Weight control

Everyone giving advice in this field recommends limiting calories. Most will also agree that exercise has many benefits, though they may add the caveat, "not if it causes you to eat more". My counsel is exercise and more exercise, with no reservations, and I will go a step further to suggest that any trick that works to keep your weight down is probably adding to your life expectancy as well. (Of course, I would stop shy of toxic drugs, and I would approach stimulants with caution and mindfulness, but I wouldn't rule them out categorically.)

Weight tricks

Supplements that suppress the insulin spike
How to get less from your food

The payoff: My guess is that we might add about a decade with all the above measures taken together. And we are likely to be healthier, stronger, with more energy, more mental focus and vivacity all along the way. Some might consider this a disappointing return for a monumental effort*. I see it as a reward at every level for culturing wise habits.


1. Weight management

We may be on the verge of breakthroughs in anti-aging technology, but for now keeping your weight down is the best thing you can do for yourself.

Surprisingly, there is no "ideal weight" from the standpoint of longevity. Skinnier is always better, and this holds true down to levels far below what we can tolerate. In lab experiments, mice that are on the verge of starving to death live almost twice as long as the control mice, who eat as much as they want.

But it you are one of those people who has chronic difficulty with weight, take heart! You don't know how lucky you are. It turns out that the Longevity Gods grade us on a "best efforts" basis.  It's not your absolute weight that counts, but relative to your genetic disposition.  If you are congenitally stout, you can increase your life span with caloric restriction, even though you may not appear thin. In fact, a person who must diet just to maintain "normal" appearance has a greater life expectancy than someone who is congenitally thin, but who appears extra-slim on an equivalent diet.

Keep your weight down with diet or exercise? This is a controversial question, but I lean toward exercise, mostly because it makes me feel good. Most people experience a boost in wellbeing and elan from exercise. Exercise is the only anti-depressant that continues to be effective over time. Hunger, on the other side, can make you irrascible and impatient.

It's never too late to start. Maximal gains come from lifelong caloric restriction, but your mortality risk drops quickly when you lose weight at any age.

In my own diet, I choose to restrict calories by eliminating meat and starch. I eat fruits and vegetables freely, in rather large quantities. A pound of meat has 1200 calories, a pound of broccoli 120 calories.

Intermittent fasting may be a way to get the benefits of cutting calories, while eating freely much of the time.

The Calorie Restriction Society is an international organization in which people who restrict calories for health exchange information and share supportive messages.


2. Anti-inflammatory supplements

Inflammation is an important first defense against infection, but as we get older, inflammation is turned on the body's own tissue as an agent of self-destruction. Inflammation is the primary cause of arthritis and heart disease, and contributes to all other diseases of old age, especially cancer and Alzheimer's. Some day we may be able to selectively control just the inflammation that hurts us, but in the meantime dumb anti-inflammatory agents do us a lot more good than harm.

I feel comfortable recommending low dosage daily aspirin or ibuprofen after age 50, as this is now standard medical advice. Dosage can be from 1/4 to a full aspirin daily.

Fish oil and turmeric are "natural" anti-inflammatory agents


3. Vitamin D

Blood levels of vitamin D are associated with lower incidence of most cancers, heart disease, and dementia.  Vitamin D protects against brittle bones and auto-immune diseases and dramatically lowers the incidence of cold and flu. Also "asthma, diabetes, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and cognitive decline."  In one study, children whose daily milk was fortified with vitamin D caught half as many colds as children without supplementation.

Whole body sun exposure is a great way to get Vitamin D. Sun just on your face will eventually lead to skin aging and elevated risk of cancer. Vitamin D is one reason we get fewer colds in the summer than the winter.

It is worthwhile to get your blood levels checked. Recommended levels are from 30 to 100. I find that I need at least 10,000 iu daily just to get into the minimum recommended range. I am now taking about twice that much, and still can't get my blood level up to the high region of the recommended range. The FDA's recommendations for daily intake are way low.


4. Telomerase activation

This is the newest of my recommendations, with the least data support it and the most future promise.

One of the ways that the body destroys itself with age is simply that our chromosomes get a little shorter each time a cell divides. The tail of the chromosome, where the length is being lost, is called a telomere. The body has an enzyme called telomerase that can restore the length of the telomere handily, but it is almost never active — only when we are in an early embryonic stage do we get a boost to telomeres, meant to last a lifetime.

Theory and some preliminary experiments tell us that if we can convince the body to elongate our telomeres, there is a benefit for many aspects of health at once. In many ways, the body will be younger. So the search is on for herbs and man-made chemicals that might activate telomerase, and maintain our telomere length.

So far, the best-documented telomere therapy** is cyclo-astragenol, sold as TA-65 by TA Sciences, and more affordably from generic Asian suppliers. Documentation comes from experiments sponsored by the company (TA Sciences) that has invested heavily in promoting this product. But there is limited evidence (from cell culture only) that there are several herbs that are much better at activating the body's telomerase. These herbs have not been tested in either humans or animals, so their benefit is less certain. Topping that list is Silymarin (milk thistle), Ashwagandha, and Horny Goat Weed. These are primary ingredients in Product B, and they are available as cheap generics from several different herb suppliers.

Diet, exercise, and anti-inflammatories can also promote telomerase activation.

But all these measures put together can't generate enough telomerase to keep us from losing telomere length gradually as we age. I'm looking for better telomerase activators in coming years, and I'm hopeful they may have major anti-aging benefits.


* Fifteen years ago, there was hype about a 120-year diet. This was based on scaling up a proportional increase in life span from mice to humans. If mice live 50% longer with severe calorie restriction, maybe humans can live 50% longer as well. No one thinks this way any more. The benefits of CR in long-lived animals are proportionately smaller than in short-lived animals. In experiments with Rhesus monkeys, the life extension was far more modest proportionately compared to mice that live only 1/10 as long. However, the health benefits of weight loss are just as apparent for monkeys and humans as for mice.

** You cannot simply eat telomerase. It is a large, delicate molecule that would be destroyed in the stomach. Even taken intravenously it is not conveyed to the cell nucleus, where it is needed.

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