies where cells undergo apoptosis or programmed cell death.  There are two pathways for apoptosis, the intrinsic pathway in which a cell kills itself due to internal stress, and the extrinsic pathway in which the cell kills itself due to messages it receives from its neighboring cells.

It is estimated that in adults between 50 and 70 billion cells die every day as a result of this carefully orchestrated process of programmed cell death.  In a similar fashion, there is mounting evidence that the process of aging is orchestrated and programmed by the brain.  The brain doesn’t allow awareness of this orchestration but sometimes we catch a glimpse of the brain’s ability to control disease and aging. Some examples are:

  • The placebo effect – the brain is tricked by the mind into healing the body based on a perceived (but fake) external intervention.   This shows that the brain actively withholds healing from us in many cases.
  • Immunotherapy  –  a type of cancer treatment designed to boost the body’s natural defenses.
  • Spontaneous remission of diseases and cancer.
  • Neurochemicals of happiness – The brain produces or triggers the release of molecules such as endocannabinoids,  endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, seratonin, gaba and adrenaline,  that play a role in euphoria, contentment, affection, pain reduction, calmness, confidence, energy levels, healing and in slowing down the aging process.

The answer to the question, “Why does the brain promote aging”, may vary depending upon your viewpoint.   From an evolutionary perspective one rationale is that aging and programmed death of the individual allows the species as a whole to progress.   Regardless of how you rationalize death, it is pretty clear that the conscious ‘self’ wants no part in it and thus the brain has kept its involvement a secret, until now.

The Brains Secret Exposed

The brains secret is that it potentially has the power to make us healthier, smarter, stronger and younger than we currently experience and yet it proceeds with its implementation of programmed aging and ultimately death.  However, there is growing evidence pointing to a transitional period in the history of mind-brain interaction.  We can start making use of the brains secret today to improve our brain fitness in the years ahead.  Here’s how:

  • Re-evaluate habits that may simply be ‘giving in’ to the brains hidden aging agenda.  In particular, challenge your overall activity and social intimacy levels as these behaviors can trigger a flood of endorphins that have positive benefits for health and help postpone the aging process.
  • Give and receive at least 8 hugs per day.  A proper hug is deep, where the hearts are pressing together (my youngest daughter Mia is a pro at this).  Hugs boost oxytocin levels and oxytocin has been shown to increase regeneration of muscle.   You can even take this strategy to the  next level by giving and receiving a regular massage.
  • Try being a go-getter by setting goals and achieving them to trigger the release of dopamine.  Set goals related to social interaction for the biggest hit.
  • Practice yoga and meditation to trigger the release of gaba and thus reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Take on activities that challenge your comfort level and confidence, to trigger the release of serotonin and adrenaline.  These are the kinds of activities that keep you evolving as a human being.
  • Add laughter, singing, dance and music (LSD-M) to your daily schedule.  These activities trigger the feel good neurochemicals that may trick your brain into delaying aging.

All in all, remember that you can negotiate with your brain for health, youth and strength rather than just going with the flow.  Let us know what strategies you devise for peering into your brains secrets.

Feed Me Fast

brain (1)Fasting and Brain Fitness

In some cases we can learn about the root cause of chronic disease by looking at how our environment and lifestyle has changed in the last few hundred years.  On an evolutionary time scale of billions of years, a few hundred years is a very short time, and is not long enough for the body design to catch up with environmental changes.

For example in our previous two posts we noted how the body evolved (or was designed ) for continuously challenging movements in the quest for finding food , finding mates, seeking safety from predators and fighting off competitors, and how our current sedentary lifestyle is at odds with our body.

Another anomaly driven by evolutionarily recent changes in food production is the over-abundance of food.  Our ancestors were more likely to face food scarcity, and a feast-or-famine type of existence.  When food was scarce, our ancestors bodies smoothly switched from using glucose as fuel to using stored fat for energy. This means that they were more likely to mobilize reserves of body fat resulting in a higher fat-free mass.

Now the over-abundance of food combined with sedentary lifestyles has created an epidemic of obesity in which the global population of overweight and obese people exceeds that of under-weight people.  Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers and emerging evidence suggests that it is also a risk factor for age related cognitive decline and possibly Alzheimer’s.  According to researchers like Mark Mattson (Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging)  and Bert Herring (Physician and Medical Writer), the root cause of the problem is not the excess storage of fat but rather, that the body needs fasting just like the muscles need exercise.

The idea of using fasting to improve health has existed for thousands of years as evidenced by the following quotes:

  • “Humans live on one-quarter of what they eat; on the other three-quarters lives their doctor.” – Egyptian pyramid inscription, 3800 B.C.
  • “Fasting is the greatest remedy– the physician within.”  Philippus Paracelsus, one of the three fathers of Western medicine
  • “A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can the best medicines and the best doctors.”  Mark Twain, in My Debut As a Literary Person.
  • “The best of all medicines is resting and fasting.”  Benjamin Franklin

There is evidence that fasting has positive effects on the whole body such as decreased inflammation, oxidative stress and asthma, increased insulin sensitivity and decreased risk of diabetes, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and increase in human growth hormone.

There is also evidence that fasting helps to improve cognitive function by stimulating the production of neurotrophic factors and can help prevent chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

According to Mark Mattson, the key to understanding how this works is to appreciate that our bodies have another mode of operation where energy is derived from fat metabolism (ketosis) rather than from glucose metabolism (glycolysis).  When we eat three meals a day our bodies never switch over to this powerful mode of operation, because it takes 10 to 12 hours of fasting before the bodies glycogen stores are used up.

Fat is the Wealth of the Body

Every-day-life analogies for these two modes of operation would be like work vs vacation  or like being employed vs unemployed.  When you are in work mode you  save cash for vacations or unexpected loss of income.   As you can see from this example,  each mode of operation  entails a different set of priorities and tasks.

Likewise, fat is the stored wealth of the body and the bodies priorities shift depending on whether it is storing wealth (glycolysis) or using it (ketosis).  Think of a short fast as a vacation mode for your body, while a longer fast may be more challenging (i.e. unemployment).

Mark Mattson promotes the idea that fasting is a challenge to the brain.  This challenge promotes adaptive stress responses and changes in the brain similar to what is seen with vigorous exercise or cognitively challenging stimuli.  This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.

Using our analogy, an unemployed person is challenged to learn new skills in order to compete for a new job.  Similarly the fasting brain responds to the challenge of acquiring more body wealth (fat), by generating neurotrophic factors that promote the development of new connections and that drive the transformation of stem cells into new brain cells in some regions of the brain.

The neurotrophic factor BDNF that is released during fasting also promotes the increase in the number of mitochondria inside cells.  Because mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells this increases the ability of neurons to grow and develop new connections.

How to Feed Your Brain Fast

Knowledge is power when properly applied, so what is the right way to incorporate fasting into your life.  Just like engaging in new physical activity it makes sense to discuss changes in lifestyle with your health care team.  Care must be taken if you have high calorie expenditure due to athletic endeavors, or if you are taking medications.

Fasting can generally be started by increasing the amount of time between your last meal of the day and your first meal of the subsequent day.  One could limit meals to an 8 hour window or less each day.  This is the approach that I have been using, although my window is currently more like 10 hours.

Another option is to skip the last meal of the day or the first meal of the day once or twice each week.  Just as an athlete must begin with light weights and progress to more difficult challenges in order to avoid injuries, so it is with fasting.  Learn more about it and proceed with caution in order to make sure the body is receiving its needed supply of nutrients.  It could be your ticket to a healthier you.

 

 

Excitement to Die For!

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We are wired to seek excitement. So then how can it become toxic? Photo by William Cho. [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
There are some things in life that seem good enough to die for.  The excitement we feel in these moments is hard to resist.  In general our bodies are wired to create excitement when it comes to activities that trigger survival instincts.  This includes warfare, hunting, eating, sex and any permutation of these activities.  In our modern world these activities are often morphed into civilized forms such as sports, video games, surfing the web, music, cuisine, etc.  But if our bodies are designed to handle a certain amount of excitement, can too much excitement become toxic, killing you before your allotted time?

Welcome to the frontline of the battle for health where you come up against your nemesis,  herein named Excitotoxicity!

Like the song “Counting Stars” says,

“And I I I I feel something so right by doing the wrong thing
And I I I I feel something so wrong by doing the right thing

I could lie, couldn’t I, couldn’t I?
Every thing that kills me makes me feel alive.”

Sure some things may truly be worth dying for, but others are simply enemy snares that rope us in and pull us down slowly over time.  There are a whole slew of behaviors that fall in this category such as overeating, alcohol, tobacco and drug use, sexual addiction.  These are well known to every one, and should probably be considered excitotoxins, but the excitotoxin targeted in this post is “free glutamate”, a flavor enhancer added to our processed foods that has 129 different names on food labels and is possibly implicated in a whole host debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, and other forms of dementia.

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The original free glutamate flavor enhancer developed in 1909 – MSG). Photo by Dynomat (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
 An excitotoxin is a substance that can damage or kill nerve cells by over stimulating them (i.e. exciting them to death) .  Over 70 types of excitotoxins have been identified (i.e. glutamate, aspartame, sodium caseinate, etc.)many of which are added to our food supply in the form of flavor enhancers.  They sneak into our foods, hidden behind names such as yeast extract, autolyzed yeast, vegetable protein, textured protein, natural flavor, carrageenan, and anything hydrolyzed.  ( See some lists here and here).  MSG is sold directly to consumers packaged as Accent, Sazon Goya, Vetsin, Marmite and Ajinomoto.

The official designation of the FDA for flavor enhancers such as MSG is GRAS ( Generally recognized as safe).  However the FDA recognizes that following symptoms are possible after large doses of MSG:

“short-term, transient, and generally mild symptoms, such as headache, numbness, flushing, tingling, palpitations, and drowsiness”

It does not appear that the FDA has performed long-term studies of the cumulative effects over many years of eating foods with added excitotoxins, nor have they studied the long-term effects on specific vulnerable populations such as children,  the elderly, and people who are genetically predisposed to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, ALS, etc.  A recent paper published May 2013 by Tadvi NA, et al., in the International Journal of Medical Research and Health Sciences titled “Excitotoxin: Their role in health and disease” concluded the following:

There is considerable evidence based research pertaining to the neurodegenerative effect of excitotoxins to the human brain. Yet the autonomous food regulating bodies like FDA refuse to recognize the immediate and long-term danger to the public caused by the use of such excitotoxic food additives. Thus only means of protecting oneself from such type of neurological damage is to consume only unprocessed, fresh, whole, organic foodstuffs.

Did you know that some of the drugs used to help Alzheimer’s patients (such as memantine or Namenda) work by blocking the effects of glutamate?

What it all boils down to is this:

You have to become the expert on your own health because something that doesn’t affect the majority of the people could be killing you or making you age prematurely.  You need to become your own health detective.

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Overly exciting your brain cells with excitotoxins may cost you down the road! Photo by Michael Gil from Calgary, AB, Canada (Redline Excitement) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
This process starts by carefully reading all the labels on the foods you buy and possibly rejecting foods that are amazingly , excitingly delicious.  Vitamin C may also help protect against the effects of exposure to excitotoxins.

Huggly For Health

The idea for the  Huggly Formulation came during the night seven days ago.   After working on the question of scarcity and abundance in natural economies during the previous day, my altered state of sleep hit upon a solution in the form of The Huggly Formulation.

The Huggly Formulation for Abundant Health

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Group hug! By English: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen [Public domain1], via Wikimedia Commons
In natural economies (such as the human body made up of trillions of individual cells) the fruit of production (i.e health) exists in abundance when the following five principles interact:

  • Harmonious orchestration of 7 fundamental virtues (i.e. Compassion, Faith, Truth, Justice, Security, Abundance and Joy).  This harmonious orchestration of virtues is the essence of Love.
  • Generation, preservation and celebration of diversity – continuous creation is the is the object of health.
  •  Invisible abundance supports visible abundance – natural abundance and health exist on many scales.  For example there are 100 billion neurons in the brain,  100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and 100 billion galaxies in the universe.
  • The “whole” is always greater than the “sum of the parts”
  • Each individual voice must be heard and each individual must be free.
Why “Huggly”

Other than the fact that it was recommended in a dream, the word huggly is used because it merges three other words – hug, snuggle and ugly.    The analogy is that a hug or snuggle are positive outcomes if the timing, duration and intensity are properly orchestrated.  If the hug is too intense or the timing and duration incorrect, things can turn ugly.  The same is true for all virtues relating to health.  They must be properly orchestrated to maximize positive outcomes, and prevent negative excess or scarcity.  For example:

  1. Faith without Truth is bankrupt – if you invest in a vision of the future that cannot come to fruition then your investment is lost.
  2. Compassion without Justice is incomplete – true compassion seeks correction and healing.
  3.  Security or Abundance without Joy is empty – the intangible joy is what makes life worthwhile.
  4. Joy without Compassion could be considered cruel.
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Strands twisted into rope. By Nevit Dilmen – GNU Free Documentation License

Like a rope with 7 strands, the 7 virtues need to be twisted together, hugging each other tightly in a septuple balanced helix for maximum health.  This spiral analogy keeps all the virtues in check, and represents the Huggly Formulation.

The Orchestration of a Healthy Memory

In a wonderful example of the role of orchestration on health published by CNN this week, Dr. Dale Bredesen, Director of the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA, was able to reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in 9 out of 10 patients that participated in his pilot study.

Dr. Bredesen used a protocol that targets 36 sources of deficiency, imbalance and inflammation that  contribute to Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  According to the CNN article, “Bredesen said that most of the study participants had between 10 and 24 problems that needed correcting.”  The article goes on to state that,

“The effect of focusing on so many targets at once runs counter to what Bredesen said is a prevailing — and flawed — notion of identifying single targets to treat a disease caused by many factors.”

This exciting research brings hope to many who are suffering from dementia, and points to a new development in medicine whereby early Alzheimer’s may be treated by personalized health matrices that include

  1. Low glycemic, low grain, anti-inflamatory diets
  2. 30 to 60 minutes of exercise 4 to 6 days per week
  3. 12 hours a day of fasting between dinner and breakfast and at least 3 hours between dinner and bedtime
  4. Prebiotics to nourish good GI bacteria and probiotics to replenish healthy bacteria
  5. Stress reduction through yoga, meditation or music
  6. 8 hours of sleep per night and the possible use of melatonin and tryptophan
  7. Brain stimulation through the use of interactive software from companies such Posit Science.
  8. Chelation for heavy metal toxicity
  9. Ensure nocturnal oxygenation and treat sleep apnea
  10. Hormone supplements if needed to improve hormone balance
  11. Other supplements such a vitamin D3, K2 (see the full protocol in Table 1 of this link)

Although the specific protocol used by Dr. Bredesen should only be used under a doctor’s supervision, we can see that many elements of the protocol point to the importance of understanding how to properly orchestrate a balanced and virtuous lifestyle.

The Huggly Formulation provides a high level template that may serve as a scaffold  for designing and understanding complete lifestyle orchestration for maximum health.

Stay tuned for future posts on The Huggly Formulation.

Don’t forget to stay huggly, and have a merry Christmas!

The Fountain of Muscle

If you’re over 25 years old, welcome to the sarcopenia club.  Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass, strength and performance with age.

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Bodybuilder John Quinlan 1998 Nationals By Jaderocker (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
New research from Harvard and the University of New South Wales has shown that small molecules can be designed and used to supplement a normal diet resulting in specific genetic expression that delays the onset of sarcopenia symptoms and increases lifespan in mice . With these new findings we may be one step closer to finding the “fountain of muscle.”  These small designer molecules may soon extend the human lifespan while retaining the added quality of life that comes from increased muscle mass and strength.

While having a “fountain of muscle” is a very exciting prospect, we can all begin delaying the onset of sarcopenia today through improved exercise and nutrition.

The dynamic duo of age-related frailty are sarcopenia and osteoporosis.  Whereas osteoporosis causes loss of bone density, sarcopenia causes loss of muscle mass at a rate of 0.5% to 1% per year after age 25.  It is part of a downward spiral where decreased strength leads to injury, which leads to decreased strength and further injury.  Since it is expected to happen to everyone over 25 it is not considered a disease.

Sarcopenia is identified by measuring muscle mass, strength and performance. Muscle mass can be monitored with simple measurements using a tape measure (anthropometry), or with more complex techniques such as CT, MRI, DXA (Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry), or  BIA (Bioimpedance analysis). Often handgrip strength is used to measure muscle strength, and a physical performance test is given.   Details can be found here.

Everyone is not affected equally with sarcopenia and sedentary lifestyle is one of the identified causes.  There is a group of researchers that believe that sarcopenia is aggravated by lifestyles that have become too sedentary when compared to the action-packed environment under which evolution is thought to have occurred.

It is as if we are sending our body the wrong signals by being sedentary.  Lack of movement causes the body to enter a catabolic state that causes deconstruction of  tissues and organs.  On the other hand, exercise sends signals to the body causing an anabolic state that results in the build up of tissues and organs, such as muscles and bone.

But a little common sense tells us the same thing.  The body is designed with over 600 skeletal muscles.  We are designed for movement and movement in abundance!  It should be no surprise that our bodies function better when in motion.   It should be no surprise that we begin suffering from sarcopenia at age 25 if we are sitting in cubicles exercising only our finger muscles on a keyboard most of the day.

If we are interested in health, office work stations will need to be designed first and foremost with the need for movement in mind.  Each workstation would need to have a built-in treadmill with a means to lower or raise the desk to accommodate running, standing or sitting positions.  Oh and don’t forget the exercise bands built into the chair to allow arm workouts throughout the day.

A sedentary life has other complications because our bodies have a mind of their own.  Consider what happens when you are driving and become sleepy.   To the body, the visual input indicating movement does not mesh with the lack of muscle activity. Your body decides it’s safe to sleep because it responds to muscle status over visual status, and so it begins to transition you to the sleep state.   Your mind knows that you are moving at a life threatening speed and rebels against the pressure to sleep, but to no avail.  Only by inducing movement can the mind convince the body to stay awake.

Unfortunately, automobile designers strive to design vehicles that require very little muscular effort to drive, ignoring the fact that our 600 muscles need constant stimulus to remain not only awake but healthy.  As we begin the health care transition from a model of disease-care to one of prevention, we will very likely begin to design vehicles that function more like power-assist devices allowing the riders to contribute to the work load and thus remain active while in motion.

In conclusion, although we may be able to design molecules in the future that promote muscle mass and longevity, supplements from the “fountain of muscle” will very likely work best when combined with lifestyle modifications that challenge our abundant muscular design.  So lets find ways to stay active thoughout the day.

 

Oh I Can’t Sit Down!

Ernestine Shepherd, a 77-year-old female body builder,  was featured in the May 2014 issue of Prevention Magazine and her short 8 minute video is still available right here.   This short video speaks for itself, so we do not have to add much.   But I’ll warn you; you may want to stand up while watching this video.

This is the stuff legends are made of.  Her motto is “Age is nothing but a number, and you can get fit.”  She wakes up each morning at 2:30 AM and has her daily devotions.  Then she scrambles 10 egg whites, drinks 16 oz of water and eats a handful of walnuts.  As she prepares for her morning run she sings her version of her favorite song (from Porgy and Bess):

Oh I can’t sit down, gotta keep a rollin’ like the rollin’ of a song.

Oh I can’t sit down, gotta keep a rollin’ like the rollin’ of a song.

Today I am happy and free, nothing in the world is troubling me, Oh I’m on my way!

The three D’s that inspire her are, “determined, dedicated, disciplined, to be fit.”   But just as important is the sense of joy and compassion that attracts scores of students to her daily fitness classes.

In a society where we have succumbed to the worship of youth, and where the elderly are marginalized, it is refreshing to hear the gospel of health preached by those who know it best, those whose lives and quality of life have been extended by living what they preach.

Introduce your loved elderly parents and grandparents to Ernestine today!  It may just inspire them to take on that next big challenge.