Growing old (and dying) is a multi-faceted process that’s complicated but eerily similar throughout all living organisms. It’s primarily caused by your body being in a prolonged “growth” state where your cells continue to multiply without implementing the necessary protective metabolic processes that allow your DNA to replicate correctly and your peroxisomes and mitochondria to rid the cell of pollutants. Eventually your cells, tissues and organs lose the ability to talk to one another and the music stops.
Exercise and fasting are good for you because they flip your body’s switch into the “protective” state and your body begins to activate genes that counteract the metabolic mechanisms of growth. It’s the healthy balance of these two metabolic states that creates a healthy body and long life.
Insulin, elevated blood glucose, and different growth-oriented hormones like leptin put your body in the growth state, which causes you to age. They also cause you to get fat, cancer and have low energy levels. Suppressing them reverses the process.
What you instinctively perceive as good health is tightly tied to the regulation of these variables, and their proper functioning is practically synonymous with a healthy body.
However, there are three foods that have a remarkable ability to specifically target and counteract the insulin/blood glucose aging pathway and help your body stay young and age gracefully.
1). Royal Jelly
Royal jelly is a secretion from honey bees that allows the queen bee to grow twice as large and live three times as long as its worker bee halflings. I’ve written about its numerous health benefits before (see also here), and it’s one of the most scientifically verified “superfoods” you can eat.
It’s effects are also very robust. When you feed it to other organisms like nematodes and fruit flies they also grow bigger, live longer, and take on the characteristics of a queen bee. Fortunately these benefits are present in humans. When people are consistently fed royal jelly they usually exhibit greater resistance to disease and improved blood sugar control.
This might seem like magic, but its mechanism of action is very straight forward. The majority of royal jelly’s biological activity is caused by a compound called 10-HDA. In lower life forms royal jelly allows organisms to live longer by activating a family of genes titled FOXO, which are very important in early life development. In humans it extends life forms by increasing your body’s sensitivity to insulin. It does this by regulating the expression of genes that code for various insulin metabolizing peptides. The majority (but not all) of these effects are due to 10-HDA.
The link between drinking red wine and living a long time is not an accident. The correlation was first drawn to the public’s attention in 1502 by the author Luigi Cornaro in the old age treatise “On the Sober Life.” He was a centenarian who wrote about how to survive that long. He was 102 and drank two glasses of red wine a day.
The longevity effects of red wine resurfaced again when it was discovered people on the “mediterranean diet” lived a long time and had very low levels of cardiovascular disease. One reason for their robust health is a chemical found in the seeds of grapes called resveratrol. It’s a very powerful nutrient that exerts its effects by putting your body in a physiological state that resembles exercise or fasting.
It does this by silencing a compound in your body called PGC-1. PGC-1 is a powerful promoter of growth within the body and its activation triggers the formation of fat tissue and energy storage. When you digest resveratrol your body has an increased ability to make use of a molecule called NAD, which is very important for energy metabolism, particularly when your body is in the growth state.
After you eat a high calorie meal your body’s levels of NAD are very low, which allows various insulin sensitive energy storing processes to take place. Resveratrol enhances the sensitivity of SRT1 for NAD, which allows your body to revert back to a “maintenance” state similar to when you’re exercising or fasting. Resveratrol can stimulate these effects even when your cells are saturated with triglycerides and lipids, which typically cause your body’s endocrine system to store energy instead of burn it.
Dementia in general and Alzheimers in particular are a combination of three things:
- Your brain losing its ability to metabolize glucose due to being in a state of prolonged insulin resistance (ie, diabetes of the brain)
- The build up of plaque within the nervous system by dysregulated beta-amyloid protein
- An inability to synthesize acetylcholine
Resevratol and royal jelly could conceivably help with reason one. Acetylcholine is at the heart and center of reasons two and three.
Your brain and central nervous system are spotted with insulin receptors, and excessively high levels of insulin within the blood eventually dulls your brain’s sensitivity to insulin, which eventually makes various aspects of your nervous system insensitive to neurotoxins that it would otherwise try and protect itself from.
Dementia occurs naturally in most mammals, and the most frequent common denominator is reduced choline uptake within the brain. Choline is the precursor to acetyl choline, and people with cognitive disorders either are resistant to the effects of acetylcholine or don’t make enough of it in the first place.
Most alzheimers drugs are designed to mimic acetylcholine, and admittedly, most of them haven’t worked very well. The clinical studies I’ve read also seem like a mixed bag. Some people seem to show enhanced cognitive function after taking it, while many other times nothing happens.
Never the less, given the body’s tendency to make less of it over time, and it’s omnipresence throughout the nervous system, it seems like a good bet to get it as part of your diet if maintaining cognition is important for you. The most readily available source of acetylcholine is probably lecithin, which you can get from soy, eggs, or sunflower.