Intermittent Fasting – Powerful Anti-Aging Elixir (part I)

The more I research this topic, the more excited I become about this new and powerful dietary strategy to maximize overall health and slow aging. This is a great example of how most of the new, complex scientific research findings on food and nutrition are simply telling us to look to our ancient past and adopt lifestyle habits that are consistent with our genome. Of course, fasting certainly isn’t new. Our genes were selected during the Late Stone Age when feast and famine were commonplace. We evolved this way. The abundance of food and frequent meals in our modern world is simply not compatible with our Stone Age genes.

So why fast? Isn’t lack of food a hardship that we (in the developed world) no longer need to worry about? Are we not very fortunate to have the luxury of 24/7 availability of food? On the contrary, since the 1930’s, scientists have known that calorie restriction will extend average and maximum lifespan in a variety of species, from yeasts to flies to dogs. Recently, calorie restriction was shown to significantly increase average lifespan in monkeys as well.

Calorie restriction, however, is very difficult to maintain over long periods. It is not easy to consistently undereat. Reducing calories by 20-40% can compromise muscle mass and strength, bone density, vitality and quality of life. What’s the point of living longer when you are frail and weak, and unable to enjoy all the pleasures of eating? Not for me! As discussed in this review, intermittent fasting provides the same life-extending benefits, including stress and disease resistance, as calorie restriction.

Intermittent fasting is much more practical, less demanding, and more consistent with our “feast & famine” genome.  I believe the best and easiest approach is to fast for about 16 hours and then “feast” during a shortened window of about eight hours. This can be done a few days per week, or every day. I myself typically skip breakfast and fast from dinner to lunch. Among the other more popular fasting strategies are alternate day fasting and the 5:2 plan that involves eating 500 to 600 calories for two non-consecutive days and unrestricted eating the other five days. Consider drinking sugar-free green tea or sugar-free coffee during the fast to enhance its longevity effects. If you find fasting to be too difficult, believe it or not, you can add coconut oil and/or grass-fed butter to coffee or tea and still benefit from much of fasting’s health enhancing effects (avoiding carbohydrate and protein is the key). These healthful fats promote amazing satiety to power you through the fast (this modified fast will be explored in more detail in a forthcoming post).

The primary biological pathway by which fasting promotes robust health and longevity is through a “housekeeping” process called autophagy. Just as clutter, junk, and viruses must be monitored and removed from a computer to maintain its operating efficiency and extend its life, our cells use autophagy as a quality control mechanism to degrade and recycle damaged, defective, and worn cellular components in order to keep themselves functioning optimally. In times of nutrient emergencies (fasting), damaged materials are recycled to produce energy in the form of ATP for survival. At the same time, harmful, unwanted junk and debris is swept away. This cellular trash includes mutated cells and aggregates of protein such as the amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. In fact, autophagy has been linked to cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and many other chronic disorders.

Unfortunately, autophagy declines with increasing age. With progressive malfunctioning of this convenient surveillance and repair mechanism, mutated or damaged proteins accumulate and gum up the normal workings of the cell, leading to disease, aging, and death. A classic example of this phenomenon is the “wear and tear” pigment called lipofuscin. Lipofuscin accumulates in various tissues at a rate inversely correlated with longevity. It is considered a hallmark of aging.

A strong case is building that defective autophagy is a fundamental driver of the aging process. In fact, the best know methods to extend lifespan in animals are driven by increased autophagy. In various long-lived mutant species of laboratory animals and insects, inactivation of autophagy genes suppressed the life span extension brought about by various longevity pathways including dietary restriction. Autophagy appears to be the common denominator among longevity interventions!

The remarkable longevity effects of fasting – primarily by way of autophagy – are the end result of all the numerous other benefits (e.g., increased insulin sensitivity) of fasting (to be discussed in future posts). Fasting is also an example of hormesis – an adaptive response by the body’s cells to mild stress resulting in stronger and more age-resistant cells. Weight training, whereby muscle fibers are damaged but subsequently grow stronger, is another common example of hormesis.

I’m a firm believer in the “holy trinity” of diet (or lack of), acute exercise and quality nutraceuticals for optimal health. To further promote autophagy, complement intermittent fasting with acute, high-intensity exercise, and supplement your fasting phase with green tea extract, resveratrol, and vitamin D3 (with K2). Most importantly, be sure to maintain or achieve optimal levels of AMPK – a critical enzyme that acts as a master switch to regulate energy metabolism. AMPK activation drives autophagy and improves cellular stress resistance, thus playing a major role in the aging process. While “good stressors” such as fasting and exercise boost AMPK, this effect declines with increasing age. Fortunately, two botanical extracts that have been safely used for centuries can very effectively restore youthful AMPK activity. These extracts, Gynostemma pentaphyllum and Trans-tiliroside, have profound effects on reducing belly fat, normalizing blood sugar, and lowering serum lipid levels (more on AMPK in next post).

To fight the enemy of aging, stress you body intermittently with fasting and high-intensity exercise. To quote the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche: “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

Fish Oil or Krill Oil? Don’t choose. Take both!

While the considerable health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids – especially with regard to the cardiovascular system and the brain – are well established, there is an ongoing debate as to whether fish oil or krill oil is the better omega-3 supplement.  However, while both fish oil and krill oil increase plasma and membrane concentrations of omega-3 fats, there are important differences between the two marine oils in their mechanism of action and sites of action in the body. In a similar manner in which the two predominant forms of vitamin E – alpha and gamma tocopherol – complement each other’s antioxidant effects, fish oil and krill oil provide complementary biological effects in different tissues in the body.

Structural differences between fish oil and krill oil may account for different ways they are taken up by our cells, as well as for different target destinations. In fish, the omega-3 fatty fats (EPA & DHA) are stored as triglyceride (the major storage fat in our body); in krill the majority of these fatty acids are bound to phospholipids. Phospholipid is a type of fat that comprises the membrane of all living cells. This form of omega-3 fat is more “user-friendly” by the body, whereas the triglyceride form must undergo additional processing. Research indicates that this phospholipid structure of krill oil enables the omega-3 fats to be more efficiently absorbed and integrated into cell membranes.

Cardiovascular Health

Decades of research support the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 fats from cold-water fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, sardines) and fish oil supplements. Large review studies report consistent reduction in serum triglycerides and increases in beneficial HDL cholesterol levels from consuming omega-3 fats. Guidelines from the American Heart Association recommend eating fish and taking fish oil supplements to decrease sudden deaths, lower blood pressure, and decrease arrhythmias.

The powerful anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fats derived from fish account for their cardio benefits. By modulating levels of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines that circulate throughout the body, fish oil lowers body wide inflammation. While krill oil does not appear to provide a systemic anti-inflammatory effect, it was more effective than fish oil in lowering liver triglycerides (fatty liver) and heart triglycerides in a rat model of obesity and metabolic syndrome. In another study in rats, treatment with krill oil before induction of heart attack resulted in significantly reduced structural and functional changes that normally occur after injury to the heart muscle. While no comparison with fish oil was made in this study, the researchers used krill oil because it had been previously demonstrated to be more effective than fish oil in delivering EPA & DHA into heart phospholipids.

Brain Health

As described in this review, recent findings from numerous studies show brain benefits of omega-3 fats that are just as profound as their cardiovascular benefits. This is not surprising considering the fact that the both the heart and brain have some of the body’s highest concentrations of omega-3 fats. The neuroprotective effects of EPA and DHA have been shown to improve autism, ADHD, depression, cognitive decline and impairment, anxiety, and age-related brain shrinkage.

When you ingest omega-3 fats from diet or supplements, these fats are incorporated into the fatty membranes of your cells, including brain cells. (You are what you eat!). Receptors (“docking stations”) for various neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin are embedded in your brain’s cell membranes. Omega-3 fats, especially from krill oil, can favorably modify the phospholipid composition of cell membranes, making the membranes more fluid and pliable. This facilitates enhanced neurotransmitter-receptor interaction with more efficient cell-to-cell signaling and better brain functioning.

Krill oil, with EPA & DHA packaged as phospholipid, may be preferred over fish oil for brain health.  Phospholipid-bound omega-3 fats as found in krill oil are significantly more bioavailable to brain tissue compared with triglyceride-bound omega-3 fats from fish oil. In a study in elderly men, both fish (sardine) oil and krill oil improved cognitive function, but the krill oil was more effective. In addition, the predominant phospholipid in krill oil is phosphatidylcholine, which is also the primary phospholipid in cell membranes. Phosphatidylcholine can increase brain levels of acetylcholine, a major neurotransmitter that plays an important role in memory and learning.

Bone and Joint Health

While fish oil has been found to be beneficial for osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis, krill oil is also effective against arthritis, and possibly even more so. In an animal model for arthritis, krill was more effective than fish oil at protecting against joint damage and cartilage erosion by significantly reducing the influx of inflammatory cells into the joint and the synovial membrane lining the joint. This study indicates that krill oil may be more beneficial locally in the joint, while fish oil has more systemic effects via modulation of circulating inflammatory cytokines.

Summary

The cardiovascular benefits of fish oil have been well documented by numerous studies in recent years. In fact, a prescription version of fish oil (Lovaza) has been approved by the FDA to lower very high triglyceride levels. With high concentrations of the omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA), fish oil is also beneficial for brain health, as well as for bone and joint health. In contrast, krill oil has relatively few studies to support its use. However, even with much less EPA and DHA, krill oil is more bioavailable than fish oil owing to its phospholipid form. Krill oil also comes with astaxanthin, the powerful antioxidant that provides the red-orange pigment in some fish and birds.

High-dose omega-3 fats from fish oil provides optimal cardioprotection, while krill oil appears particularly effective for brain health and joint health. Both oils are also helpful for the other major inflammatory disorders, e.g, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.

Combining fish oil and krill oil in one product is the ideal way to take advantage of these different and complementary sources of omega-3 fats. Life Extension has formulated a convenient, cost-effective, cutting-edge product that does just that. Super Omega with Krill and Astaxanthin also includes additional antioxidant protection (against oil rancidity) with the inclusion of sesame lignans and olive fruit polyphenol extract. Olive oil combined with fish oil provide a synergistic anti-inflammatory effect greater than placebo or fish oil alone.

Why We Need Supplements: Beyond Deficiency – Part 1

Outside of developing countries, pronounced vitamin deficiency diseases, e.g., beriberi, pellagra and scurvy are rare today. Even with depleted foods, processing, storage, genetic selection, age, drug interactions, poor food choices and chronic stress, our diet is still adequate to avoid these deficiency syndromes.

On the other hand, does our modern diet really provide us with enough nutrients to optimize health and prevent age-related diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s? Doubtful. There is abundant evidence that various vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs and plant extracts can be used to judiciously supplement our diet to reduce risk to chronic diseases. Food is still our best medicine, but supplements can definitely provide significant complementary benefits.

In the next two posts, I’ll just focus on two essential nutrients, selenium and folate, as examples of the benefits of supplementation.

Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that plays an important role in antioxidant defense and thyroid function. Through clinical trials, laboratory experiments and population studies, it has been linked to the prevention of a wide variety of degenerative conditions including cancer, infertility, cardiovascular disease, neurological disease and impaired immune function.

Selenium’s anticancer effects, especially with regard to the prevention of prostate cancer, has been getting a great deal of attention in recent years. While the evidence to support the anticancer activity of selenium is overwhelming, the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), published in 2009, showed that neither 200 mcg/day of selenium from L-selenomethionine nor 400 IU/day of synthetic alpha tocopherol, nor both could reduce prostate cancer risk. In a more recent examination of the SELECT data using toenail selenium as an index of tissue stores, selenium supplementation did not benefit men with low selenium status and actually increased the risk of high-grade prostate cancer among men with high selenium status

With regard to the lack of benefit from Vitamin E, this can be explained by the use of only synthetic alpha tocopherol which suppresses cancer-protective gamma tocopherol.
This major flaw has been addressed in a recent editorial in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, as well as by Life Extension.

The issue with selenium is more complex. Are selenium supplements ineffective, and, more importantly, are they harmful? Highly unlikely.

Let’s look at some of important limitations of the SELECT study:

1. The major flaw is the use of only one form of selenium – L-selenomethionine. The form of selenium does matter. Our diet provides us with different forms of selenium with different anticancer mechanisms that complement one another. The National Prevention of Cancer study (NPC) demonstrated that 200 mcg/day of selenium from high-selenium Brewer’s yeast reduced prostate cancer risk by 63%. Yeast fed with selenium creates secondary compounds, or byproducts, that have chemopreventive effects. It is possible that these secondary metabolites or forms of selenium other than selenomethionine could account, at least in part, for the positive results in the NPC trial.
This topic, as well as the various mechanisms for the cancer prevention effects of selenium, are extensively covered with supporting references by Life Extension.`

2. Prostate cancer is usually initiated many years before it is clinically diagnosed in older men ( highest risk for ages 50 and >). According to Dr. Gerhard Schrauzer, a pioneer in selenium research, selenium supplementation should start early in life and be maintained over the entire lifespan for optimal utilization of its anticancer effects. The participants in the SELECT study were on the trial dose of 200 mcg/day of selenium for only seven years.

3. The SELECT study subjects, including the placebo group, had a high baseline serum selenium content that was estimated to equate to a selenium intake of 200-250 mcg/day. This amount is already being within the range of 200-300 mcg/day that’s estimated to be optimal for cancer protection. The addition of 200 mcg/day of supplemental selenium would therefore not be expected to render any further protective effects against the placebo group.

4. This a correlational study, i.e., it does not prove causation. In 2007, it was reported that high plasma selenium levels were found in diabetics. Does this mean selenium causes diabetes? Of course not. Dr. Schruazer notes that the high selenium levels are due to disease-related changes of the plasma proteins of diabetics. The preponderance of evidence suggests that selenium protects against type 2 diabetes.
Who knows what else can be correlated with high toenail selenium?
Keep reading…

5. Other variables not accounted for: (1) Exposure to selenium-antagonistic toxic elements such as cadmium, lead and mercury that inhibit selenium-dependent enzymes. Cadmium exposure has been linked to increased risk to prostate cancer.
Dietary mercury, a possible cancer-causing metal, was moderately correlated with toenail selenium. (2) Vitamin D protects against prostate cancer. Vitamin D status was not reported. (3) Intake of other antioxidants. Investigating a single nutrient presents many problems. Selenium and vitamin E tend to spare one another. Thyoredoxin reductase, a selenium-dependent enzyme, helps regenerate several antioxidants, including vitamin C. In a study investigating toenail selenium as an indicator of selenium intake, dietary beta-carotene intake was positively associated with toenail selenium. Interestingly, the study’s authors suggest that beta-carotene spares selenium in antioxidant-type reactions leaving more selenium to accumulate in toenails. So what else can drive selenium into toenails? Who knows!

6. The use of toenail selenium to measure tissue stores has been questioned for individuals that are not selenium deficient. It does not measure the functional activity of about a dozen important selenium-dependent proteins.

Conclusion and Suggestions

Relative to other nutrients, there is a narrow range of selenium intake between toxicity (>900 mcg/day) and deficiency (<30 mcg/day). The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) has set the tolerable upper intake level for selenium at 400 mcg/day in adults. The first reversible toxicity symtoms appear at intakes of 2,400-3,000 mcg per day for several months.The average dietary intake of US adults is around 100 mcg/day. However, since there is great variation in the soil content of selenium, and plants do not need selenium, this number becomes a very rough estimate. Brazil nuts have the most selenium of any food, but the amount can vary tenfold!!

Nevertheless, a varied diet can easily provide the US RDA of 55 mcg/day to prevent selenium deficiency diseases such as cardiomyopathy. For maximal protection against cancer, however, a total intake of 200-300 mcg/day is probably necessary.
A supplement of 100-200 additional mcg of selenium is perfectly safe, and far from being toxic. Best option is to include all three forms of selenium: L-selenomethionine, sodium selenite and selenium –Methyl L-Selenocysteine.

It’s unfortunate that research money, time and effort is wasted on investigating non-toxic amounts of a critical nutrient as it relates to prostate cancer, while poor diet, heavy metal and other oxidant exposures, along with chronic stress and micronutrient deficiencies should be the focus of prostate disease prevention.

Final thought….

If you’re still hesitant about selenium supplementation, consider the revolutionary Triage Theory of micronutrients recently put forth by Dr. Bruce Ames, a prominent scientist best known for the invention of the Ames Tests that test for mutagenicity (potentially cancer-causing) of compounds.

In medicine, triage is the process of deciding which patients should be treated first based on how sick or injured they are. In this instance, the Triage Theory means short-term survival at the expense of long-term survival. A moderate shortage of a single micronutrient, though enough (RDA amounts) to avoid noticeable symptoms, will impair functions essential for long-term health. Over time, the body will accumulate DNA damage that accelerates aging and increases the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer.

In other words, from an evolutionary perspective, the body prioritizes nutrients to survive for reproduction at the expense of longevity.

Dr. Ames and his research team demonstrated his theory with none other than selenium (as well as vitamin K). They found that with “moderate” selenium deficiency the activity and levels of non-essential selenium-dependent proteins declined. These selenoproteins are needed only for long-term health.
A strong case for sensible selenium supplementation.

Robert Iafelice, MS, RD, LD

Welcome to my blog! Blending ancient with modern

Some of the nutrition information on my blog flies against conventional “wisdom,” but not against our genes and common sense. Like the other blogs promoting the benefits of various versions of traditional and ancestral diets, I will be exploring the tremendous health advantages of eating and exercising the primal way.

However, in my opinion, the considerable health enhancing effects of cutting-edge nutraceuticals can complement the distinct benefits of traditional and ancestral eating. Since we obviously cannot duplicate the pristine environment of our ancient past, various nutrients and phytochemicals can help us to compensate by assisting detoxification mechanisms while also filling in nutrient gaps. Integrating the right diet, the right type of exercise, and high-quality nutraceuticals creates a powerful synergistic formula to slow aging and help prevent the chronic diseases of our modern lifestyle.

Future posts and articles will feature a variety of hot topics covering diet, exercise and nutritional supplementaion. Just by visiting my blog, you have access to a very generous 25% discount on high quality Life Extension products without membership fees!

In good health,

Bob Iafelice, MS, RD, LD