“The average age (longevity) of a meat-eater is 63. I am on the verge of 85 and still at work as hard as ever. I have lived quite long enough and am trying to die, but I simply cannot do it. A single beefsteak would finish me, but I cannot bring myself to swallow it. I am oppressed with a dread of living forever. That is the only disadvantage of vegetarianism” – George Bernard Shaw
In my last blog, I discussed soy products and the notion that they are harmful to our health. Meanwhile in Asia, people have been consuming soy products for centuries and enjoying some of the longest life expectancies. Indeed, women in Japan have the greatest average life expectancy of anyone, at 87 years. Interestingly, research has shown that women consuming soy products in childhood and adolescent appears result in changes made by isoflavones to the cells of the developing breast, which make the cells more resistant to cancer. Eastern culture is synonymous with greater life expectancy, well at least it is for me. They are the custodians of plant-based living and though that has changed over time, the long life expectancy associated with the traditional Japanese diet (of predominantly vegetables) is really only rivalled by non-smoking, exercising vegetarians and vegans in the West.
When I watched Forks over Knives, one of the stories that influenced me the most was that of Ruth Heidrich, pictured above. Ruth is 79. She is a veteran raw vegan, ever since she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer 30 years ago. Ruth has won more than 900 trophies, 6 Ironman Triathlons, 8 Gold Medals in the U.S. Senior Olympics and 67 marathons. She has been dubbed one of the Ten Fittest Women in North America. As a runner of sorts, I was heartened my Ruth’s story. In our culture, aging is seen as something to complain about and cover with expensive cream, and athleticism seen to have an expiry date. For me personally, I feel I have so much to achieve, so many books to read and places to see, one lifetime may not be enough! I believe my lifestyle will insure a naturally long life, with enough time to enjoy all these simple pleasures.
Even in mainstream media there is a conception that vegetarianism and veganism, even just eating minimal amounts of meat is correlated with living longer. I read an article on longevity by Dr Greger, who summarised some of recent research on longevity, put together in a holistic approach:
- Eating a single serving of berries every day could add an extra year to life expectancy.
- Eating nuts (specifically walnuts) and beans may extend life expectancy.
- A plant-based diet can reverse heart disease and, thus, extend life expectancy by almost 14 years.
- People eating one serving of fruits and vegetables a day died 19 months sooner than those eating five servings a day.
- People on animal-based, low carbohydrate diets have been found to live significantly shorter lives due to increased risk of all cause mortality. Therefore, just reducing the amount of meat one eats can increase life expectancy.
- A shorter life span has also been associated with untreated conditions such as Celiac disease, early puberty, and consumptions of particular foods such as processed meats.
- Eating an egg a day has been found to shorten our lifespan (associated with the cholesterol) as much as smoking 5 cigarettes a day for 15 years.
- Dark fish consumption, like salmon, which has been linked with atrial fibrillation, which can significantly shorten life expectancy.
- Fiber consumption is the single most protective factor for longevity of women. Eating just a cup of oatmeal’s worth of fiber a day appears to extend a woman’s life as much as 4 hours of jogging a week! But keep jogging!
- Moderate alcohol consumption does not appear to affect the lifespan of healthy people either positively or negatively (music to my ears!)
- Coffee has been associated with decreased all-cause mortality.
- Besides diet, sleeping 7 hours a night may maximize longevity.
- Along with a whole-food, plant-based, stress management may slow the aging of our DNA.
- There are a few vitamin supplements that may increase all-cause mortality, or shorten the lifespan. Vitamin C and multivitamins don’t appear to offer net benefit and Iron pills have also been linked to a shorter lifespan. Vitamin D, however, actually appears to make us live longer.
- Basically it’s believed, the intake of cholesterol, only found in animal foods, is associated with living a shorter life and the intake of fibre, only found in plant foods, is associated with living a longer life.
Okay, so there is a lot of research about eating plants and living longer but why is that the case? DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is the most abundant steroid hormone in the human body, and is thought to help counteract the effects of stress, preserve female fertility and it appears to be a strong predictor of longevity. DHEA normally declines with age. However, caloric restriction is thought to extend the lifespan of many animals by up-regulating DHEA and studies have found that following an egg-free vegetarian diet increased DHEA in blood levels by about 20%. Apparently, plant-based living doesn’t so much increase DHEA as much as it stops people losing less of it. This effect is something only normally seen in people fasting but it is thought that, by eating plant-based foods one may be able to mimic the effects of caloric restriction, without the starvation, as plants are naturally lower in calories.
“Thou should eat to live; not live to eat” – Socrates
That concludes my health topics, thanks so much for reading! Next up: the environmental reasons for veganism.
Resources and References
The source of the research listed above with links embedded to the original studies: http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/lifespan
A look at the Traditional Japanese diet associated with greatest longevity: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-okinawa-diet-living-to-100
The process of aging in the body and how to slow it: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/research-into-reversing-aging
Ruth Heidrich’s amazing story: http://www.forksoverknives.com/how-i-went-from-cancer-patient-to-ironman-triathlete/