Is There a Limit to the Human Life Span?

JeanneCalment

My great aunt celebrated her 95th birthday this year.  She’s doing so well!  She is still able to walk by herself, although she sometimes uses a walker when she feels tired.  She still has all her teeth.  Her main difficulty is her diminishing eyesight, so her daughters regularly come to read to her.  Although she lives in a nursing home, she is in a room of her own, so  she still has some independence.  With her health in such good condition, we all hope she’s able to live for many more years.

After all, not many people reach her age.  Some scientists think there could be more healthy, elderly people like her in another generation.  Others think people like her will remain rare.  There’s been a heated  debate among scientists on this very subject in recent years, one that you’ve probably been unaware of, and it’s hard to say who might be right.

Approximately one year ago, Jan Vijg, a molecular scientist at the Albert Einstein College of medicine in New York, declared a maximum limit to the human life span.  He capped life expectancy at the age of 115, declaring that there are certain biological limits that just can’t be overcome by technological or medical advances.   According to his predictions, humans won’t be able to live any longer than that.

This declaration incited a rather riotous debate, with other scientists like Maarten Peter Rozing, Nick Brown, and Siegfried Hekimi of universities in Copenhagen, Groningen, and Montreal all declaring that Vijg was reading the data incorrectly.   They don’t see a limit to the human lifespan, and cite the death of Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment at the ripe age of 122 as proof that the human life span is steadily increasing.

But Calment died in 1997, and no one has been able to top her for twenty years.  This could either be a sign that a plateau has been reached, and it’s simply not possible to live any longer, or,  it could merely be a temporary lull.  Who knows, really?   With such a small data set, almost any conclusion can be drawn, and most of the scientific debate is a mere quibbling over the definitiveness of Vijg’s statement, not his reasoning.

Like me, most people probably don’t care so much about the length of human life.  We would just like to be assured that the quality is good, not matter how long it lasts.  And I think we’ve learned enough in recent years to be reasonably assured that if we can follow enough of the preventative measures, we’ll experience fewer of the negative parts of aging.  After all, no one wants to spend their last years stuck in a hospital bed all plugged up with tubes and wires.

So, I once again wish a hearty “Happy Birthday!” to my great aunt and very much hope that she lives many years more – and in continued good health.  I wish the same to all of you!  We’ll keep fighting the good fight, and with any luck, maybe we can follow in the footsteps of Frenchwoman Jeanne Calmont, and break that age barrier of 115 years – in good health, of course.

 



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

How To Live to Be One Hundred

centenarians

My aunt lived an exceptionally full life.  Although her husband died early in his sixties, she just kept on going, and lived disease-free for another three decades!  Mother of two children, and grandmother of two more, she was still traveling with her daughter, attending social functions, and acting as treasurer for her church well into her eighties.  Whenever I saw her, she invariably sported a big, bright smile, and her walk had a lively bounce in it.  She was sharp as a tack up until the very end, when liver cancer finally felled her.  She lived just two months after the diagnosis, and died in a bed surrounded by her loved ones.

I think we’d all love to live a life like that. What exactly did she do to grant her that gift? No one will ever really know for sure, but I do know she generally tried to follow all the recommended advice. She ate her vegetables, she exercised daily, she watched her weight. And then, I suppose there was probably a little luck thrown in as well.

Experts say that we can all live a life as healthy and full as my aunt, as long as we are careful with our daily choices. 80% of our lifespan is lifestyle determined. This means the daily choices we make now can have a phenomenal effect on how long we live, and how well we live as we enter old age.

Back in the year 2000, scientist Michael Poulain set out to find and catalogue the areas of the world where centenarians seemed to concentrate.  He called these areas Blue Zones, and they included now famous places like Okinawa, Japan, and Sardinia, Italy.  He went to each of these places, interviewed the centenarians there, and then watched how they lived and what they ate.  He wanted to determine what had led to their extended lives.

Author Dan Buettner became intrigued by the results of his studies, and in 2003, he wrote a book on these centenarians entitled “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest”.  In it, he catalogued nine lifestyle choices that experts now believe will help us all live ably into our golden years.  I think they’re pretty well known by now:

1) Physically move your body often, going for a daily walk, or working in your garden;
2) Find a way to de-stress your life, either by napping regularly, doing yoga, or taking up meditation;
3) Drink wine only moderately.  It not only helps to counter stress, but contains high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants, and can triple the amount of flavonoids we absorb from our food;
4) Eat a mostly plant-based diet;
5) Eat fewer calories generally.  Try to eat until you’re only 80% full;
6) Have a strong sense of purpose for your life;
7) Put your family first;
8) Cultivate strong friendships;
9) Have faith.  It doesn’t matter what you believe in – just believe it!

Sadly, it seems that as a more modern way of life is entering these mostly poor, rural Blue Zones, their life expectancy is shortening.  The children and grand-children of these exceptionally healthy centenarians are experiencing higher rates of obesity,  high blood fat, heart disease, stress,  and cancer after having taken up a more meat-based diet, and using cars or mopeds instead of walking.  Researchers predict that after the current crop of centenarians dies, more average life-spans will most likely predominate there.

Poulain now thinks that the extreme longevity he discovered in these Blue Zones may have been a temporary “generational phenomenon”.  When these centenarians were young, up to 20% of their peers died due to disease or accident, leaving only the strongest and healthiest alive.  After an old-fashioned,  physically demanding childhood, they then grew up to have access to modern medicine, which helped to extend their lives.

Nevertheless, their lifetime experiences still offer us extensive information on how our diet and exercise choices can affect our long-term health for the better.   For example, all the diets in the Blue Zones were plant based.  Not only did they eat plenty of vegetables, but they also socialized often and walked everywhere.

Now, committed Blue Zone communities, like Spencer, Iowa are popping up in the US, where all citizens vow to eat a plant-based diet, marginalize junk food, walk more, and join moais, or programmed social networks.  Remarkably, over the course of just one year of following these new rules, the healthcare costs for city employees dropped by a whopping 25 percent.

If we’re determined to make the right choices for our health, and with enough luck, we should all be able to live a life like my aunt did.  All we need is the will to do it.  It would take effort, and change, but if we all support one another, I believe we can change our societies for the better.  We can create more pathways for walking, provide more parks and plant more trees.  We can add higher taxes to junk foods to make them less attractive meal options, and ensure there are more grocery stores than fast food outlets in food desert communities.  We can also take the time to really get to know our neighbours and expand our social networks.  The facts are already in:  not only will this help us live longer, it’ll decrease healthcare costs as well.  I think these are things that everyone wants.



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

Take the Time to Read

book

The Harry Potter series of books were just being written when my boys were young.  Every night, we’d read a chapter together, taking turns reading alternate pages aloud.  Sometimes, when the action got very intense and exciting, we’d extend our reading session past their usual bedtime, as none of us expected to sleep well until we knew what happened next.

Although it began as a way to advance their reading level at school, this night-time reading wasn’t just academic.  It was a time for us to relax together and to bond.  It allowed them to ask me questions about life, and for me to see how they viewed the world.  And then together, we’d look forward to the time when the next book in the series arrived, counting down the days until our journey through the Potter world could continue.

This is how reading brings people together.  Although a seemingly solitary activity,  it provides a bridge between the reader and the author through the simple act of reading their thoughts and feelings.  As we explore and digest another’s world, we become more empathetic and less judgemental.  And for those who read a book together, like the members of a book club, or my sons and I, it helps us to learn from one another more deeply than we would in any casual conversation.

Non-fiction self-help books may abound on store shelves, but we may learn important life lessons more viscerally from non-fiction books.  My first favourite book was “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White.  I read it over and over again, until my copy became dog-eared, wrinkled and torn.   The internal lives of the animals fascinated me, as I lived on a farm myself.  Through their lives, I learned the importance of kindness among all living things, and the value of friendship and loyalty.  I still cry when Charlotte dies.

Since then, many other books have also provided me with valuable wisdom as I journey through life.  From the book “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan, I learned that life is never perfect.  The book jumps back and forth through time, allowing you to see people before they achieved their dreams, and afterwards as well.  Even when they got exactly what they wanted, it still feels bittersweet.  Through them, I learned then that happiness is elusive, even for the most successful among us.

From the book “Middlemarch” by George Eliot, I watched as complicated people from the Victorian age navigated lives that were easily as difficult as our own.  Through them, I learned that all caricatures are false.  No one is absolutely good or absolutely evil; we all have reasons for the things we do, and the choices we make.  I was surprised at my ability to empathize with all  of the characters, even the most flawed.  In so doing, I learned to love myself despite my own shortcomings.

Right now, with technology pulling us farther and farther apart, we need to read more than ever.  Always distracted with our phones and laptops, we’ve become more isolated, jealous and depressed.  This summer, I hope you find some time to unplug, slow down, savor and ponder.   And when you do, I hope your mind gets expanded and recharged through the reading of a book.

 



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

The Reason Your Hair is Falling Out

hair

Ever drawn a brush through your hair and been alarmed at the number of hairs that came out with it?  Or maybe you’ve been in the shower, in the  middle of washing your hair, when an uncharacteristically large clump comes out, all tangled up in your hand.  Certainly, it’s a cause for some distress, and some people may even panic.

Research has shown that 1 in 3 women will struggle with hair loss, or experience reduced hair volume, at some point during their lives.  Of course, aging men have well-known battles with hair loss too.  According to the American Hair Loss Association, two thirds of men over the age of 35 will suffer from some appreciable hair loss, and that number climbs to 85% by the time men are 50.

Some hair loss is natural.  For example, it’s completely normal to lose anywhere from 50 to 100 hairs every day.  It’s also normal to experience increased hair loss after a stressful event, like the end of a pregnancy, a marital break-up, or a death in the family.  In those instances, the amount of hair lost can be up to ten times the normal amount, and will occur roughly three months after the stressful event, at the end of the hair’s natural life span. (Yes, hair has a life span too!)

But what about abnormal hair loss?  First off, let’s dispel some myths.   Hair loss can’t be prevented by washing your hair less frequently.  In fact, if a dirty, oily scalp isn’t regularly cleaned, it can lead to dandruff and inflammation which can actually exacerbate hair loss.  Also, tightly worn hairstyles, like ponytails, or tight-fitting hats may be uncomfortable, but haven’t generally been shown to increase hair loss either.

The most common cause of hair loss is a hormone imbalance.  This is one reason why many women experience some hair loss after giving birth, when their hormones suddenly go into free-fall.  Androgens are the most common culprit for hair loss.  These hormones, which are in highest concentration in men,  are not very hair friendly, and can shorten the hair growth cycle and cause hair to fall out when levels become abnormally high.

Subconsciously, we all recognize this link between high testosterone and hair loss.  In a 2012 study from the University of Pennsylvania, both men and women considered bald men to be larger, stronger, smarter, more powerful, more successful, and more dominant than men who still had hair.  It seems now that all the hand-wringing men have gone through over the ages was completely unnecessary.  They may actually gain status by losing their hair.

For women, of course, the picture is completely different.  Our health, strength and sex appeal is still strongly associated with the length and luxuriousness of our hair, so any amount of hair loss is of deep concern.  In this case, higher than normal androgen levels are the most common cause of hair loss too.  Sufferers of conditions like PCOS, which is strongly associated with an abnormally elevated androgen level, will need to  balance their hormones and reduce their androgen level so that hair can be retained.

The best way to balance hormones is to cleanse the liver of any congested bile so that it can function more optimally again.  Since the liver is the organ which metabolizes and excretes hormones from the body, ensuring optimal liver functioning is essential for maintaining balanced hormones.  In fact, the main reason that stress causes hair to fall out is likely the increase in the hormone cortisol, which is always accompanied by an increase in androgens.  When levels of androgens are increased, they can over-stimulate hair follicles and cause hair to fall out.

Other hormonal conditions, like hyper- or hypothyroidism, can also cause hair loss, and since the liver is the organ which converts T4 to the active form of T3, sub-optimal liver functioning is implicated in thyroid problems too.

If you are currently struggling with some form of hair loss, you should consider using our products to improve the health of your liver so that hormone balance can be restored.   Supplementing with some vitamins and minerals may also help to combat hair loss.  Vitamins B12, D, and the minerals zinc and iron have also been linked to hair loss, although these deficiencies tend only to aggravate an existing problem, and are typically not the main cause.  Contact us for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.