“Live to 120 years old by eating as much as you want and drinking lots of red wine!”
That’s the intriguing finding of a recent study from Harvard researcher David Sinclair and his group.
The only catch is that you’d have to drink about 1,500 bottles of wine a day to get those results. Of course, that would kill you before you’d have a chance to reach age 120. Still, those are important findings. In fact, Dr. Sinclair thinks they’re so important that he started a company to produce a pharmaceutical derivative of the active compound in red wine, resveratrol.
Although his findings have merit, I think he is misguided in his attempt to find a “magic pill” that will allow you to eat whatever you want and live forever. The body is much more complex than that.
This week, I’m going to explain why a magic pill WON’T work, and provide 10 tips that really WILL help you live longer and prevent all the diseases of aging.
Why “magic pills” don’t work
Don’t get me wrong. Dr. Sinclair is on the right track. But I believe he’s focused on the wrong thing. In looking for that “magic pill,” he’s not taking into account the bigger picture.
Sure, there has been a lot of fanfare about this new “drug” resveratrol that can extend your life span and let you eat whatever you want and have the fitness of a trained athlete without any exercise. But that’s wrong on a couple of counts.
First, resveratrol isn’t a drug at all. It’s a natural plant defense molecule, or “phytonutrient,” that’s found in grapes (and, therefore, red wine), as well as in peanuts, berries and a Chinese herb called hu zhang.
Second, all the excitement reinforces the idea that a single molecule (whether from a drug or a plant) can solve all our health problems. In functional medicine, we look at ALL the systems of the body. We need to consider resveratrol as just ONE of many healthful plant compounds.
I believe that all the excitement about resveratrol is misguided. Everyone is looking for a quick fix but, in order to find the real secret to longevity, healthy aging and fitness, we need to look at how this compound works and learn from there how to keep ourselves healthy.
The secret lies in our mitochondria.
Mitochondria: The real secret to healthy aging and lifelong fitness
Recently, I was at a conference on longevity and aging and had a chance to converse with Dr. Leonard Guarente from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1995, Dr. Guarente discovered a gene called SIR-2 in yeast that controls longevity.
I asked Dr. Guarente what REALLY was at the root of the effects of this master gene that controls longevity (called SIRT-1 in humans). Resveratrol works through this gene. His answer was quite simple: sugar. This gene has its master effects on aging by improving how the body controls sugar and insulin sensitivity.
This isn’t really surprising. All the effects of aging are increased by worsening blood sugar control. People with diabetes have smaller and more poorly functioning mitochondria and get cancer, heart disease and dementia at far greater rates than the general population.
So, if we could fix our blood sugar control and boost our mitochondria, we could live longer and disease-free.
Considering this, let’s look at the big picture again …
Taking a magic pill just won’t do the trick. That’s especially true if you factor in all the other real-life insults that affect us, such as poor diet, stress, environmental toxins and a sedentary lifestyle — all of which affect blood sugar control and mitochondria. Instead, you need to know ALL the factors that DAMAGE your blood sugar control and mitochondria. And you need to know ALL the factors that IMPROVE or boost your blood sugar control and mitochondria.
So, what can you do to live longer and stay disease-free, other than drink 1,500 bottles of wine a day? Here is just a partial list.
10 tips to help you live a longer and healthier life
- Balance your blood sugar. Increase your intake of whole foods that contain lots of fiber, such as beans, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
- Eat protein with every meal. This helps balance your blood sugar. Include nuts, beans, fish, lean animal protein and omega-3 eggs in your diet.
- Increase your intake of omega-3 fats. These improve blood sugar control by working on the same cell-signaling mechanisms as resveratrol. Eat wild fish (salmon, sardines, black cod and herring) or take omega-3 fatty acid pills (1,000 to 2,000 mg of EPA and DHA a day).
- Eliminate or dramatically limit flour products. That means anything with sugar from any source.
- Find ways to relax every day. This prevents diabetes and controls your blood sugar by reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
- To boost your mitochondria, you will need to exercise and build muscle. Try interval training, a technique of exercising fast (like sprinting) for one minute and then more slowly (like fast walking) for three minutes. Repeat this in cycles totaling 30 minutes twice a week.
- Eat foods with phytonutrients. There are many effective ones other than resveratrol, including those found in green tea, pomegranate and all dark, colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Consider supplements that help protect and boost your mitochondria. These include Coenzyme Q10 (100 to 200 mg a day), acetyl-l-carnitine (500 to 1,000 mg twice a day), alpha-lipoic acid (100 to 200 mg twice a day), D-ribose (5 g once or twice a day), magnesium (150 to 300 mg twice a day), B-complex vitamins (daily) and NADH (5 to 10 mg a day).
- Live clean and green. Limit your exposure to heavy metals, pollution and other environmental toxins, all of which poison your mitochondria.
- Learn how to detoxify. Support your body’s detoxification system and your liver function.
This is just a start of what you can do. Just remember: You will need to take a comprehensive approach to health, leveraging the latest research to help you improve your metabolism, stay thin and live longer. There are no quick fixes, but addressing your whole system will give you a huge advantage!
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.