The Blue Zones: where (and how) centenarians live

© Dr. Michael D. Jacobson, D.O. Do not reproduce this article without permission.

From the May 2019 issue of Heartfelt Magazine

I mentioned in last month’s article that, while attending an early 2019 Continuing Medical Education (CME) event, I benefited from two outstanding presentations on dietary lifestyles. The first, by Louis Kuritsky, M.D., pointed to the benefits of the Southern Mediterranean Diet (SMD). The second presentation was by Joel Kahn, M.D., a Michigan cardiologist and clinical professor at Wayne State University (Detroit). His presentation which he called, “The Longevity Diet,” introduced us to the Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD).

Before discussing the FMD, Dr. Kahn pointed out the sad reality that a survey of internal medicine physicians revealed that nearly two-thirds reported no nutritional education during internal medicine training and about one third reported none during medical school. Worse yet, nine out of 10 cardiologists received little-to-no nutritional education during their cardiology fellowship. Thus, it should come as no surprise that two-thirds of cardiologists spend fewer than three minutes discussing nutrition with each patient.

The implications are enormous.

A huge compilation of scientific research clearly shows that lifestyle, particularly that which pertains to diet and exercise, plays a vital role in the prevention and treatment of heart disease. However, those who are considered experts in treatment of heart disease know very little about its prevention or how to address its root causes.

We would never tolerate this for automobile maintenance and repairs, let alone our own health. Few things are more frustrating than repeatedly taking a car back to the shop to fix something that is never made right. If it happened, we’d quickly find ourselves another mechanic.

Whether dealing with automobiles or the human “machine,” the principle is the same: Whenever prevention and addressing root causes are not part of the picture, the disease never truly resolves and costs climb out of control.

It’s no wonder, then, that obesity in the United States is figuratively and literally expanding dramatically. Life expectancy has recently appeared to plateau and even slightly drop its consistent rise. Experts estimate that Americans could add 13 years to their average life expectancy and delay aging as much as 30 years if we were effective in curing heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes [Knapton, 2015].

Lest you feel that I’m too harsh on cardiologists, keep in mind this lecture was given by one! Furthermore, I have high regard for my colleagues who specialize in heart disease. In fact, for years I have said that, should I ever get chest pain or develop some other signs of an acute heart problem, I will be the first one to rush to a hospital to secure the services of a competent cardiologist. They truly are the best in the business for saving lives due to acute heart disease. However, if I survived, I probably would not consult that same cardiologist for advice on preventing the next cardiovascular event.

As I pointed out in last month’s article on the Southern Mediterranean Diet, those who survived an initial heart attack and followed the standard advice of their cardiologist had a dramatically increased risk of suffering a future cardiovascular event compared to those who implemented the SMD.

Dr. Khan concluded his presentation by pointing to the world’s “Blue Zones,” where people live to 100 years of age at a rate 10 times greater than the rest of the United States population. There are five “zones” and one is located in the United States: Loma Linda, California which emphasizes a healthy plant-based diet, regular exercise and stress reduction. The other zones are found in parts of Costa Rica, Italy, Greece and Japan.

What appears to be common among these Blue Zones are four basic components (see bluezones.com):

  1. Moving naturally
  2. Having the right outlook (knowing your transcendent purpose and “down shifting” to a slower life pace)
  3. Eating wisely by limiting calories (more to follow about this plant-based diet and limited wine intake)
  4. Having a sense of belonging through relational connections and maintaining a closeness to family and cultural groups


Next month:
Autophagy and longevity

References

Khan, Joel. “The Longevity Diet.” Lecture, Medical-Dental-Legal Update, South Lake Tahoe, February 1, 2019.

Knapton, Sarah. 2015. World’s first anti-ageing drug could see humans live to 120. The Telegraph. Quoting Professor Gordon Lithgow of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. Accessed 2019-03-02.

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