Ten offbeat ways to improve health and slow aging

light intensity
Your regularly scheduled post is interrupted today by this, inspired by a video by Mike Cernovich. (The idea is that coming up with ten ideas related to a topic is difficult, most people being able to come up with only 5 to 9.) So here are ten offbeat ways to improve health and slow aging, with an emphasis on small, practical steps.

1) If you commute to work, don’t wear sunglasses. Sounds quite odd, but it could have a very real effect on circadian rhythms by allowing light in the blue wavelength from the sun to activate the human circadian pacemaker in the brain.

Most people do not get enough light, or they get it in the wrong forms and wrong times. We work all day in offices lit by fluorescent lighting and in general spend a great deal of time indoors. Our circadian pacemaker becomes out of kilter, our sleep suffers, and health problems, including psychiatric ones like depression, ensue.

Outdoors on a bright day, the intensity of light is up to 20,000 lux, yet indoors inside a house with artificial lighting could be as little as 50 lux.(Dr. Daniel Kripke.)

One simple step to getting more light is to refrain from wearing sunglasses. I used to wear them regularly when outdoors, especially on walks, but I no longer do.

2) Along the same lines, be careful about light exposure in the evening, which can disrupt sleep. If you use a computer – and who doesn’t these days – two essential programs are fLux (for PC) and Twilight (for phones and tablets). I have both installed in the appropriate places and my sleep noticeably improved after I began using them.

Blue light disrupts production of melatonin, interfering with sleep. If you do other activities in the evening that involve light but not computers (such as television), try a pair of blue-blocking glasses.

3) If you drink alcohol, switch to red wine, which is loaded with polyphenols and flavonoids. In a comparison between red wine and vodka, only red wine improved endothelial dysfunction. High consumption of flavonoids is associated with sharply lower mortality rates. (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.)

4) Donate blood. Blood donors have much lower mortality rates, and while some of this may be due to confounding, since only healthy people donate blood, much of it is likely due to lower iron levels. Humans accumulate iron throughout their lifetimes, since we have no way of getting rid of it, and higher iron levels are likely causative in a wide range of disease, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Blood is the major iron storage organ, hence donating blood lowers iron levels.

The simple act of giving a pint of blood once in awhile lowers ferritin (iron) levels enough to make a big difference in insulin sensitivity and inflammation.

5) Do not use soap on your face, and if you want to be more hard core, don’t use it at all. Soap disrupts the natural microbiome of the skin, and can actually cause acne.

Some soaps and shampoos contain endocrine disruptors, which can wreak havoc on men’s sexual health, so if you use these products, ensure they don’t contain these.

6) Start taking magnesium citrate. Magnesium of all minerals is one that most people are likely to be deficient in, with up to two thirds of the population deficient. Magnesium citrate is the most bioavailable form of magnesium. Magnesium can prevent sudden cardiac death, treat depression, and increase testosterone levels, among many other things.

7) When you fast intermittently – and you do practice intermittent fasting, right? – take an intermittent fasting booster that enhances autophagy.

The increase in the process of cellular self-cleansing, known as autophagy, is one of the most important mechanisms by which intermittent fasting improves health. Certain supplements can increase autophagy, among them hydroxycitrate, nicotinamide, resveratrol, EGCG (from green tea), and curcumin. Since eating abolishes autophagy, and hence may override the autophagy-enhancing effects of these compounds, try taking them when fasting, for a boost in autophagy. That’s what I do.

8) For exercise – you do exercise, right? – be sure that at least some component of your exercise includes lifting weights. Weightlifting is one of the most powerful things one can do to counteract aging, and also potently prevents cancer. It also leads to a much better quality of life all around, but when older especially, since it counteracts sarcopenia, or muscle wasting, an important scourge of older people and cause of frailty and nursing home residency.

Remember, most people in the gym are not even trying.

9) Eat cruciferous vegetables daily. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, and contain sulforaphane, which up-regulates stress defense mechanisms and prevents cancer. Broccoli sprouts have the highest levels of sulforaphane – 10 to 100 times higher than mature plants (PNAS) – and they’re available as a supplement.

10) Whew, we made it. Instead of that second cup of coffee, try drinking tea and/or chocolate instead. While coffee has many health benefits and doesn’t need to be avoided, tea and chocolate may have more. They both contain large amounts of polyphenols, which can cut fat and add muscle. The polyphenols in tea and chocolate can activate AMPK, acting as a fasting and exercise mimetic and increasing lifespan.

This list isn’t meant to be a list of the most important things you can do, because I assume that you’re already doing them: exercise, intermittent fasting, avoiding refined carbohydrates. It’s a miscellaneous list of small, actionable steps. Just pick one or several and start today.

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7 comments
Steve Parker, M.D. says August 17, 2015

One of the reasons I wear sunglasses is to reduce my risk of cataracts. Admittedly, it’s not a strong link. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=9728643
It’s a balancing act.
-Steve

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says August 17, 2015

    Yes, balancing act, exactly. Seems that early morning sun exposure may be the most important, so cataract risk is low then.

    Reply
end says August 17, 2015

Does anyone have any suggestions regarding therapeutic bloodletting for those unable to donate blood (due to FDA legislation on former European residents donating blood)? I don’t even know where to start with researching that.

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says August 17, 2015

    Doctors can do therapeutic phlebotomy, but I suspect most will be unwilling unless there’s some good reason, like super high ferritin or hematocrit. But I would call around, you could find one I’d bet. Alternative practitioners may be a good bet.

    Reply
      Joshua says August 18, 2015

      There’s also a supplement known as IP-6 (inositol hexaphosphate) that strongly binds iron and can remove it from the body. This may be an alternative to the admittedly unpleasant (for some) process of letting or donating blood. My research suggests it’s best consumed on an empty stomach with a glass of water to ensure digestive processes don’t nullify its effects too much. This is the approach I’m going to try, since my iron levels have been borderline high for years now.

      Reply
Jim Johnson says December 2, 2015

I just looked into chocolate as source of flavanols. It is gated, but http://www.consumerlab.com/ has tested a bunch and few contain much in the way of poly’s. the best brands they found were Coca Via, Resverage Cocawell. many had virtually none; some had elevated levels of cadmium. I don’t know if flavanols are same as poly’s but it appears all chocolate is not created equal.

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says December 2, 2015

    Thanks, Jim. As far as I know it’s not so much the chocolate as the amount, which is why dark chocolate has more flavanoids (pretty much the same as polyphenols). I believe milk chocolate has been shown ineffective for that reason, there’s just not enough chocolate in it. I use straight cocoa powder to make hot chocolate, so I assume that there’s plenty of the right phytochemicals in it.

    Reply
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