Category Archives: CRON

How to Age Gracefully

Antonio Zamora – Age 67

A large percentage of people who are retired or close to retirement take medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, digestive problems, and other chronic conditions that have developed over their lifetime.  If you listen to the drug commercials during the national evening news, this is normal, but it should not be.  Many of the diseases that we associate with old age are the result of bad diet, exposure to harmful chemicals, and lack of exercise.

Optimum Nutrition
Your diet should include enough protein and essential fatty acids to maintain a normal weight.  The large number of overweight people all around us distorts our notion of what is a normal weight.  Use this Body Mass Index (BMI) Calculator to determine whether your weight is in the normal range.

BMI Calculator

Learn about Optimum Nutrition

You should engage in 30 minutes of vigorous exercise at least three to four times per week.  Exercise improves your coordination and your muscle strength.  Exercise also keeps you lungs and circulatory system in good working condition.  But be careful.  Avoid getting injured from strenuous or high-impact exercises.

Keep Active Socially and Mentally
As you age, you will need to maintain a good social network.  Many people who live to a ripe old age become depressed when they feel isolated as their friends and relatives start dying.  You can keep engaged by volunteering to teach young people, or by participating in social organizations that make you feel useful.

Try to stay healthy
The two most common causes of death are heart disease and cancer.  If you can avoid these two dangers, you have a good chance of living a long life.  Many cardiovascular diseases can be avoided by maintaining a normal weight and exercising regularly.  The risk of cancer can be reduced by avoiding substances that damage your cellular DNA and cause tumors, such as the chemicals in tobacco.

Learn How Others Do It!
One of the best ways to learn how to age gracefully is to constantly explore the concept with those who are indeed aging gracefully. You can always read about famous people and celebrities, but remember that with vast wealth comes the ability to hire all sorts of people to keep you looking and feeling fabulous.
Read about the oldest person alive and see what helps “normal” people age gracefully.

Learn how to reduce cancer risks through diet and lifestyle changes

Protein Restriction or High Protein for Longevity?

Studies have consistently shown that dietary restriction (also called calorie restriction) reduces oxidative damage to mitochondrial DNA and increases maximum longevity.  Only protein restriction is responsible for the decrease in oxidative damage; the restriction of carbohydrates or lipids does not reduce oxidative stress or increase maximum longevity.  Some studies have looked at the amino acid components of protein and have found that reduced intake of the amino acid methionine plays a major role in the decrease in mitochondrial damage and increase in longevity.

Some researchers conclude that the intake of proteins (and thus methionine) of Western human populations is much higher than needed, and that decreasing the levels could reduce tissue oxidative stress and increase healthy life span in humans.[4]  While this recommendation seems to make sense theoretically, it also is in direct conflict with the statistical findings of nutritional surveys.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein, established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the United States National Academy of Science, is 0.8 g protein/kg body weight/day for adults, regardless of age.  The 1994-96 Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals[1] found that protein intake was significantly below recommended levels.  The following table has the percentages of white males and females below 75% of the RDA and below 100% of the RDA.  The percentages of deficient black Americans were even higher.

Protein Below 75% Below 100%
20-39 5.3 15.3
40-59 6.6 18.5
60 and over 10.4 29.6
20-39 10.4 27.5
40-59 13.0 29.8
60 and over 15.8 35.9

The statistics show that the deficiencies increased with age.  A large proportion of senior citizens are seriously deficient in meeting their minimum essential protein requirements and suffer health problems and complications like:

  • Sarcopenia (muscle wasting; weakness, poor balance)
  • Osteoporosis (weak bones; fracture and hospitalization)
  • Dementia (loss of mental function; loss of cognition)
  • Immune dysfunction (vulnerbility to infectious disease)

Inadequate protein intake results in loss of body cell mass, decreased muscle function, and lower immune response.  On the other hand, supplementing the diets of patients with hip fractures with 20 grams of protein decreased time in a rehabilitation hospital and reduced the rate of loss of bone mineral density.  Higher protein intakes were associated with decreased risk for hip fracture in postmenopausal women.  A study of 2066 men and women aged 70–79 years found that participants in the highest quintile of protein intake lost approximately 40% less lean mass than did those in the lowest quintile of protein intake.  The study concluded that dietary protein may be a modifiable risk factor for sarcopenia in older adults.[3]

Concerns about potential detrimental effects of increased protein intake on bone health, renal function, neurological function and cardiovascular function are generally unfounded. In fact, many of these factors are improved in elderly ingesting elevated quantities of protein. An intake of 1.5 g protein/kg/day, or about 15-20% of total caloric intake, is a reasonable target for elderly individuals wishing to optimize protein intake in terms of health and function.[2]

There are some practitioners of Calorie Restriction with Optimum Nutrition (CRON) who are experimenting with various approaches for reducing protein.  Besides lowering the proportion of protein in their diet, they may also select vegetable sources of protein which are generally lower in methionine than animal proteins.  The consequences of misjudging the minimum protein requirements with advancing age can result in shorter life rather than longevity.  Thus far, the evidence for greater health in old age seems to be on the side of higher protein levels, and let us not forget that methionine is considered an “essential” amino acid.

Learn more about Amino Acids and Proteins

[1] 1994-96 Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals

[2] Wolfe RR, Miller SL, Miller KB, Optimal protein intake in the elderly,
Clin Nutr. 2008 Oct;27(5):675-84. Epub 2008 Sep 25, PMID: 18819733

[3] Houston DK, Nicklas BJ, Ding J, Harris TB, Tylavsky FA, Newman AB, et al, Dietary protein intake is associated with lean mass change in older, community-dwelling adults: the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 87, No. 1, 150-155, January 2008

[4] López-Torres M, Barja G, Lowered methionine ingestion as responsible for the decrease in rodent mitochondrial oxidative stress in protein and dietary restriction possible implications for humans, Biochim Biophys Acta. 2008 Nov;1780(11):1337-47. Epub 2008 Jan 18., PMID: 18252204

Balancing Daily Life with Calorie Restriction

Yesterday, an old friend invited me for lunch.  The lunch consisted of a bowl of creamed cauliflower spiced with curry powder, a pickled herring rollmop on a slice of French baguette, and a tossed salad with lettuce, radishes, two kinds of olives, quartered tomatoes, and vinaigrette dressing.  Overall, it was a very tasty and healthy lunch.

And then came dessert… There were some chocolates and mini-cupcakes.  I ate half a cupcake, which was basically two small bites, and my friend ate the other half.  She went to the refrigerator and pulled out a container with individually wrapped ice cream bars covered with dark Dove chocolate.  I declined.

My friend, who is quite thin and survived World War II, cocked her head slightly to one side, and with a sly smile asked me “Do you think that you will live one extra day if you don’t eat this?”  Knowing that there are no guarantees in life, I took the ice cream bar and enjoyed it.

Many of the things that happen in life are highly improbable.  If you think about how you met your best friend, or how you met your wife or husband, you will find a long trail of events that had to coincide for things to be the way they are today.   The probability of each of those events is very minuscule, and the combination of all of them together could almost be regarded as a miracle.  By planning for the future, we feel that we are in control of our life, but undoubtedly along the way, circumstances beyond our control will arise that will change our whole life.  We will adapt, and we will continue planning.

Learn about Calorie Restriction

Nutrition enhances longevity and requires financial planning

Last July, Larry Haubner from Fredericksburg, Virginia celebrated his 107th birthday.  He credits his longevity to good nutrition and exercise.  Haubner exercises daily using some old equipment that he keeps in his room and he takes no medications.  The doctor who treats him for free says that he is in good health and that he will probably live a lot longer.

The only problem is that Haubner is broke.  The assisted living center where he lives costs $3,500 per month.  Two years ago, supporters raised $56,000 to help Haubner stay at the center, but the money has run out, and he is still alive.  Haubner never married and has no surviving family or friends who can help him financially.  He receives $1,200 in monthly pension and Social Security payments, but that is not enough to cover his expenses at the assisted living facility.  Without more help, he will have to apply for Medicaid and move to a nursing home.

Calorie Restriction with Optimum Nutrition (CRON) has been shown to extend longevity in many species.  There are many people practicing caloric restriction with the objective of living longer lives in good health, but Social Security is also running out of money.  In recognition of the fact that people are living longer, the age for receiving Social Security has been progressively extended.  Retirement age used to be 65, but it is now 66 for persons born between 1943 and and 1954.  The retirement age will be 67 for those born after 1959.

As Americans get older, the number of people paying into Social Security is decreasing, and the Social Security trust fund will begin to spend more money than it takes in through tax revenue in 2016.  The trust fund from which Social Security payments are made will be unable to pay retirees full benefits by 2037, and the program that subsidizes disabled Americans will run out of money in 2020.

If you are planning to live a long life, you better save a lot of money to finance your old age.

Learn how to budget your income

How to lose weight and keep it off

Our metabolism slows down as we age, and if we keep eating like when we were young, we eventually get fat.  Many studies have shown that people over the age of 50 appear to gradually lose muscle mass and gain weight. Paul Williams of the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) investigated the question of whether vigorous exercise can prevent weight gain with age.  The study showed that in 4,769 runners between the ages of 18 and 50, weight gain occurred at the same rate regardless of the number of miles run per week. The average six-foot-tall man gained about 3.3 pounds and about 3/4 inches around the waist every 10 years.

So, exercise is not the answer to keeping weight off.  But we already knew that.  Moderately vigorous exercise burns up only around 400 calories per hour which is about the number of calories in a medium size serving of McDonald’s French Fries.  We can eat more calories in five minutes than we can lose in one hour of exercise.  The way to keep the weight off is to limit what we eat.

I read a recent post in Mary Robinson’s CRON Diary. Mary has been a practitioner of Calorie Restriction with Optimum Nutrition (CRON) for many years, but over the past couple of years her life has changed substantially.  Her son moved away to go to college, she retired, moved from the Washington, D.C. area to Austin, Texas, and she took in her mother to live with her.  All these changes destabilized the predictable routine that made it possible for her to control her diet.  The weight gain sneaked up on her.  She says:

“I am going to return to square one on CR – well maybe square three. I’ve just gotten lazy about it and have let the vacation atmosphere of my current situation, my mom’s slightly bad influence, Austin cuisine, and being home all day with easy access to the kitchen all derail me to some extent. The level of vigilance that was working reasonably well when I was working in Washington just does not work for me here. I’ve continued to slowly gain weight and now I weigh 8 pounds more than I did during my “golden” period of 3 or 4 years, when my weight was very stable.”

Can you count the number of excuses in that paragraph?  Vacation atmosphere, mom’s influence, Austin cuisine, being at home all day, access to the kitchen…  Weight gain happens so slowly that we hardly notice it.  An extra 50 calories per day will result in a weight gain of one-pound in just over two months.  That is just one extra slice of bread per day!  The 3.3 pounds that the runners gained over 10 years corresponds to a gain of only 1/3 of a pound per year which is really imperceptible.  It corresponds to 3.2 extra calories per day or about an extra teaspoon of sugar.

Here is Mary’s impression of weight gain:

“What’s interesting to me is that I don’t seem fatter to myself. I still look slim, as far as I can see. I guess I’ve gained it so slowly that I am used to it, and my weight is still good for my height. Some of my clothes are a little tight, though, which always provides good incentive to get back on careful CR!”

What is the secret to keeping weight off?  The answer is simple: An accurate scale that can show tenths of a pound.  Weigh yourself every morning after going to the bathroom and before eating or drinking anything.  This is how you can monitor how your diet affects your weight.  If you pig out, the scale will show it.  If you stay a little bit hungry, the scale will show your weight loss.  Don’t expect to see big changes from day to day. Variations of half a pound may occur due to water retention or dehydration.  It is the trend that matters.  You will probably find that you have to be hungry several hours per day in order to maintain a constant weight as you age.

Learn about Weight Control

Vegan Diets and Recipes

Zenpawn Vegan Blog
Zenpawn Vegan Blog

I just received the first issue of a one-year subscription to E – The Environmental Magazine.  I won this subscription from a raffle among people who contributed vegan recipes to Erin Dame for his vegan cookbooks.  Erin has published a book of recipes called Vegan Done Light and he manages the vegan blog

Erin’s blog discusses veganism, raw food, calorie restriction, and interesting topics about diet.

Traditional Mexican staples include beans, rice, corn, tomatoes, and hot peppers.  The vegan recipes that I submitted were some classic Mexican dishes like guacamole, salsa, and an unusual bean soup with beer.  You can find these vegan recipes and many other international dishes here:

Conversation with a 95-year old

Lillian Marion
Lillian Marion

This weekend, I met Lillian Marion, a lady who recently retired at age 95 from her business as an interior designer for very famous people.  She would have continued working, but her son, who is a plastic surgeon, told her that she should retire because he was afraid that she could fall and break a hip.

So what does Lillian do now?  She travels from New York to Las Vegas and to Atlantic City.  She spends time at the casinos, stays up all night playing the slot machines and has a great time even though she has not won any big jackpots.

I told her that I belonged to the Calorie Restriction Society whose members starve themselves because research shows that eating less increases lifespan, and that the members are also interested in finding out about the lifestyle of older people to find out whether it takes more than genetics to live a long life.

When I asked to what she attributed her longevity, she said that every day she walked six or seven blocks and ate some ice cream.  What else does she eat?   “I don’t eat anything that I don’t like”, she said.  I observed what she took from the buffet.  She selected pan-grilled scallops on a bed of rice, a small tuna salad sandwich, and some smoked lox that she left on the plate.  She drank some tea with cream, and had a puff pastry topped with glazed fresh fruits on top, but she gave away the fruit because she does not like fruits.

Lillian walks with a cane, some of the joints in her hands have been slightly deformed by arthritis, but she is vivacious and her mind is clear.   She takes pride in dressing very well, as you can tell from her designer glasses and exquisite brooch and rings.  If you get her talking about politics, watch out!  She has some strong opinions.

Thanksgiving Resolution – Yearly health check up

Antonio Zamora - Age 66
Antonio Zamora – Age 66

Once a year, it is good to have a physical check up.  The purpose of the check up is to determine if something is not quite right, and if so, to take steps to correct it.  The most common thing that people find out from a yearly checkup is that their weight has increased.

Gaining a few pounds each year may not seem like a big deal, but over time it can lead to obesity.  An increased amount of fat tissue starts releasing hormones that change the metabolism, and obesity is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Over the last year I gained two pounds.  Two pounds may sound trivial, but an increase of two pounds per year over 10 years would be 20 pounds.  By reducing my food by 100 Calories per day, I should be able to lose those two pounds in about two months while maintaining my current level of activity.  Life is full of choices.  Should I give up my daily slice of home-made bread with raw honey or the dark chocolate square?  Maybe I will just cut my portions in half.

We always have to sacrifice for what we want.  In the past, I have been overweight, but I feel healthier when I am lean.  I have to seek the right balance between asceticism and hedonism.  In any case, by next year I expect to be at my normal weight.  That’s my Thanksgiving Resolution.

Effect of SIRT1 genes on neurodegenerative diseases and cancer

Dr. Leonard Guarente
Dr. Leonard Guarente

Today, I attended a lecture at the National Institutes of Health by Dr. Leonard Guarente of MIT.  Dr. Guarente has dedicated his career to the study of the molecular mechanisms that affect life span and the development of the diseases associated with aging.  One of his particular interests is the study of mammalian SIRT genes that are involved in changes in stress resistance and metabolism known to be associated with Calorie Restriction (CR). The CR diet not only extends life span in rodents, but also protects against many diseases of aging, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, cancer and osteoporosis.

Dr. Guarente described recent findings in his laboratory regarding SIRT1 function in specific mammalian tissues and in specific disease models.  Dr. Guarente’s lab has recently shown that genetic interventions that enhance the activity of the mammalian sirtuin SIRT1 can mitigate major diseases of aging in mice, such as neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.  Increased expression of the SIRT1 gene in experimental animals was able to decrease cancer, decrease the formation of beta amyloid plaque in the brain, and decrease osteoporosis, but overexpression of the gene was fatal.  It seems that there is an optimum amount of gene expression which promotes health, and that too much is actually worse.

Dr. Guarente posed with me for this photograph.  When I told him that I was a member of the Calorie Restriction Society, he said: “You don’t look too thin.”  I answered that I was not an extreme dieter, and that I only restricted about 10 percent.

Antonio Zamora and Dr. Leonard Guarente

Is there a cure for Biological Aging?

Age 21 Age 64
Hairy and handsome at 21 vs. bald and gray at 65

I recently got an enthusiastic letter from a visitor to my web site who had read the pages about Calorie Restriction (CR) to slow down aging.  He had some questions about resveratrol and other nutritional supplements.  He also had these other things to say:

Do you really believe that the first person to live to 1000 years could be in their 60’s today? (could it be you?)

I’m 22 and am pretty interested in anti-aging. I’d like to stay 22 for the rest of my life. I think with the help you give on your website and maybe even high doses of resveratrol within the next few years. I could stay young long enough to “cure” and maybe even reverse aging.

I believe there’s so much to live for. Technological singularity, colonizing the moon, terraforming Mars, warping space and traveling light years within hours or minutes. We could occupy the Gliese’s and beyond. Maybe map the whole universe! Isn’t all of this worth trying to live to see?

First of all, I am not in favor of taking large doses of anything.  I believe that evolution has fine-tuned the chemical processes in our body and that we can easily upset the balance that gives us life and consciousness.  Also, although I am enthusiastic about technological progress, I am very disappointed about how we are treating the Earth and I think that this will eventually reduce the chance of human survival.  I believe that our way of life will be significantly altered and all the societies on Earth will see dramatic changes due to global warming in 50 or 100 years.  The sea level will rise, and an exodus of people from the coastal areas will begin.  There will be scarcities, homelessness, and human tragedies in a scale that will dwarf what happened in New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Some nations will completely disappear under water.  Half of Florida will be submerged. The buildings in Miami will serve as reefs for tropical fish.  In order to live to the age of 1000 years, we would first need to survive the man-made catastrophes that await us as a result of pollution, overfishing, and deforestation.

Last June, I wrote about Aubrey de Gray who is very optimistic about life extension and thinks of aging as a disease that can be overcome using Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS).  These are some of his ideas about aging:

Biological aging is a progressive, degenerative process of decay, in which the healthy cellular and molecular order laid down in our youth slowly falls apart in the face of accumulating aging damage to its functional structures. This damage is a series of unintended biochemical side-effects of normal metabolism. As more and more of our cellular and molecular structures suffer this damage, functionality is lost, and health, resilience, and vitality are slowly taken away from us, leading to increasing age-related pathology.

This is Aubrey de Grey’s Engineering Solution to Biological Aging:

Instead of interfering with the metabolic processes that ongoingly cause aging damage (the “gerontological” approach) or fighting a losing battle to keep badly damaged bodies from falling apart altogether (the “geriatric”, conventional medical approach), the “engineering” strategy is based on the direct repair, replacement, or rendering harmless of the damaged structures themselves. In this approach, metabolism still causes ongoing damage, but the total burden of such damage is repaired well enough to prevent eventual pathology indefinitely.

As I look at myself in the mirror and I compare myself to my old photographs, I can see that my first signs of aging started at 25.  Should a person start preventive senescence engineering at age 25?  If not, how do you get back the hair that you have lost?  Another sign of aging is when your hair starts getting gray.  The body stops producing hair pigment.  This means that something in your body has stopped working.  I am not very optimistic about SENS, but if as a first step these scientists come up with a way of preventing baldness and gray hairs, then I will believe that the “engineering” strategy has further potential.  Until then, I will remain highly skeptical.