Monday, January 19, 2009

Health Fads

After receiving a letter of genuine concern from a friend of mine (who happens to be a doctor) and who saw the supplements I'm going to start taking, I realized I didn't provide much explanation/justification for what I'm doing, and it might easily appear like I have lost my reason, my skepticism, or any combination thereof, and have subscribed to some kind of health fad. Far from it.

I don't think it's necessary or even interesting to go into the full details of my health plan, but to give you some idea of what's going on, I'm going to copy and paste part of my response to my good friend the doctor.

In the following months I will post additional details about the guidelines I'm attempting to follow and what results I observe. (I do intend to subject myself to numerous medical tests, so will be able to talk with specific numbers in hand.)

From the e-mail exchange:

"
"What i
> suggest is you redirect some of your energy into
> researching the merits and actual scientific studies
> behind such broad ranging (and high dose) supplementation."

My decision to take every supplement I have listed is based on careful and thorough research of the scientific evidence. I have been extremely skeptical, as you know me to be.

I have been researching these supplements since about September of last year, and after reviewing many different studies and summarized results in the literature I arrived at specific recommendations (and specific dosages) for each, all of which have demonstrably been proven to have effects (in a statistical sense). My purchases are the careful end-result of this research. Let me assure you that there is no risk whatsoever of overdose concerning the supplements I've chosen; they are dosages well beneath thresholds approximating toxicity, and can be found in the standard references.

The first thing to explain, is that my supplementation is not based on the goal of attaining "general health"; it is based with the aim of maximizing longevity and engaging in aggressively preventive medicine. These are very different concepts. So to say that I am going for "improved health" is to tell only part of the story.

"In essence a well rounded healthy diet should cover all
> your RDA in terms of vitamins and minerals. "

Since you bring it up (and it is a reasonable point), let me also talk briefly about vitamin RDAs. RDAs are arrived at as the "average daily nutrient intake levels sufficient to meet the requirement of nearly all (97 to 98 percent) healthy individuals in a particular life stage and gender group." The prevalence of hereditary genetic polymorphisms in the individuals of a general population, however (myself included) challenges the assumption of "healthy" built into that definition. As a result, the National Academy of Sciences itself has established guidelines for intake of nutrients (DRIs) that subdivides the question into four categories, of which RDAs is but one: EARs, RDAs, AIs and UL. Within this scheme, RDAs are inadequate to achieve the levels of health I'm interested in. Consider briefly the body's primary antioxidant pathways: vitamins, minerals and antioxidant nutrients. As of 2005, of the 3,870 enzymes identified as occurring naturally in the human body, 860 require vitamin-derived cofactors; and many need mineral cofactors also. I realize you've the got the background on this, so you know that without the cofactors the enzymes are basically useless. If vitamins and minerals therefore play a double role in maintaining health, by not only serving as antioxidants but also being required for antioxidant enzymes to function, then it's essential that the body has the necessary building blocks for them to work. This is where the "mega-doses" come in (mega only as compared to the pre-compromised RDAs): one-third of all genetic polymorphisms result in enzymes that don't bind with their cofactors correctly. Elevated dosages of supplements is the only proven technique, thus far, to overcome this defect. Scientific studies have demonstrated that more than 50 genetic diseases that have been identified involving these problematic cofactor binding scenarios can be remedied by aggressive supplementation. Again, I'll point you to references behind all these claims at the end of the e-mail. If you think of three prevalent polymorphisms, such as G6PD, MTHFR, and the polymorphism affecting the adlehyde dehydrogenase enzyme, you'll realize the significance of this line of thinking. Every person has a million or more genetic variants, and a third lead to improperly binding enzymes; it's statistically HIGHLY likely that you and I both have them. The supplements I'm intending to take are specifically designed to remedy this. They are not part of a "fad" (of which, yes, there are many!) and you can find they are well-documented in places ranging from mainstream publications such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, to the nifty website of the Linus Pauling Institute (http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/).

"It's all about evidence based research and risk
> stratification."

Absolutely. Unfortunately, the food pyramids traditionally recommended by the USDA and even the Harvard Medical School are severely compromised when one's goal is to extend lifespan. I mean, there are hundreds of examples if you take the time to get into the research. The USDA food-pyramid encourages the consumption of high-glycemic-load starches, doesn't distinguish between healthy and unhealthy fats, and emphasizes dairy products. A summary of several decades of research into diets and health, however, is that low-glycemic-load vegetables and healthy fats are the key.

In addition, there are several other crucial components to what I'm trying to do. Since the aim is to extend lifespan, everything goes together -- not just aggressive supplements. Other "components" involve consistent aerobic exercise (which, as you know, I've been doing), strength training, the benefits of caloric restriction (another huge field which we can talk about later), stress management and healthy sleep. And this is just for the foreseeable future. I intend to save up money and undergo genomic testing when it's more affordable (give it 5-10 years); that way I will be able to modify the supplements so as to target exactly the polymorphisms and genetic damage in my own unique DNA, and hold off the expression of hereditary diseases as long as possible.

An excellent book which contains references and details on everything I've mentioned is "Fantastic Voyage" by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, M.D. There are also dozens of other books and studies supporting them, quoted in everywhere from Wikipedia to the journals I mentioned above. I highly encourage you to seek out the book :-)


"
The short version, as I posted earlier ... let's pop some pills!
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