Must We Grow Old? – Redux, Part 5

by Bob Seitz

November 9, 2004


Update on Jean Calment, the 122-Year-Old Longevity Record-Holder

Jean Calment’s mother died at 86 and her father succumbed at 94—impressive, but not remotely approaching 122. Her only son packed it in at 59, and her only grandchild only made it to 85. So what in her lifestyle propelled her to such extreme age?

Jean Calment ate ¼-pounds of chocolate a day (2 pounds a week), treated her skin with olive oil, and drank red wine every day.

She also smoked until she was 120.

The Third Annual Caloric Restriction Society Conference in Charleston, SC

Tommie Jean and I attended this conference last Thursday through last Saturday, November 4th through November 6th (2004).

We noted that there were a number of people there who looked quite young for their ages. For example, based upon his appearance, I would estimate Don Dowden’s age to be in the low 50’s. He’s actually nearly 73. He has relatives who died in their nineties, but not all of them survived that long. Judy Dunn was another young-looking attendee.  These were two whose ages we learned; there may have been many others. Jan Andrus, whom we visited, has a 99-year-old father and a 104-year-old aunt.

Another notable feature was that there were some surpassingly smart folk at the conference. Don Dowden mentioned that he had taken the Mega Test when it first appeared in Omni Magazine. He finished 46 of the 48 questions, reviewing his answers until he felt sure he had them right. Then he lost the test.

I’m sending him a copy of the Mega Test, with the caveat that it’s no longer legal tender for any high-IQ society. (I also gave him a copy of the Titan test.)

Another man at the Conference who seemed extremely sharp indeed is a planetary astronomer at JPL who is the project manager for the Mars Rover Mission. 

I lack space and time to properly review this conference, but one of its most important papers was given by Paul McGlothin. Paul and his wife have taken red wine extract (equivalent to 4 to 5 glasses of red wine a day) since January. With the aid of medical researchers in the Washington area, Paul has made extensive and meticulous measurements of various medical parameters characterizing himself and his caloric-restricted wife. Paul has been practicing calorie restriction for a little more than ten years. When he began to take red wine extract (resveratrol) in January, he found that a number of biomarkers associated with caloric restriction were measurably enhanced. Among these was body temperature, which dropped another degree.  He also embarked upon intermittent feeding, consuming all of his daily ration within a six-hour window. Paul told me afterward that he has seen a major rise in the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is associated with memory and learning.  Paul said that although he’s in his fifties, his tested IQ is rising.

I’ll have to finish reviewing this conference in the next installment of this never-ending saga. (Do you think I can catch up with “Speedbump”?)

Cutting Calories and Losing Weight

As I mentioned in GoF Issue 149 (June, 2004), I lost about 32 pounds or about 20% of my initial weight of 160 pounds to get down to my current 128-pound maintenance weight.  So how did I do that? And how do I maintain that weight in a world chock-full of pizza, Big Macs, milk shakes, fries, and Breyer’s butter pecan ice cream?

One of the realizations that informs my choices is a dawning awareness that food is medicine. We’re all aware that some foods—viz., wine and coffee--affect us, but the next-step idea that everything we ingest is a form of medicine hadn’t occurred to me until recently.  And knowing what different foods are doing to, or for me is, for me, a powerful influence in deciding what foods I take in.

It helps me to remind myself that food companies can’t afford to concern themselves with what their products are doing to us. It’s up to us as consumers and to our governments to police large multinational corporations.  At the same time, companies do everything in their power to push their products, including Happy Meals and playgrounds at McDonalds to euchre children into pestering their parents to stop at McD’s for a Big Mac, fries and a Coke.

From a living cell’s point of view, the food we eat consists of an enormous collection of mechanical parts (molecules) that the cell uses to repair existing cells and to create new ones. It may also burn some of these parts to create energy for the cell. There is something like a million different kinds of parts (proteins) that the several-trillion-molecule cell uses for fuel and for repair and replacement.

Dr. Walter Willett in his book, “Eat Drink and Be Healthy”, observes that calorie consumption in the United States, averaged over children and adults, is 3,800 calories a day! (It’s hard to imagine us eating this many calories on average. Maybe this includes food that is discarded, or fails to make it to the dinner table.)  This means that our food industry, from farm to supermarket, depends upon our consuming this many calories in order to maintain their existing profits. And this in turn means that the food industry is going to fight to maintain the status quo, and possibly, to boost our food consumption, even though obesity is already taking a terrible toll around the world.  (In the 15 years between 1983 and 1998,  cholesterol levels in China rose from 160 to 193 as they Westernized their diets.)

So it’s up to you and me to “just say no to food”.

Fats are probably the most dangerous ingredients in foods that we don’t prepare ourselves.

The key word with fats is oxidation (rancidity). The reason oxidation is bad is because oxidized fats tend to generate free radicals and must be de-oxidized (reduced) within us.
Saturated Fats

Saturated fats and trans (partially hydrogenated) fats are relatively quite resistant to oxidation. We need some saturated fat, but unfortunately, we tend to get far more than we need.  Saturated fats are popular with food manufacturers. Saturated fats dominate in animal products.
Trans Fats

Trans fats (“Frankenfats”) are also popular with manufacturers, because of their resistance to oxidation, and, as I mentioned in Issue 150, replacing a teaspoonful of good fat (corn, canola or peanut butter oil) with a teaspoonful of partially hydrogenated fat approximately doubles your heart attack risk. And they’re still (2004) ubiquitous. I avoid them like the plague, and you should avoid them equally fervently.
Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats are midway between saturated fats and monounsaturated fats when it comes to oxidation and viscosity. Monounsaturated fats are oils at room temperature, but stiffen up when refrigerated. The number one monounsaturated fat is olive oil.  “CROnies” seek olive oil that is as fresh as possible (“extra-virgin”), keep it sealed but not refrigerated, and buy small bottles for high turnover.  (They’ve devised recipes using balsamic vinegar with seasoning packets to create healthy salad dressings.)

Monounsaturated fats include olive, peanut, avocado, coconut and almond oils. However, only olive, coconut, and peanut oils should be considered for cooking purposes.

Monounsaturated oils are found in the Mediterranean Diet, associated with some of the planet’s longer-lived, healthier individuals.
Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats are very susceptible to oxidation. It’s important that even trans-fat-free oleomargarine be kept away from the air.

There are two types of polyunsaturated oils: the omega-3’s and the omega-6’s.  There is another type of fatty acid, the omega-9’s, consisting primarily of the saturated fat, stearic acid, and the monounsaturated fat, oleic acid, but these are readily produced by the body.

The Omega-3’s

The omega-3’s are the fish oils I discussed ad nauseum in GoF issue 151. They’re in such critically short supply in present-day diets that in May, 2003, the White House recommended that everyone get one to two servings of fatty fish a week to compensate for the loss of omega-3 fats that has occurred over the past 100 years in our natural diets. 

If you buy fish oil at Walmart, your best bet is probably salmon oil capsules. One-to-two grams a day is probably sufficient for most of us. Tommie and I get our fish oil capsules by mail, where we seek EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) levels of 300 to 360 mg. per capsule, molecularly distilled under nitrogen. The reason that the 300 to 360 mg. per capsule specification is meaningful is because without distillation, 180 mg. of EPA per gram of fish oil is normal concentration. Concentrations substantially higher than 18% EPA are an indication that the fish oil has been molecularly distilled.

Omega-3 oils can also be derived from flax seed. (More about this later.)

The Omega-6’s

The omega-6 oils are found in meat, and in vegetables and grains, and are very common in our diets. The important consideration is that there be balance between our intake of omega-3 oils and omega-6 oils. We should get about ¼th as much omega-3 fat as omega-6 fat., which was the case until “food factories” replaced family farms in the twentieth century. Recently, our first-world dietary intakes have dropped to a 1:10 to 1:20 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory, and play a vital role in immune response and would healing. They also increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and such autoimmune diseases as arthritis and lupus.


Anyone who is calorically restricted or on a weight-loss diet needs more protein, in grams, than someone on an ad libitum diet.  The reason is that during calorie restriction, protein turnover increases, leading to a heightened requirement for protein intake. This means that the percentage of your caloric intake that comes from protein should rise dramatically when you’re on a weight-loss diet not because you’re burning protein but because you need more protein for structural purposes.

I’ve wondered if people whose ancestors adapted to the tropics and near-tropics, where fruits and vegetables are available year-around, have less need for meat than those whose ancestors adapted to temperate and arctic climates. During the winter, with snow on the ground, the latter would almost have to have depended upon meat along with nuts and grains to tide them through the winters.

Longevity studies show that vegetarians live a couple of years longer than meat eaters.


The key issue with carbohydrates is probably glycemic load (timing). It’s wise to space out carbohydrates over the course of the day, so that blood sugar and insulin levels remain fairly constant. (This flies in the face of the three-meal-a-day regimens to which we’ve been accustomed.) This also helps avoid “postprandial droop” after eating a big meal.  This is consistent with Barry Sears’ Zone Diet concept. I suspect that this also helps keep me from getting hungry.

It’s very important to eat high quality fruits and vegetables, including blueberries and strawberries for neurological enhancement and protection. I try to eat a little sweet potato every day, a few beet slices every day, a tablespoon of low-fat, sugar-free yogurt every day, and some broccoli and/or spinach every day. I mix the broccoli and spinach with other food because broccoli and spinach every day is more good food than I can stand. I sprinkle cinnamon on fruit and the yogurt, and rosemary on other foods. I’ve taken to eating 130-calorie Beef Tips Portobello Lean Cuisines, adding salsa (for lycopene) and sometimes, extra broccoli to it. Alternatively, I also eat their 140-calorie Chicken Marsala or their 160-calorie Grilled Chicken, generally after I come in from running my 2½ miles. I also drink three cups of green tea/hot chocolate every day, using Ghirardelli’s baking cocoa (nothing but cocoa beans), two packets of Splenda, and enough lemon juice to give it “body”. (I steep the green tea first and then add the cocoa to it.) I gnaw a dozen-or-so almonds during the day, and chew on a slice of low-fat turkey bacon. Tommie and I have mini-milkshakes consisting of a heaping tablespoon of Breyer’s 98% fat-free, no-sugar-added chocolate ice cream (90 calories a half cup.) and, perhaps, an ounce of skim milk.

This all helps to keep the wolf away from the door.