We do not have nanobots yet to repair our arteries and neurons. This will come, but we might have to wait to 2050 or later. We do have stem cells, the next best thing, and they are commonly used to fight cancer and improve your skin… but it will be a long time before they can used generally to improve your health.
Still. We are in 2015 and we have cool technology and expertise. What can we use to improve our health?
- The current nutrition fads favour low-card high-protein diets (Paleo, Atkins). These almost surely shorten your lives. Yes, eating lots of protein will help you stay lean and might even improve your short-term health. Yet, if you look at what centenarians eat, a pattern emerge: they eat very little meat. It looks like eating lots of protein, especially from iron-rich sources like red meat, accelerates aging.
Proteins in high doses are harmful in many ways. For example, they seem to lower amino acids (like cysteine) that are involved in your body’s anti-oxidants. They also tend to come with lots of iron. Too much iron is really bad for you. Proteins from calcium-rich sources such as milk or yogourt are probably less damaging on the long run because they provide calcium which reduces iron absorption. Proteins from legumes and beans are also better because they are not good sources of iron.
Though I do not believe that it is necessarily helpful to avoid meat (most centenarians are not vegetarians), I eat only moderate amounts of meat. Meat tends to be inflammatory, rich in iron, rich in protein and so on. It is not bad in small quantities, but I think North Americans eat way too much meat.
The common recommendation that you should avoid saturated fats and load up on unsaturated fats is probably way too simplistic. Nuts are rich in saturated fats, but good for you. I eat nuts every day and I believe it is helpful.
You need a healthy dose of Omega-3 which you can get from sardines, salmon, kale and cod. Canned salmon with bones is a good source of calcium, so it is a good way to get proteins without loading up on iron.
Tea, cocoa and coffee, especially when they do not interfere with sleep, appear to be good for you. I try to drink at least 5 cups of either of them each day, much of it caffeine free.
You want to avoid insuline spikes and keep your microbiome healthy. So avoid added sugar and fiber-poor starchy foods (like potatoes). Most fruits and vegetables are fine, so you can load up on them. I especially like brocoli, kale, red onions and tomatoes. To be on the safe side, I eat fruits with moderation. Rice and pasta are probably fine in moderation, but if you take them with fibers (hint: vegetables), you will lower your insuline spikes. Re-heated rice, after it has been refrigerated, is probably healthier since it takes longer for you to digest it.
I try to eat sugar-free yogourt every day. I make my own. I believe that it has greatly reduced my allergies. For much of my life, starting from what I was a kid, I had been a chronic allergy sufferer. I believe that I fixed my problem with sugar-free yogourt.
I see no evidence that organic or GMO-free food is better for you.
Many people are into fasting. It appears to be good for you because it promotes autophagy. Basically, it forces your body to clean the house to grab nutrients. I do not fast because it is socially awkward and unproven in human beings. People who fast aggressively look worse to me. Moreover, as far as I can tell, few of the centenarians are into fasting. I suspect that the benefits of fasting can be had by limiting your protein intake. Moreover, you can get some benefits, I suspect, by overnight fasting: all you need is to strictly limit your caloric and protein intake after supper and before breakfast.
- Sleep appears to be very important. It would seem that sleep deprivation weakens your immune system. The net result of poor sleep might be cancer or Alzheimer’s. Lack of sleep also lowers your IQ and makes you vulnerable to depression.
- Keeping your ideal weight (a BMI of 21 or 22) appears to be important. I spent much of my life being 10 to 20 pounds heavier than I should. I recently fixed this problem by… eating smaller meals. Easier said than done, I know… I also used technology to help a bit: the Wii balance board computes and plot my weight automatically. In my case, having daily feedback regarding my weight helps me keep the fat off.
- Moderate exercise seems to be about the very best thing you can do for your health. When they compared twins, one of which was sedentary, they found that the active twin was much healthier. There is a lot of debate as to what type of exercise is best… some people prefer lifting weights, others prefer running…
For men, it appears that lifting weights is a good idea because it increases naturally your testosterone levels. It does not follow that having huge muscles is necessarily your best objective however. There seems to be no evidence that body builders are healthier than golfers.
I try to spend my days standing up. Ideally, I only sit two hours a day or less. I suspect that in 20 years, we will look back at office workers sitting all day the same way as we look at people who smoke today: don’t they know this is killing them?
One especially important aspect of exercise is that it preserves your balance. Dangerous accidents happen when you lose your balance. It is amazing how fast your balance goes to hell if you are sedentary.
Is exercise important if you never have to do strenuous tasks and maintain a good weight? Yes. Exercise improves cognition. So if you are an intellectual, you need to be working out. Also exercise appears to significantly reduce your risks of several age-related diseases such as osteoporosis. It seems to keep your sex drive alive.
- Near where I live, there are a few stores that sell supplements. As a geek, I find much appeal in the idea that you could “self-medicate” by assembling a bunch of pills. Futurists like Kurzweil like that very much.
Sadly, taking supplements is not only likely to be a waste of money, it is also likely to be shortening your life. Remember the craze around taking anti-oxidants? Yes, your body suffers from oxidation, especially when you are “old” (after 25). A common sign of chronic oxidation is white hair. Your hair is being “oxidized” and turns white as a result. But notice how taking anti-oxidants does not reverse white hair? In fact, supplementing with anti-oxidants (in general) is almost surely harmful. However, eating food naturally containing anti-oxidants (e.g., brocoli) is probably good for you.
Mineral supplements, like calcium, seem like a good idea. You would think that your body would use the minerals it needs and leave the rest. Sadly, it does not appear to work in this manner. It looks like many mineral supplements increase your risks of having cancer, even if the presence of these minerals in your regular food is not cancer causing.
Some very specific supplements might be helpful however. I personally take a small amount of vitamin D every day. Taken in the morning, vitamin D significantly improves my sleep. There does not seem to be any evidence that, in moderation, vitamin D is harmful. (Megadoses are definitively harmful.)
When working out, I take some creatine. Creatine is known to improve muscle mass and it “might” help your brain. As far as I can tell, it is entirely safe otherwise. I only take small quantities, and not every day.
I also take small doses of aspirin daily. These have the potential to be harmful in many ways, and may cause haemorrhages… but aspirin lowers your risk of certain cancers and protects your heart. I figure that I would rather die from an haemorrhage than cancer or heart attack.
- Some exposure to the sun appears useful but it causes skin damages that we do not yet know how to reverse. It is probably wise to wear sun glasses and a hat to protect your eyes, but you do want to go outside regularly. Nature walks appear to be especially beneficial.
There are a few things that are coming that should help us a great deal:
- Health monitoring is crude today, outside critical care. I can measure my blood pressure and my heart rate from time to time… but that is unlikely to be very helpful.
Thankfully, bracelets that can keep track of your sleep and heart rate are already available. Clearly, that is only the beginning. We are going to see more and more devices that track our health simply because the financial incentives are there and the technology is ready.
The possibilities are endless. Devices could monitor skin condition, muscle tone, inflammation, hair color, scent, hormone levels… Though some of these measures are intrusive, we can find ways to make them part of our daily lives without making a mess.
The holy grail would be devices that can diagnose cancer or heart conditions in the very early stages and monitor progression continuously.
Given enough data, smart software could provide useful actionable advice. For example, you could be advised as to what you should not eat in the next few days.
- Soon we will all get our genome and microbiome sequenced. With a detailed analysis, you will be able to predict how you might react to a medication, or how likely your to suffer from some diseases. It won’t be perfect, but it might increase your odds.
- Current medical research is typically based on dozens of patients at a time. Hundreds at most. A few studies follow thousands of people, but they are rare. In the future, we will be able to monitor and follow thousands if not millions of people with the same condition along with complete genome and microbiome information. And we will not just get weekly blood tests or such silliness. I mean that we will be able to follow people hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute.
(Privacy is an issue, but better health trumps privacy any day. Ask people who suffer from a deadly disease.)
Human beings are only going to get collectively healthier if we embrace science and technology.
Further reading: Stop the clock by Mangan.
Warning: This blog post is an opinion piece, not medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before making any change to your life. I am not a medical professional. If you follow any of my advice, you may die. Do not trust random people from the Internet with your health!