- Insulin and breast cancer
- Thyroid and Vitamin A: the details
- Hormone lotions: the joy of instant absorption
- Prevent prostate cancer with strawberries, pizza, aged garlic
- Headache, insomnia, infections? First, cut out the sugar.
- The Zone as a calorie-restricted diet
- Mind over aging?
Insulin and breast cancer
ELEVATED INSULIN (generally seen in connection with androgenic, or “apple-type” obesity) CAN NEARLY TRIPLE A WOMAN’S RISK OF BREAST CANCER. Elevated insulin generally goes together with a high waist-hip ratio (the top-heavy “masculine build” with waist about as wide as the hips, or wider, as opposed to the narrow-waist hourglass feminine figure, also referred to as “pear-shaped”). You may remember a previous CyberHealth article on how, in women but not in men, elevated insulin drives up the production of male hormones and produces androgenic obesity, an important risk factor for breast cancer.
The most consistent difference between breast cancer cases and controls appears to be a thicker waistline, or in the accepted terminology, a higher waist-hip ratio. True, breast cancer patients also tend to be heavier, but it’s the location of the fat — around the waist and upper body — that’s a more reliable risk predictor, not obesity per se. The breast cancer cases tend to have a more masculine build, with relatively slender hips and thighs, but thicker waists (I stress “tend” — there are always exceptions).
I repeat: for both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer, the high hip-waist ratio has been found to be a stronger risk factor than obesity per se, even though cases are typically heavier than controls.
What does “masculine build” or “androgenic obesity” in women have to do with insulin? In women only, elevated insulin increases the production of androgens, which then influence the distribution of receptors on fat cells, in effect piling it mainly on the belly, but also on the bosom and upper arms, while leaving hips and thighs slender. So if you are fortunate enough to be a pear (waist/hip ratio under .8), glance down lovingly at your plump thighs and say a prayer of thanks for this predictor of health and longevity.
According to experts, when it comes to thighs, “fatter is better.” That’s harmless “pregnancy fat.” (We’re not talking about COLOSSAL “thunder thighs” here; that much fat not only looks grotesque, but also puts a lot of weight on the knees, leading to arthritis.) By the way, a high waist/hip ratio is a much better predictor of diabetes and heart disease — high insulin is disastrous to blood vessels — than it is of breast cancer.
One study found up to an eight-fold increased risk of a heart attack in androgenically obese women.
Let us not lose perspective: it is heart disease that is the number one killer of women in this country.
The chief reason for the need to lower high blood sugar and high insulin is heart disease, not breast cancer risk, or increased risk of various kinds of cancer in general. The increased risk of cancer is just an extra incentive.
It is often stated that premenopausal obesity does not increase the risk of breast cancer. It does, if it happens to be of the androgenic type, with fat around the waist rather than on the hips and thighs. (By the way, this is also the “diabetic” body build. Upper-body fat is a major risk factor for diabetes.)
Because high birth weight is associated with increased breast cancer risk, the suspicion is that it all starts with the mother’s high insulin levels during pregnancy, and her excess calorie intake.
But let us take a look at some more solid data on the connection between high insulin and breast cancer risk. In April of last year, Reuters reported on a lecture presented at the Experimental Biology ‘98 conference in San Francisco. Dr. Victoria Knutson announced that when breast cancer cells are exposed to both insulin and estrogen, the number of estrogen receptors increases 12 times. She called this “a formula for increased tumor growth and proliferation.”
She continued, “The ramifications of this have already been found by epidemiologists who found that in women with breast cancer there was a higher incidence of diabetes, and conversely in women with diabetes there was a higher incidence of breast cancer.” Adult-onset diabetes is associated with abnormally high levels of insulin (which is ineffective, since glucose-gorged cells will not accept any more glucose).
While there may be some genetic or in-utero-acquired (remember the high birth weight as a risk factor) predisposition to develop insulin resistance, androgenic obesity, and diabetes, this does not mean that there is nothing a woman can do to protect herself, particularly if she sees the deadly apple-obese pattern running in the women in her family.
Postmenopausal women are especially prone to abdominal obesity and elevated blood sugar and insulin (this happens automatically when estrogen levels are low; at correct levels, natural estrogens lower blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity).
Thus, postmenopausal women, especially those not on hormone replacement, should be aware that there are effective ways to reduce insulin: low/raw carbing, exercise, and in some cases, very helpful insulin-lowering drugs such as Metformin.
If there is clear hyperandrogenism as indicated by blood tests, hirsutism etc, correct hormone replacement can also be very helpful (call it “hormone therapy” if premenopausal). Nothing like the female hormones to help relocate your fat below the waist! (But you MUST use an adequate dose; classic tri-est is much too weak to accomplish this.)
Did you ever reflect on the fact that most women, especially young women, do have a definite waistline, while most men don’t, unless they are either very young and/or athletic (while male athletes don’t have the nice pelvic padding that women do, note that they do have what could be called a waistline; thanks to their hormones, premenopausal women enjoy an even more slender waistline without any strenuous exercise; that’s estrogens protecting them against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer).
Some women have told me that their body fat “migrates” depending on their estrogen levels, as they keep experimenting with dosages. But low-carbing is also extremely important, and it actually helps you preserve the correct estrogen/androgen ratio.
Interestingly, a lot of natural nutrients used in alternative breast cancer therapy, such as green tea and other polyphenols, fish oil, or conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), are also known to lower blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity.
One reason that moderate wine drinkers tend to be more slender and have a lower risk of heart disease is that polyphenol-rich wine improves insulin sensitivity, and thus lowers insulin.
I think we have plenty of hormonal clues to breast cancer by now, and achieving a hormonal profile similar to that of women with the lowest breast cancer risk (high estriol and high progesterone, according to Dr. Zava; medium levels of DHEA and testosterone are probably also highly preventive) is likely to be a big part of prevention.
In addition, we need to mention the role of thyroid in breast cancer prevention. Thyroid hormones insure quick and proper estrogen metabolism.
That’s why hypothyroidism is associated not only with higher breast cancer risk, but also with heavy periods, endometriosis, fibroids, and fibrocystic breasts. Few women know, however, that thyroid hormones are essential for maintaining proper levels of blood sugar. In some cases, thyroid supplementation has been sufficient to reverse adult-onset diabetes. Note also that progesterone enhances thyroid function.
Women who have been brainwashed into avoiding salt may be iodine-deficient, and hence are making themselves hypothyroid and increasing their breast cancer risk. It is important that women learn that hypothyroidism and low iodine intake are well-established risk factors for breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer. Besides the slow and faulty estrogen metabolism, there is also a suspicion that hypothyroidism leads to increased estrogen receptor density.
It is interesting that both the thyroid and the ovaries produce di-iodotyrosine (T2). You can think of it as protein-bound iodine. While the medical establishment dismisses T2 as inactive, just because they don’t know its functions, scientists now conjecture that T2 is indeed very bioactive and very protective against cancer and possibly heart disease. Returning to insulin: if high insulin levels are a risk factor for breast cancer, then is high consumption of refined carbohydrates, such as bread, a risk factor also?
After all, it is the high-glycemic refined carbohydrates that provoke the pancreas to release those emergency levels of insulin so that the blood sugar does not reach toxic heights (uncontrolled high blood sugar is deadly, leading to whole-body rapid aging). One early study found an incredibly high correlation (.9) between sugar consumption and breast cancer mortality.
A Japanese study discovered that women who drink sugared beverages have 8 times the incidence of breast cancer. Italian studies found high consumption of bread and cereal and sugar and candies to be the leading dietary risk factor. A diet heavy in corn starch was found to be maximally breast tumor-promoting in rats. These studies may not be conclusive, but they are highly suggestive.
Del Giudice ME, Fantus IG, Ezzat S, McKeown-Eyssen G, Page D, Goodwin PJ. Insulin and related factors in premenopausal breast cancer risk. Breast Cancer Res Treat 1998;47(2):111-120; Reuters April 21, 1998;
Francheschi S et al. Influence of food groups and food diversity on breast cancer risk in Italy. Int J Cancer 1995;63:785-89)
Special thanks to Pamela Macon for research help with this article.
THYROID AND VITAMIN A: THE DETAILS
There has been a lively response to the recent CyberHealth articles on the need for preformed Vitamin A (not beta carotene) for optimal thyroid function. Women keep stressing that this vital information needs to be spread further. Please feel free to copy CyberHealth and pass it on.
Let’s examine in more detail why Vitamin A is so important for the thyroid.
It starts with the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). The body needs Vitamin A to produce TSH. Without sufficient Vitamin A, the cells in the pituitary where TSH is produced simply degenerate.
Secondly, Vitamin A deficiency makes the thyroid less able to absorb iodine.
Thirdly, Vitamin A is necessary also for the production of progesterone, and progesterone enhances thyroid function.
The vicious circle here is that if you are hypothyroid, you don’t adequately convert beta-carotene to Vitamin A — hence the yellow skin, especially yellow palms. The deficiency of Vitamin A further debilitates your thyroid production, and your progesterone production.
Both iodine and Vitamin A are among the cheapest supplements, so if your diet is deficient — for instance, if you avoid eggs, liver, fatty fish and other super-nutritious foods that grandmother told you to eat, but modern diet gurus have tried to drive off the market, babbling about cholesterol and mercury — get some supplements. They may not be as well absorbed as food, but it’s good prevention for a few pennies a day. Some people take as much as 25,000 i.u’s of Vitamin A a day, but 5,000 to 10,000 is probably sufficient (take more if you feel a cold coming on; like Vitamin E, and like the thyroid hormones themselves, Vitamin A also enhances the immune function).
Ronald Klatz and Robert Goldman, “Stopping the Clock,” Keats Publishing, 1996, 173-174.)
THE PLEASURE OF INSTANT ABSORPTION;
DERMAL DHEA PREVENTS SKIN CANCER
While dermal delivery of hormones has many physiological advantages, busy working women complain that they simply have no time to be applying hormone creams in the morning, and waiting a bit before they start dressing so that their underwear doesn’t stick. Creams are lovely, and wonderful for the skin, but they are something of a leisure-time luxury. Thus many women would rather take a pill because it’s faster — never mind stressing the liver a little.
If your main problem with hormone creams is that sticky feeling, you might want to try the fast-absorbing lotions instead. For all the medicinal smell and appearance, once you experience that instant absorption, you get spoiled.
Of particular interest to women is DHEA lotion. If you have ever tried a DHEA cream, you know how gritty and unpleasant it feels. Not the lotion — it absorbs as fast as all the other lotions, and can be made as potent as in the Canadian study that found 10% dermal DHEA had a lot of positive effects for postmenopausal women, including bone maintenance and lower cholesterol.
Dermal DHEA shows less conversion to testosterone and DHT, so unlike oral DHEA is much less likely to cause acne.
DHEA lotion is fabulous for the skin (antioxidant power!); Progesterone lotion is very good also. If you want baby-smooth hands with no age spots, DHEA lotion is perhaps the fastest way to achieve that goal. As for facial skin, I’d be careful when it comes to the chin area. The Life Extension Foundation does recommend facial use of DHEA for both sexes.
DHEA does indeed have a special affinity for the skin, so it’s great for anyone with dry skin. On the other hand, DHEA also has that special affinity for the facial hair follicles. Not a big deal for men, who probably won’t even notice, but women who happen to be brunettes (who genetically have more facial hair follicles) may not care for that part. You can discuss all this with Pete Hueseman, senior pharmacist at the College Pharmacy (remember that for the face, you can always use the 3% estriol lotion or cream instead). In animal studies, topical DHEA has been shown to prevent skin cancer.
For more information, contact Pete Hueseman of College Pharmacy, <[email protected]>
PREVENT PROSTATE CANCER WITH
STRAWBERRIES, PIZZA, AGED GARLIC
Cancer is now the #2 cause of death, and experts predict that soon it will become the #1 killer. As one scientist put it, “We are witnessing a holocaust.” The horrible irony of this situation is that much cancer is actually preventable.
A big part of the answer lies in consuming plant food. Think of it: plants are exposed to the sun, UV can damage DNA, so plants must have evolved strong anti-cancer defenses! We reap the benefits of these anti-cancer compounds when we eat vegetables and certain kinds of fruit — berries head the list as powerhouses of anticancer phytochemicals.
The mass media had a ball with the Harvard study that found pizza to provide more powerful prostate cancer prevention than tomatoes or tomato sauce. What the media failed to report or highlight, however, is that it wasn’t men who ate the most pizza who had the lowest prostate cancer rate.
That prize went to men who ate the most STRAWBERRIES.
Why strawberries? Perhaps the main reason is ellagic acid, a polyphenol that happens to provide strong protection against various forms of cancer.
Now, strawberries are available either fresh or frozen year round, so it’s possible to eat them every day. And mind you, what works for preventing prostate cancer typically works for breast cancer prevention also.
It is interesting that selenium has been confirmed as very effective in preventing prostate cancer, but there is still some controversy about how much it protects against breast cancer. Nevertheless, because 200mcg has been found to be safe and beneficial in all kinds of ways, I don’t think women should hold their breath for another ten years until we have a more definite answer about the impact of selenium supplementation on the rate of breast cancer.
The same goes for aged garlic (Kyolic). S-allyl-mercaptocysteine, a sulfur compound unique to aged garlic, has been found to be effective against prostate cancer, and there is some evidence that it works against breast cancer as well.
Vitamin E likewise appears to protect against prostate cancer — and again there is some iffiness about breast cancer. But considering the cardiovascular and other benefits of Vitamin E, it would be foolish for women not to supplement (you can’t get sufficient levels from the diet). I want to stress, however, that best results come not from alpha-tocopherol alone, but the whole E family, the mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols.
(Source: Lester Packer and Carol Coleman, “The Antioxidant Miracle,” Wiley & Sons, 1999)
HEADACHES, INSOMNIA, ACID INDIGESTION?
FIRST, CUT OUT THE SUGAR
Here’s a true sugar story for you. Way back at age 14, I was in an accident and landed on the left side of my face when thrown off a horse. My foot got caught in the stirrup and in a full gallop the horse dragged me. Years went by and my headaches were monumental… as a matter of fact, when I hit my early 20’s, every headache involved taking me to the hospital. It was unnerving, I could never tell when they would come on and though I had ergostat at all times, just wasn’t quick enough. No one ever discussed my diet with me. I was always told this would be with me forever due to my accident.
Then, one day, right after I hit 30, I saw Elaine Pool, a dietician. She started asking me about everything I ate, we discovered I had a sugar addiction beyond anyone’s imagination. Three teaspoons in every cup of coffee, candy bars, sugar in everything I ate. It was shocking, actually. She got me off of everything at once. It was pretty difficult.
So, after three months… no more headaches. I got so involved with diet and its effects on the body, it was obsession. I haven’t had one “migraine” since I was 30! Now, with my new diet of no pasta, no potatoes, etc., I’ve gone one step further.
I agree with your comment about excess carbs and sugar… people start their kids out with hideous habits and those kids grow up into detached, belching, irritable, Tagamet-taking adults and the beat goes on. And yet, there are the few who somehow get through this maze and leave the daze of the weak behind them.
Keeping blood sugar stable is a very big part of headache prevention. And that means sufficient protein and fat, and avoiding sugary foods, especially between meals.
One of the most horrible migraines I ever had, back in the days of when I was barely beginning to be aware that headaches might have something to do with sugar, but didn’t want to believe it, started within an hour or so of my drinking a smoothie made with carrot juice and bananas — a huge load of glucose!
It’s interesting that sugar (in whatever form, including most fruit juice) is like sodium in that it makes you thirsty. You can’t quench thirst with sweet drinks.
Sugary food at bedtime, such as a sweet beverage, can cause insomnia because hyperglycemia (excess levels of serum glucose) overstimulates the brain, in extreme cases leading to a manic state (remember the “Twinky defense”?). And even if you do fall asleep, you are apt to wake up a few hours later, ravenously hungry due to an excess drop in blood sugar.
I am not saying that unstable blood sugar and excess consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates can account for all headaches, indigestion, and insomnia. But it is often a major contributor. Switching to a sugar-free, low-carb diet is sometimes a radical solution. In other cases, there are generally some degree of improvement. No matters what ails you — arthritis, bloating, bad colds, PMS, and so forth — first try to eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates from your diet.
THE ZONE DIET AND CALORIE RESTRICTION
According to the Zone method, I should only be eating about 1,013 calories per day. That sounds way low to me, what do you think?
Yes, THE ZONE DIET IS ACTUALLY A CALORIE-RESTRICTED DIET. And calorie-restriction is the only truly proven way to extend life span. There is total agreement on that, especially now that we have data from primate studies (rhesus monkeys) as well. And we have the uncontrolled human experiment that took place during WWII. When calories were restricted due to food rationing (the consumption of sugar became very limited, for one thing), heart disease and cancer plummeted. After the war, the rates climbed back to the former levels and beyond. That’s what gave Pritikin the idea of how to reverse atherosclerosis (though he didn’t understand the importance of adequate protein and healthy fat intake). Calorie restriction has also been shown to be the most effective way to regress cancer in laboratory animals, including monkeys.
Is the life extension and relative absence of cancer and heart disease due to calorie restriction across the board, or mainly due to carbohydrate restriction? Since proteins are extremely important for maintaining a strong immune system and muscle mass, and since a certain minimum of fats is also absolutely essential, the greatest cutbacks can be made in carbohydrates. Tom Matthews, who is extremely interested in calorie restriction and has extensively followed the research in this area, has stated that “the animal evidence (lots) is that calorie restriction works with restriction of total calories from any part of the diet as long as adequate amounts of all parts are still eaten, but RESULTS ARE BETTER WHEN MOSTLY RESTRICTING CARBOHYDRATES.”
Barry Sears’ latest book is called “The Anti-Aging Zone.” In it, he frankly addresses the Zone diet not as a way to lose weight, but as primarily an anti-aging calorie-restricted diet. And he proceeds to recommend 1200 calories a day for the average American woman, and 1500 for the average American man. So yes, you might be a little short, providing you are “average” — but your body would certainly let you know if you were malnourished. Or perhaps you have miscalculated — anyway, who wants to count calories? Life is complicated enough as is. If you feel great eating whatever amount of calories you are eating, and your weight is stable, your calorie intake is probably OK.
Many of you are probably asking at this point, “But what about weight loss?
Aren’t you just going to lose more and more weight on this low-calorie diet until you look like a concentration-camp inmate?” It seems that if the diet is low in calories but not in nutrients, and of course if it is not truly a starvation diet in terms of calories, people lose weight only up to a point, then plateau and maintain. As long as you’re not malnourished in any way, there should be no problem. If we lived in a more natural way, we’d probably be pretty skinny, like wild animals. Not emaciated, just sleek.
One guru says that the ribs ought to show a little, but not too much. I don’t think there is established wisdom on that, but it sounds plausible. Again, I think our bodies give clear signals as to the amount of body fat that feels beneficial (some is absolutely essential) vs extra baggage.
One thing is sure: neither men NOR WOMEN are not supposed to have a pot belly. And it’s especially sure that a woman is not supposed to have that pregnant look when she’s past seventy!
Obesity is estimated to be the second largest killer after cigarettes. In fact Sears is not sure whether the benefits of calorie restriction are due to the restriction per se, or whether it’s just the elimination of obesity (in biological terms, “obesity” probably starts at a lower percentage of abdominal body fat than the current standard).
CR diet is thus probably the most sure way to live past 100 (according to current scientific thinking our genetic potential is 120-125; more would probably take gene therapy). So if you follow the Zone, prepare to hang around for a long time. It is a terrifically simple diet, actually, since you must have a decent portion of protein every time you eat, even if it’s just a snack — this certainly eliminates carb-heavy junk food! — and pretty much eliminate (OK, “restrict”) starches such as pasta, bread, cereal etc.
My feeling is that if we simply listen carefully to our bodies and stay away from processed carbohydrates and bad fats (margarine, corn oil), eat enough raw food for enzymes and fiber, and do enough right exercise to prevent muscle atrophy, that pretty much takes care of maintaining correct weight.
Or as a relative of mine, now in his late nineties, explains the secret of longevity: “Eat less, walk more.” No one has really been able to improve on that.
Yes, this is one of those great, simple, true mottos! Couple it with “Moderation in all things” and you’ve got a good philosophy of healthy living, I think.
FEEDBACK ON THE FRUCTOSE ARTICLE:
This, too, comes from Linda:
I wouldn’t worry about people being put off by your fructose article. I thought it was great and have personally experienced the detrimental effects of fruit juice. Once my body got used to the low-carb/ high protein/ adequate fat diet my tastes changed dramatically. Now I love veggies, find most fruit too sweet (but often crave blueberries), and have lost bread cravings.
Also, I know we haven’t discussed hair for a while, but it’s incredible how the diameter of my hair strands have doubled and strengthened and my fingernails are also twice as thick and no longer split and break. You always say that the condition of one’s health shows up in the hair, skin, and nails—looks like I’m twice as healthy now!
The best part is that fatigue has been replaced with energy and clearer thinking. If anyone dislikes you for writing the truth about fructose, they’re missing the point on a key health and anti-aging factor. So there – that’s my opinion! Go, girl, go!
Frankly, my fears have been misplaced. I have received no angry email from “fruit fanatics.” On the other hand, I have recently seen an article in one of the alternative health magazines that furiously defends the practice of sweetening various products with fructose, and dismisses “rat studies” as inapplicable to humans. Of course if the same rat studies found that fructose was wonderful, you’d see them quoted ad nauseam.
I cling to the statement that comes from one of the abstracts: “fructose causes far more protein damage than glucose.” Biochemists don’t toss statements like that off the top of their heads. They have evidence, having examined the tissue. And what they see isn’t pretty. What they see is atherosclerosis and kidney failure in the making.
On the other hand, it might be a somewhat different if we looked at fructose in the context of a calorie-restricted diet, with very little ready glucose available. What gave fats the bad repute of being fattening was the fact that when they are eaten on top of lots of carbohydrates, fats are indeed fattening. Fats eaten in the context of carbohydrate restriction are used for energy. Muscles work better on fatty acids than on glucose; this may have been very important for early hunters, who couldn’t afford to get tired quickly when following game over large distances.
Moderation, moderation, moderation. A little bit of fruit will not hurt you — if it’s not coming on top of a heavy carbo load. Make it slightly tart fruit — many kinds of fruit in nature, before humans tampered with it by crossbreeding, are actually tart rather than sweet.
For phytochemicals, emphasize vegetables, especially raw vegetables.
Along a related line of reasoning, if using sugars for energy causes all kinds of problems, might certain fats be a substitute? We know that short- and medium-chain fatty acids are easily utilized for energy, and by definition cannot cause glycation damage. Some scientists are playing with this idea, at least for diabetics. Maybe ten years from now we will see some real research in this area. For now, people need to overcome decades of dietary brainwashing and just get used to the idea that there might be something wrong with the low-fat, high-carbo diet.
Here and there, one begins to find warnings about excess fruit. In “Total Breast Health,” for instance, there is an interview with Udo Erasmus, famous for his “Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill.” Erasmus states: “Excess fruit consumption causes the same problems as sugar. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but the second apple brings him back.” (R. Keuneke, Kensington Books, 1998, p.41).
HOT TIP: INOSITOL POWDER
Normally I can’t stand the taste of powdered supplements, but inositol is a happy exception: it’s pleasantly sweet, and makes the perfect night-time drink. Inositol is a B vitamin with many functions. One of them is raising serotonin levels — hence the positive effects on mood and sleep. Inositol has also been found to have anti-cancer effects. Looking at the graphs comparing the anticarcinogenic effectiveness of IP-6 (phytic acid) with inositol, I don’t see enough difference to justify the price of IP-6. I’d much rather enjoy my inositol drink. Cheers!
* * *CARE OF THE SOUL * * *
MIND OVER AGING?
I wonder if a form of immortality can be obtained by utilizing a part of the brain to de-program what we believe about our mortality?
My OMD told me death comes about when the body can no longer fight off the viruses that attack it. It (the body) shuts down. My therapist told me that death comes about when the mind becomes weary of this process here, “we just can’t do it anymore.” I believe if we were totally in communication with our higher self, we could eliminate any program that provides us with death and go beyond our own life expectancy.
Those are lovely thoughts on anti-aging and higher self. It’s along the lines of what Deepak Chopra is saying. We can certainly deprogram ourselves from the expectation that aging automatically means all sorts of debility and disease; that it’s a stage of life when you are “old folks” and don’t do any productive work, just sit in a rocker and slowly sink into dementia.
But more than the expectation that old age means debility and disease, I think for many (most?) people the problem is depression and not having a clear, compelling, joyful reason to live. I often think that most people die of boredom, depression, despair, of not loving and not being loved.
Perhaps we die mainly of having run out of reason to live.
On the other hand, while the connection between mind and physiology is undeniable (though Western medicine still can’t quite get it), one can also push it too far. No matter how enlightened one becomes, the body can apparently last only so long.
Caroline Myss says, “Biography becomes biology,” but even she doesn’t “reach for immortality.” And since we are being somewhat mystical here, it seems appropriate to mention that Nostradamus actually predicted we would get to live to 300, saying cryptically “the pig gives its heart to its master” — a phrase now interpreted to mean organ transplants from transgenic pigs.
And you know what? Even though I would never admit to believing in stuff such as the prophecies of Nostradamus, having read the one about pigs and longevity in one of the usual disreputable sources, I did nevertheless feel energized and optimistic.
Right away my mind set changed from, “It’s going to be hard just to make it past 100” to “Hey, 300 is a possibility” (being a late bloomer, I feel I need those extra years to accomplish some goals I have in mind, not to mention enjoying life without the hang-ups and miseries of youth).
As someone said, there is no such thing as “false hope.” Hope is a physiologically beneficial state, even if there is no logical basis for it.
Even if we eliminated all disease, learned to be happy and fulfilled practically all the time, and maybe had organ transplants thanks to transgenic pigs, one day we would still keel over due to mitochondrial failure. Our energy-producing organelles appear to be the weak link. While our nuclear DNA is wonderfully protected, unfortunately we seem stuck with poor mitochondrial DNA repair capacity, and can take only so many free-radical “hits.”
I do know that the “immortalist” school of thought does have some answers to that, proposing gene therapy, as well as putting our brains on the hard drive (I’m not kidding!), but for our generation at least, death and taxes seem a certainty, regardless of spiritual development.
Still, it is amazing to contemplate the power of mind to keep us healthy.
As long as you eliminate junk food and eat enough quality protein (animal protein is much better assimilated) and raw food, diet probably is not anywhere as important for cancer and heart disease prevention as staying happy. Diet may be primary for adult-onset diabetes, but that’s probably the only disease where the diet link is obvious: too many carbs, blood sugar sky-high, too much insulin, cells can’t accept any more glucose, insulin stops working. Almost everything else, we see depression lurking. And then, who knows, even in diabetes depression may be hiding in the background — why do those people eat a whole bagful of cookies or a whole cake in one sitting?
So I believe that indirectly depression is the #1 killer, across the board, and possibly all over the world (it’s sadly ironic that one can get just as severe immunosupppression when depression is combined with excess sugar as when it is combined with malnutrition, especially protein malnutrition). We can certainly die of depression, of the physiological devastation caused by negative emotions.
And interestingly, many nutrients that have been found to be life-extending are also described as mood lifters. Enjoying more positive emotions seems to equal better health and longer life. Closely knit communities, social and/or religious, appear to provide the affection and sense of being needed that may account for the longevity of their members.
And it’s well known that pet owners are healthier and likewise enjoy a longer life expectancy.
So do married men, benefiting from the nurturing of their wives. For women, however, the situation is more complex; single women do very well as long as they have close women friends.
Deeply religious people also enjoy better health and longer life, showing that in a sense it doesn’t matter where your positive emotions come from: a relationship with your mate, friends, pets, work, or, indeed, from having a personal relationship with God.
However, I repeat: I don’t believe that we could live forever just by thinking positive and experiencing lots of positive emotions.
Sooner or later free radicals would take their toll regardless. But by staying happy, and I mean happy in a deep sense, the soul sense of leading a meaningful, productive, loving and maximally fulfilling life, we could probably live much longer and stay free of major diseases, until the free radical-caused mitochondrial failure forces a quick exit. When? At 120, or at 300? Some scientists refuse to speculate, seeing the rapid progress in the field of anti-aging medicine.
In spite of the official philosophy of Western medicine, unofficially many doctors probably know that emotional health is primary. I’ve come across this message from a cancer survivor:
“At the age of 28 I was told I had maybe six months to live. I just turned 43. In that time I have given birth to a daughter who is now 12. My oncologist gave me one hope. This is what he said:
‘If you think you are going to die, chances are you will. If you think you are going to live, you have just increased your chances significantly.
“Eighty percent of your cure is your attitude”
And some doctors have expressed the fear that saying to a patient, “You have only 3 months to live” acts practically like a voodoo curse. It can produce almost instantaneous deterioration, rapid aging and decline until the patient does, indeed, “die on time.” It doesn’t happen in all cases — for one thing, we have learned to seek a second opinion — but the fact that it can happen at all shows us the power of “programming.”
But I also think we have some built-in defenses against negative programming. And this relates to what Ariel refers to as connecting with one’s higher self. I think there is something at the core of each person that I like to call the Observer. Maybe that’s not the best term — “a small still voice” is more poetic — but for me “Observer” fits because I sense a certain detachment about the Observer. The Observer is never depressed, never sucked into insanity, and best of all, never damaged by the various traumas that happen to us.
The Observer watches the traumas and KNOWS that’s not right, but if we get hysterical in response, the Observer also calmly points out that that’s wrong, with a sort of “here I go again” internal little sarcasm.
If we start doing something obsessive, like accumulating possessions, the observer calmly points out that all this stuff is really a pile of trash. And I think the Observer is FEARLESS even in the face of death, because the Observer is terrifically curious about any adventure, and this is perhaps the ultimate adventure to watch.
I feel that the Observer part of me is so intensely curious about life that there are times when I may be weeping over some crisis while the Observer is dancing, happy to be learning so much. The Observer throws a lifeline to me, in the shape of the motto, “Do not grow bitter, grow better.” Life certainly becomes less stressful if we are in close touch with our Observer, and that should have a delaying effect on aging, definitely.
Maybe it’s “the Buddha at the center.” Monks, both Christian and Buddhist, often have very unlined, youthful faces.
But maybe Chopra is onto something when he says we are programmed about when old age is supposed to start and how “old folks” act. Not long ago, health books suggested living to 100 as the ultimate in longevity. Now I see more and more books and articles proclaiming 120 as our natural life span.
Menopause is now very commonly referred to as the beginning of the second half of life, and not the last third of life. Some ads still represent it as the autumn of life, with images of falling leaves, but most advertisers have caught on to this being a turn-off. The photos of menopausal women increasingly present them as fit, even athletic, youthful and cheerful. If we learn to see MENOPAUSE AS THE HIGH NOON OF A WOMAN’S LIFE, as the visionary pioneer of HRT, Dr. Robert Wilson (“Feminine Forever”) suggested, the new sense of meaning and possibilities could indeed provide the kind of hope and optimism that is bound to affect health.
I do wonder if a sort of “social hypnosis” does prevail when it comes to retirement age. For some people, especially men, retirement is literally a death sentence. Remember, just like every cell in our body, a human being needs to constantly receive the message: “You are needed.” Retirement sends a very strong message: “You are no longer needed.”
If the common age of retirement became 75, then the definition of “old” would probably move up to 80 or 85. And if celebrity journalists and other visible persons keep on working past 80, as I suspect Mike Wallace will, our mental set is bound to change.
As for physical debility, do you doubt for one moment that Mike Wallace is on good hormone replacement? I am not saying that positive attitude can do it all. That’s just a start, and a large building block of total health.
It’s interesting that quite a few people seem seriously THREATENED just by the idea of life extension, of people typically living past 100 or 110 as today we typically live past 70, and most women expect to make it at least to their late eighties or nineties. Of course we’d have to have a later retirement age (if ever; personally, I don’t see any point in retiring — just changing to the kind of work you like most), or multiple careers, but so what?
I can’t understand why some people are screaming that early dying is best, (they even point out that smokers are actually saving society money by dying younger! Well, then why not mandatory euthanasia at 65?), and exaggerating the supposed dangers of HRT and other life extension measures.
I think that we’d have so much more wisdom and true joy of life if people after 50-60 stayed in good health and continued to be productive for several decades. It’s the older people who really appreciate life. When I look at youngsters (these days anyone under 30 is a youngster to me), I am startled at the amount of depression I see in so many of those faces. It is as we grow older that we learn to focus on the positive and be truly grateful for being alive.
Carl Jung observed that the second half of life is the time of greatest growth and individuation. It is a great adventure to look forward to, a kind of second birth into true adulthood. It is not only that we are liberated from the burden of procreation; it is that it takes such a long time to learn a few simple lessons about life. We all seem to be late bloomers when it comes to learning how to be happy.
Now, there is the biochemistry of depression, and the biochemistry of hope and joy. Here is what Deepak Chopra says:
Isn’t it ironic that we worry so much about the carcinogens in our food, and so little about carcinogenic emotions?
After endless profiles of centenarians whose main health practice includes never going to a doctor, having a drink a day, a pound of chocolate a week (Jeanne Calment), and above all an active mind (generally a high IQ is a good predictor of longevity), a feisty attitude, and a sense of humor, no one can argue that the secret of long life is this or that diet, and just so much exercise, and these particular supplements, and so forth.
Yes, diet and exercise do have an impact, and I think we are on the verge of creating more sophisticated supplements that truly work, but it’s probably always going to be secondary next to the mental/emotional factors.
We don’t just believe, we KNOW that thoughts and emotions have a tremendous impact on our health, probably greater than anything else, and that the biochemistry of hope and joy is the biochemistry of health and longevity. It would not be all that surprising if ultimately THE VERY EXPECTATION OF A LONG AND PRODUCTIVE LIFE had a tremendous influence on actual longevity, together with the emotional strength and joy that come from being connected to the center of one’s existence (whether we call it the higher self or soul or “Observer” or whatever makes sense to us).
The factor of having a nurturing relationship with a life partner (or, for women, with a network of female friends) is also very important, according to a recent book, “Secrets of the Superyoung.” Having a good relationship with oneself probably falls into this category too — can you nurture yourself as much as you can nurture somebody you love? Ask a mother if she can imagine treating herself as she would a beloved child.
But suppose that the effect is not all that strong. It is possible that the power of viruses and free radicals is ultimately what counts.
My father liked to point out that even if we wiped out all disease, cosmic radiation would still destroy us in the end. Given our mortality, is there a rationale for living in a soul-nourishing way? I think so, because joy is its own reward. And it makes us more capable of connecting with others, with nature, with all that is.
As William Wordsworth writes, “With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.” And as someone whose name escapes me said, “We weren’t born to survive, only to live.”
About the Observer: while I read your comments, I kept thinking “soul…..spirit”, “higher self”, even “Guardian angel”…..
About monks’ faces looking more youthful:
Such faces really seem full of light, and joy. It’s wonderful to look at such faces. I knew someone who met the Dalai Lama, and she said all she could do in his presence was smile. She said she kind of felt like an idiot, smiling and smiling and smiling at him, but I can totally understand it! He radiated his aura all around him, and she was touched and enveloped by it. I am smiling right now, thinking about this, and how it must have felt to her (she is quite a joyous young person herself, and I always felt good and happy in her presence.
I suspect that some of the people who are threatened by the idea of longevity are not that happy to be here in the first place. They don’t find much joy in life, or much meaning, I feel. Or they have no purpose, or are not able to figure out what their purpose IS. I know people like this.
Of course, probably some of them are well-known people with careers, who are “successful”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they feel joy. People can be very successful to all appearances, and yet lead private lives of “quiet desperation”….
Years ago, when I was in counseling, my counselor once asked me, “But what about JOY? Where is joy in your life?” And I did not KNOW what he was talking about. I truly had NO clue…..
Over time I did come to realize and believe it was possible for me to feel joy to be alive—and that was a wonderful new facet, another dimension to my life, and it gave me a shiny fresh new way of looking at people and things.
And some people never know that at all. Or possibly, they don’t recognize it when it comes to them, and so dismiss it for a fluke…..? It can’t possibly last…. and so, of course, it doesn’t last. A self-fulfilling prophecy…. I sabotaged myself this way dozens—maybe hundreds—of times when I was younger. It was a joyless existence.
Yes, many people do get to appreciate life more as they grow older, though, from my experience, sometimes it takes a lot of work! But that’s okay. One just has to be willing…..
I see joy as a wonderful strengthener for the immune system. And what about cancers? Heart problems? This is all connected, you’ve really hit upon it…..
In “Simple Abundance,” Sarah Ban Breathnach speaks about the “authentic self”: “She’s always smiling. She’s always calm. She’s always reassuring.
She exudes confidence.” This sounds a lot like my “Observer”! Here a related memory comes back to me. For a short while I was on OvCon, which seems to be the only oral contraceptive that has a pronounced antidepressant effect (because of a more favorable ratio of estrogen to progestin). It buoyed me up with the feeling of midcycle-like good cheer and energy. In spite of having to cope with various kinds of stress, I was indeed smiling, calm, confident, and creative and productive too. I said to a friend that while I was on OvCon, one woman described me as “radiant.” My friend replied, “That was the real you.”
That hit me so hard I almost slid off the chair. Which is a woman’s “real self” — the one at ovulation, or the one during PMS? Without getting into a debate about the meaning of “real,” I think we can intuitively say that the positive self is always there, but sometimes it is more difficult to access.
My OvCon experience is yet another little example of why you can’t separate soul from hormones, neurotransmitters, endorphins, the rest. But there’ll always be some mystery left, as though to keep us fascinated forever, each century coming up with new metaphors.
And no matter what, some people will manage to develop a positive philosophy of life that will help them stay healthy and live a long happy life, while others will tend to be stuck in negativity.
Baudelaire says, “Be always drunk: with love, with wine, with poetry, with virtue.” And Chopra says, basically, “Be always in love.” To be in love is to be totally released from negativity.
There are stories of people with incurable diseases who managed to fall in love — sometimes with a person, sometimes with art (told that they had only a year to live, they finally gave themselves the permission to do what they’d always dreamed of doing), and the all-out, last-chance ecstasy of falling in love brought either a cure or a long-term remission.
Here too we can suggest physiological explanation. For instance, we know that dopamine, our natural “upper” and reward chemical, has a powerful anti-cancer action. But we also know that we can’t make ourselves fall in love, even if our life depends on it. Love happens or it doesn’t happen.
There will always be some mystery left. As Heraclitus wrote some 2500 years ago, “However far you go, you will never find the boundaries of the soul.”
Disclaimer and Credits
This newsletter is presented as a free service for women and health professionals interested in women’s health.
The material contained herein is intended as information only, and not as medical advice.
Editorial and research assistants: Gail Peterson, Pamela Macon Staff writer: Linda Dopierala.
Books by Ivy Greenwell:
- HORMONES WITHOUT FEAR (available from College Pharmacy, 800-888-9358)
- A REFERENCE GUIDE TO NATURAL HORMONES FOR MEN
- HOW TO REVERSE OSTEOARTHRITIS (including extensive information on hormones and arthritis)
- HOW TO HELP PREVENT BREAST AND OVARIAN CANCER