This story first appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Google director of engineering Ray Kurzweil, 67, also the author of seven futurism books, takes 180 to 250 vitamins and mineral pills a day. Why? He believes that we can live forever with the right nutrients and antioxidants in our systems. He predicted the popularity of the Internet in 1990 and now forecasts that over the next decade, a breakthrough in nanotechnology will let us replace aging organs, increasing life span significantly. In the meantime, to stay healthy, youthful and clearheaded, much of current conventional wisdom still holds: Say yes to eight hours of zzz’s; antioxidants found in green tea, pomegranates and blueberries; a Mediterranean diet of nuts, legumes, vegetables, fruit and olive oil — and say no to processed foods and sugared soda. The latter could have the same aging effect on your telomeres — the parts of chromosomes that affect aging — as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. So as developments in nanobots and stem-cell technology continue over the next few-to-10 years, top medical experts offer tips that anyone can embrace right now.
Those Gluten-Free Fanatics Are on to Something
➻ Many experts agree that inflammation is a big culprit in aging, weight gain, disease and even wrinkles. Normally, inflammation is a healthy response to injury, but everything from stress to sugar can push it into overdrive, provoking the immune system into attacking healthy cells — and accelerating the body’s aging process. In his best-seller Grain Brain, neurologist David Perlmutter says a diet filled with wheat inflames your gut, which in turn possibly causes early Alzheimer’s and dementia: “Now we know what you put in your gut can affect your brain.” Internist Keith Roach, RealAge Test co-creator (with Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen), takes eliminating ingredients further with the low-Fodmap diet. Fodmaps are hard-to-digest carbohydrate molecules (i.e., gluten, as well as artichoke, asparagus, eggplant and cheese, among other foods) that not only upset delicate digestive systems but also bring the wrong bacteria to the gut, leading to systemic inflammation. Gravitate instead toward bean sprouts, cucumbers, oranges, chicken, beef, salmon, trout and shrimp (IBSdiets.org has a full guide).
No Duh: Exercise Is the Fountain of Youth
➻ That’s what science writer Bruce Grierson — author of What Makes Olga Run?, a book about 94-year-old Canadian track star Olga Kotelko, who plans on living to 120 — concludes: “Exercise shores up the brain and hippocampus,” keeping memory sharp and preventing Alzheimer’s, and can lengthen life span “by four to eight years on average.” Adds Roach: “Even people who start to exercise in middle age become stronger and ‘younger.’ ” As for specific guidelines, anti-aging pioneer and Beverly Hills gynecologist Uzzi Reiss advises cardio for 30 minutes every three days for metabolism; a sprint on the treadmill or elliptical every other day; and weights — till muscles fail — three times a week. Most importantly, eliminate belly fat: It can affect your memory and double your risk for Alzheimer’s, says Dr. Gary Small, brain fitness expert at UCLA: “Fat cells increase inflammation in the brain cells.” To lose belly fat fast, eat fiber, skip the sugar and pasta and, duh, exercise.
Skin’s Biggest Enemy? Stress
➻ “Stress existed for when a woolly mammoth attacked you,” says Dr. Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic — one of the U.S.’ top four hospitals and research centers. “Stress is there for acute survival, but it increases blood sugar, blood pressure, arterial aging and the stress hormone cortisone,” which can compromise your immune system; cause depression and memory loss; and help form free radicals, which attack the collagen that keeps skin supple. USC’s Dr. Pinchas Cohen says the only practicable things that work to decrease stress are yoga and meditation. Yoga three times a week is ideal, but even 15 minutes a day can help. New York dermatologist Debbie Palmer advises meditating 10 minutes in the morning and after lunch. Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz‘s osteopath, Vicky Vlachonis, urges patients to purge negative emotions via meditation, acupuncture or cupping because “negative emotion can trigger inflammation.”
Big Lunches, Small Dinners
➻ UCLA nutrition expert Dr. David Heber is high on protein: “My top tip for slowing aging is to get enough protein at meals: 25 grams.” Load up early at breakfast with unsweetened Greek yogurt (one cup has up to 27 grams of protein) or six egg whites (18 grams of protein with yolk). Protein at lunch — beef, fish or tofu — is more important than at dinner because “After dinner, it gets excreted without being used.” That means your body doesn’t benefit from eating all that protein at night.
Eat More of These …
➻ Lutein, contained in spinach, avocados, kale and brussels sprouts, promotes brain health and keeps eyesight sharp, says Heber: “At least half a cup of spinach for lutein and zeaxanthin once or twice a week may reduce age-related macular degeneration.”
➻ Kelp and seaweed, says Santa Monica-based anti-aging expert and doctor of nutrition Mao Shing Ni, are rich in minerals, protein and omega fatty acids and are supplanting kale as a superfood: “There’s been longevity research in Okinawa, and one of its biggest diet elements is seaweed.” The plant also contains vitamins A and C, calcium and iodine, which keep your thyroid healthy and energy-boosting hormone levels optimal. You can find seaweed in kombu salad, miso soup and sushi in Japanese restaurants, plus these days seaweed snacks stock the aisles of Trader Joe’s.
➻ Fermented foods, such as kombucha tea, sauerkraut and kimchi, contain vitamin B and omega-3 fatty acids, says Dr. Mao, who also recommends fermenting your own veggies: “Fermenting creates probiotics necessary for repairs to your body. You add an enzyme with starter bacteria — it’s not dissimilar to making yogurt.”
➻ Bone broth, another hot food trend touted by LeBron James, is rich in amino acids and coats the intestinal lining to help heal what Mao calls “leaky gut syndrome,” which allows aging toxins and microbes to leak through the bowel lining. Some credit bone broth with helping grow your nails and preventing pretty much every ailment, from diabetes to lupus. West Hollywood’s Harvey’s Guss Meat Co. owner Harvey Gussman says he’s seen a spike in beef- and veal-bone sales in the past year: “A lot of people are starting to make broth out of them. I sold 5 pounds of bones each to three different people this week alone.”
But Eat Less in General
➻ It’s often been reported that restricted-calorie tests done on worms and mice can expand life span by 35 to 50 percent, but there are easier ways for humans to live longer than consuming 40 percent fewer calories. USC Longevity Institute’s Dr. Valter Longo recommends fasting four or five days once a year under medical supervision. This can regenerate your immune system by triggering the body to produce new infection-fighting white blood cells, he says. Other experts say an occasional one- to three-day fast is more than enough.
➻ Dr. Mao recommends bee pollen for the skin: “It’s anti-aging, good for allergies and boosts immunity.” (Mario Badescu makes a bee-pollen cream, $18.) Mao also likes acupuncture for the face: “It increases collagen, improves circulation, even gets rid of fine lines.”
➻ Dr. Palmer considers vitamin C and coffee berry to be the kings of antioxidants, which fight the free radicals that destroy skin-firming collagen. (SkinCeuticals has a good vitamin C product.) Famed New York derm Dennis Gross agrees, adding that a 2 percent vitamin C gel applied to the face is 200 times more potent than consuming a 600-milligram pill. He also has this difficult-to-pull-off advice: “The best way to turn back the clock on aging skin is to apply antioxidants every time you drink an alcoholic beverage” — which is very dehydrating for the skin.
Hormone Therapy: To Do or Not to Do?
➻ While many doctors agree that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and bioidentical HRT (the “natural” version) significantly increase the risk of breast cancer, heart disease and stroke, Reiss nevertheless recommends it “even to women with breast cancer.” A Hollywood champion of bioidentical HRT, Reiss likes it for women and men, starting at ages 45 to 50: “Hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone can revive the energy we had when we were young.” Adds Suzanne Somers, 68, who has reinvented herself as an anti-aging guru: “No one wants to lose their ‘juice.’ ” Reiss also recommends human growth hormone (from $8,000 a year): “Studies show that if you take it, you live longer.” It’s said to give you more energy, tighter skin and a recharged libido. Regardless, caveat emptor.
Think Younger Thoughts
➻ In 1981, Harvard social psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer conducted studies that put over-70-years-olds in an environment straight out of 1959. They were told to imagine they were 22 years younger and were treated that way, with no mirrors to remind them otherwise. The result? Their memories, attitudes and health markedly improved. Why? Says Langer: “All the data suggests our minds are far more powerful than most of us realize. I think we will soon be able to prevent many ailments just from the mind-body connection.” Another leading researcher in the psychology of aging, Yale’s Becca Levy, has been working on proving that self-perceptions about aging influence how long we live, our memory and risk of heart disease. So while society waits for stem cells to make us younger, start thinking younger. No matter what age you are.