Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 12. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.
One of the well-established findings in longevity research is that caloric restriction (CR) leads to increased longevity in every animal model, and there is significant evidence CR also improves human longevity.
In other words, in rough terms, consuming 30% fewer calories leads to something like a 30% increase in lifespan.
An interesting finding, but few of us would sign up for that kind of regimen, going a lifetime with reduced calories.
The good news, however, is that you don’t have to do CR for your whole life in order to get most of the benefits: periodic fasting does almost as well as chronic CR.
USC Professor Valter Longo, Ph.D. has gone one step further, developing what he calls a Fasting-Mimicking Diet (FMD) that he says gets the benefit of fasting while still having some food each day. He describes the connection between fasting and longevity in this TEDxTalk from 2016:
Dr. Longo is the author of The Longevity Diet, which describes a program of a basic daily diet along with an occasional 5-day FMD. I’ve listened to him be interviewed on various podcasts and have watched several videos, and I think he does a great job of explaining the science of how fasting reboots the immune system.
If the thought of fasting seems overwhelming to you, maybe you should consider FMD. At the very least, I hope you’ll watch the video above for a primer on why fasting or FMD can improve both lifespan and healthspan.
I personally haven’t tried FMD because I have found that fasting isn’t that difficult for me, and so I don’t feel a need to mimic fasting when I can do the real thing.
In future posts I’ll describe some fasting and time-restricted eating strategies that have worked well for me.
I first heard about UNDOCTORED in early January 2019 I was out grocery shopping at our local ALDI, when I ran into a high school classmate, and my former primary care physician, Dr. David Strobel.
David is currently practicing in a clinic that serves the Pipefitters union, and he said he was seeing lots of benefits for his patients in encouraging them to follow these prevention-oriented practices.
Dr. William Davis, the book’s author, is an interventional cardiologist. After having performed more than 5,000 cath lab procedures, he was jarred by the loss of his mother to sudden cardiac death into taking a fresh look at what he believed about heart health.
The first book that came out of his investigation was the New York Times bestseller Wheat Belly, which advocated a grain-free diet and launched the grain-free movement. I hadn’t heard of that, but given my celiac disease and the need to avoid wheat, barley and rye because of gluten, I was already partway to the grain-free lifestyle.
That, along with my friend David’s vote of confidence, led me to seriously explore the recommendations in UNDOCTORED. Dr. Davis’ point is that many of our diseases of civilization have common roots and can be prevented or in many cases reversed through diet and lifestyle changes.
While he has a somewhat jaded view of the medical industry, Dr. Davis doesn’t believe prevention is the solution to everything. He just believes, and has validated to some extent through his online community, that many conditions can be significantly improved through these upstream interventions.
Highlights of his recommendations:
Avoid all grains, not just those that contain gluten. He argues that eating the seeds of grasses is a relatively recent innovation, and our bodies are not genetically adapted to process them.
“Don’t buy lean cuts of meat; buy the fatty cuts. If you eat a steak, eat the fat.”
Count your blessings, not your calories. Eat until you’re satisfied.
Don’t drink cow’s milk. No other mammal drinks the milk of another mammal.
Eat “wild, naked and unwashed.” Food should be as close as possible to its natural state, not excessively processed.
Cultivate your bowel flora through probiotics and consumption of prebiotic fibers.
Don’t take multivitamins. Instead, focus your supplementation on a handful of vitamins and minerals that are seriously deficient for most modern humans.
The last section of UNDOCTORED makes recommendations on those supplements Dr. Davis says are helpful:
Fish Oil capsules high in EPA + DHA
This is a 400-page book, and I’ve only touched some of the broadest points. If you want to check it out further before diving into the book, see Dr. Davis’ blog.
Lisa and I have been implementing most of the recommendations for about 18 months. She has noticed that the Magnesium seems to help her restless legs and has enabled her to sleep better, and I believe the Zinc has contributed to substantial improvement in some skin problems I had experienced.
That’s the title of this video, which came up in Lisa’s YouTube related videos feed about a year ago.
It’s a gripping TEDMED talk from 2013 by Dr. Peter Attia, who confesses the judgmental attitude he had harbored six years earlier toward an obese patient who had come into the emergency department with foot ulcerations.
She obviously must have let herself go, he thought, consuming too many calories and not moving enough.
But then three years later he found himself 40 lbs. overweight and with metabolic syndrome, and he knew that physical inactivity was not the cause in his case: he had been “exercising three to four hours every day, and following the food pyramid to the letter.”
It led him to wonder whether, in the case of obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, the medical community might have the chain of causation backwards.
Watch this video. It’s totally worth the 16 minutes.
I have found Dr. Attia one of the most thoughtful online voices when it comes to evaluating and making sense of dietary and lifestyle research related to both longevity and healthspan.
As he says in this video, perhaps he’s been humbled by what the thought he knew that turned out to be mistaken.
I expect I will have several more posts in this series that feature (or at least mention) Dr. Attia. His website is an amazing resource, and his podcast, The Drive, is the only one for which I pay for premium access.
Like Tim Ferriss, Dr. Attia also has introduced me to many other leading researchers and thoughtful analysts. Follow him on Twitter.
As I have pivoted (in Silicon Valley lingo) my blog from its social media focus and taken a new role as Chancellor Emeritus, I’ve been ruminating on a blog name that would capture the essence of what I will be writing here.
I had considered Interesting Stuff I’m Studying, but the acronym for that title would have been…unfortunate.
I thought Stuff You Might Find Interesting (SYMFI) would be a good one. It’s reader-focused…it’s about things I think you might like. Unfortunately, there’s a drug called Symfi, and the last thing I want is to get cease-and-desist nastygrams from pharma company attorneys with trademark objections.
I finally settled on a new name that I plan to implement soon: Stuff I Find Interesting (SIFI). A couple of advantages in this one:
Truth in Advertising. The name describes exactly what I will be writing here.
In the Spring of 2008, I had some amazing things happening in my life, both personally and professionally:
I learned that our first grandchild (coming in August) was going to be a girl, and that her name would be Evelyn.
We were launching several of our early Mayo Clinic social media channels, including YouTube, Twitter and some blogs (News and Podcast) that have since been replaced by more robust offerings.
I was blogging like a crazy man, with 33 posts in April, 17 in May and 24 in June. This was peak SMUG, just after I had rebranded my blog.
But from a health perspective, I was at the start of some disturbing developments.
For several years, I had been giving blood every 10 weeks (or whatever the required waiting period was at that time.) When I went to the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Center to give my unit of A+ blood (only the best!), the helpful staff would always help me preschedule the next donation.
But in the Summer of 2008, I began to notice that my pre-donation hemoglobin test, which started with a reading of something like 16, was declining a little each time.
I didn’t think much of it when it was 15, and then 14-something, but then it got to 13…and finally, in January 2009, to 12.4.
The magic of that number and why it’s memorable to me is that 12.5 is the minimum level required to donate.
I was officially anemic. They wouldn’t accept my blood.
I thought I should see if there was some underlying problem. Lisa also said she thought I wasn’t looking healthy.
I was at about 225 lbs. and playing pick-up basketball, and so I had attributed my reasonable weight (at 6’6″) as due to getting lots of exercise.
Lisa thought I was gaunt – skinny in a not-healthy way. Haggard. Cadaverous might be overstating, but it made an alliterative headline. And when you look at all of the synonyms, one of them is anemic:
So I went to my doctor, a high school classmate and great friend, Dr. David Strobel, and he started by looking for the most common causes of anemia for someone my age: namely, unexplained blood loss.
The story I didn’t tell in that post was what gluten-free eating to manage my celiac disease did to my weight.
Because I have celiac disease, eating gluten had caused my immune system to attack and severely damage the villi in my small intestine, which made it hard for my body to absorb nutrients.
I was anemic because I wasn’t absorbing iron. I was gaunt because I wasn’t absorbing other nutrients well either, even though I was eating a lot.
The good news is most people with celiac disease have their villi restored when they eat a strictly gluten free diet, and that was true for me as well.
My iron and ferritin (a measure of stored iron) levels gradually increased.
So did my weight, and not necessarily in a good way. I was eating as I always had, but now I was absorbing all of those nutrients.
By March of 2013, my medical chart says I weighed 117.7 kg, which translates to 259.48 lbs. Two years later I was 117 kg – staying below the dreaded 260 lbs. mark, but just barely. In February 2016 the charts say 117.9 kg.
But going from haggard to hefty – to the tune of 40 extra pounds – between 2009 and 2013, and then spending four years within five pounds either side of 260, and with borderline or high blood pressure, was not a healthy development.
In my next post I’ll tell why this was so frustrating for me.