Eat and ex­er­cise your way to a long, healthy life

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By YANG YANG yangyang@chi­

When Pre­ston Estep walked into a meet­ing room at Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity on a re­cent sunny af­ter­noon, he looked lively de­spite his busy travel sched­ule in China. Estep is the di­rec­tor of geron­tol­ogy of Har­vard’s Per­sonal Genome Project, a study be­ing con­ducted by the med­i­cal school of the uni­ver­sity.

Estep, who spoke in Shang­hai two days prior to Bei­jing, was to do a pre­sen­ta­tion on the in­flu­ence of diet not only on phys­i­cal but on men­tal longevity.

A re­cent study shows that deaths due to Alzheimer’s and other kinds of de­men­tia rose more than three­fold be­tween 1990 and 2010. Deaths due to Parkin­son’s around the world dou­bled dur­ing the same pe­riod.

“Th­ese dis­eases ap­pear to be in­creas­ing in fre­quency at ev­ery age,” Estep wrote in his re­cent book Mindspan Diet, a Chi­nese trans­la­tion of which is now avail­able.

For him, peo­ple’s minds and mem­o­ries are the ba­sis of all our thoughts, wis­dom, feel­ings and re­la­tion­ships, and are thus “hu­man­ity’s most valu­able trea­sures”, so de­men­tia for him is the great­est threat to peo­ple. He uses the word “mindspan” to re­fer to men­tal longevity.

Estep, about to turn 56, looks younger. He at­tributes this to his diet that makes him not only look younger, but also “feel younger”.

Fol­low­ing a diet that will not only make peo­ple live longer, but also have a clear mind in old age is the theme of Mindspan Diet, he says.

Estep wrote the book due to his ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing to “live through the pro­gres­sive men­tal de­cline of grand­par­ents on both sides of my family”.

Estep says about 30 years ago, his grand­mother be­gan to show signs of de­men­tia be­fore she died a few years later.

He re­mem­bered that in the last years of her life, she used to eat a ce­real with high iron con­tent.

Sci­en­tists found a link be­tween iron and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases years later, he says, but at the time red meat had al­ready been associated with shorter life spans and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases.

As a re­sult, he min­i­mized the amount of red meat he ate.

While the pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion for writ­ing the book was to help peo­ple en­joy their lives, Estep says, he wanted to de­liver a mes­sage to read­ers that genes are re­ally im­por­tant for longevity, but “not in the way that peo­ple nor­mally think”.

“It’s not like they just set the pro­gram. They (the genes) age you at a spe­cific rate. (But) it is ex­tremely im­por­tant to know your ge­netic vari­ants, to de­cide what your diet and other en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors should be. Then you can set them to com­ple­ment your par­tic­u­lar ge­net­ics to achieve phys­i­cal and men­tal longevity. So we can con­trol how slow or quickly we age,” he says.

As he puts in the book, cur­rently, most ex­perts agree that genes are re­spon­si­ble for be­tween 20 and 35 per­cent of ex­treme longevity, and the rest is due to en­vi­ron­men­tal fac- tors, such as diet, sleep, men­tal stim­u­la­tion, mood and ex­er­cise.

“It’s crit­i­cal that we don’t think that there is a spe­cific fixed diet that’s best for all of us,” he says of food.

“We need to know our ge­netic vari­ants to find out what kind of diet suits us to live a long life, phys­i­cally and men­tally,” he adds.

Peo­ple can get this in­forma- tion through ge­netic tests. Be­sides, he em­pha­sizes that it is also very im­por­tant to test one’s blood iron level.

In the book, Estep fo­cuses pri­mar­ily on iron that is found to be associated with neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases, diabetes and car­dio­vas­cu­lar con­di­tions.

He says ge­netic ev­i­dence im­pli­cates iron when it comes to Alzhemier’s be­cause all the most im­por­tant ge­netic fac­tors in the dis­ease are in­volved in iron bind­ing and trans­port, and all those genes are reg­u­lated by iron.

He adds that high iron lev­els in the brain cause the de­posit­ing of bits of pro­tein that try to trans­port iron out of brain cells when the iron level is too high. And the de­posit­ing of the pro­tein is what fur­thers the progress of Alzheimer’s.

Fur­ther, he says that Alzheimer’s and can­cer have be­come the most-feared di­ag­no­sis in the United States. And doc­tors may not even tell the pa­tient or the family about the di­ag­no­sis be­cause it is in­cur­able.

“You can slow the on­set, you can de­lay the on­set, you can even pre­vent the on­set, and you can slow pro­gres­sion with the mindspan diet,” he says.

For years, Estep and his team have ex­am­ined di­ets in ar­eas where peo­ple en­joy the long­est life­spans and mindspans around the world — Ja­pan and the Mediter­ranean — to dis­cover their se­crets and give di­etary sug­ges­tions in the book.

For ex­am­ple, the book sug­gests that peo­ple should con­sume less red meat, sugar and food en­riched with iron, and it adds that peo­ple can drink tea, cof­fee or red wine to lessen the in­take of iron.

In the sec­ond half of the book, Estep of­fers cuisines from ar­eas where peo­ple tend to live longer.

As for his own diet, Estep says he does not fol­low a strict pat­tern. He typ­i­cally eats a lot of Chi­nese and Mediter­ranean food.

Chi­nese food has the nu­tri­ent com­po­si­tion of Ja­panese food, but the fla­vor is bet­ter, he says.

We need to know our ge­netic vari­ants to find out what kind of diet suits us to live a long life, phys­i­cally and men­tally.” Pre­ston Estep, au­thor,



A Chi­nese trans­la­tion of Pre­ston Estep’s Mindspan Diet.

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