Healthy living: Does it work? Or, Does Heredity Control Your Future?
The scientific evidence that supports the conclusion that healthy living through prevention, natural immunity, and the holistic medicine of natural health does indeed work in some areas of health and wellness is very suggestive of a strong benefit.
An editorial in JAMA [Rimm, 2004], however, did a great job of recapping the existing evidence to date on the wellness benefits of healthy living.
Prior studies have shown that "increases in chronic disease rates among migrants from traditional to Westernized cultures demonstrate that relatively swift changes in disease rates cannot be attributed solely to genetic differences between populations. Instead, they are likely due to differences in lifestyle, with dietary factors and physical activity the leading candidates." People are not victims of their DNA, but are rather architects of their own health future through epigenetics empowered by living a healthy lifestyle.
But does healthy living, changes in diet, and other lifestyle factors work even in the elderly? A JAMA study [Knoops, 2004] showed "that in European men and women aged 70 through 90 years adherence to a Mediterranean diet pattern, moderate alcohol consumption, nonsmoking status, and physical activity each were associated with a lower rate of all-cause mortality. Taken together, the combination was associated with a mortality rate of about one third that of those with none or only one of these protective factors. ... In this European study, only participants who remained free of chronic disease into their 70s and 80s were included for analysis. Even in this highly selected population, adherence to a healthful lifestyle prolonged life.""Although the results may seem simply too good to be true, given the 20-fold or more differences in coronary rates across countries, such results for dietary change are entirely plausible."
The Power of Healthy Living
An article in USA Today likewise commented on the health benefits of healthy living:
"Mortality rates were 65% lower among elderly people who combined a so-called Mediterranean diet with 30 minutes of daily exercise, moderate drinking and no tobacco use.
Although experts say there is no single Mediterranean diet, doctors say cuisines from these regions favor olive oil rather than butter and include lots of legumes, nuts, seeds, [whole-]grains, fish, vegetables and potatoes but little meat and dairy.
The study was conducted from 1988 to 2000 and led by researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and other European universities. More than 2,300 healthy people ages 70 to 90 answered questions about their eating habits and activities. Researchers noted that the study suggests a strong association between healthy habits and longer life but offers no proof." [Szabo, 2004]
The same editorial in JAMA [Rimm, 2004] said that in another JAMA study[Esposito, 2004] a change in diet enabled real people to recover from Syndrome-X. Patients suffering from Syndrome-X were subjected to a "Mediterranean-style diet" that was compared to a "cardiac-prudent diet with fat intake less than 30%".
"Physical activity increased equally in both groups. After 2 years, body weight decreased more in the [Mediterranean-style diet] intervention group than in the control group, but even after controlling for weight loss, inflammatory markers and insulin resistance declined more in the intervention than in the control group, while endothelial function improved. Only 40 patients in the intervention group [out of the 90 who started the study] still had metabolic syndrome [i.e., Syndrome-X] after 2 years compared with 78 [out of 90] patients on the control diet. These results suggest a plausible mechanism for the beneficial effects of the Mediterranean diet."
"Growing evidence supports an independent link between these sedentary behaviors and risk of obesity, chronic disease, and mortality."
In conclusion: "Although understanding of the relation of lifestyle and health outcomes will continue to be refined, information available now is sufficient to take action. Knoop et al have identified a simple set of [Healthy] lifestyle practices that can reduce the mortality rate among elderly individuals by nearly two thirds."
Healthy living is all about what you eat, drink, and your level of physical activity. And, whether you regularly engage in behaviors that are well known to be bad for your health and wellness, such as smoking.
Lifestyle works for one thing because at least 40 plant-based dietary components, and phytochemicals have been identified that can turn genes on and off. These substances consist of things like amino acids, ginseng extract, the carotenoid lycopene, the component curcumin of turmeric spice, pomegranate juice, and fish oil.
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- Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ. Diet, lifestyle, and longevity--the next steps? JAMA. 2004 Sep 22;292(12):1490-2. PMID: 15383521 [Online]
- Knoops KTB, deGroot LCPGM, Kromhout D, et al. Mediterranean diet, lifestyle factors, and 10-year mortality in elderly European men and women: the HALE project. JAMA. 2004;292:1433-1439. [Online]
- Esposito K, Marfella R, Ciotola M, et al. Effect of a Mediterranean-style diet on endothelial dysfunction and markers of vascular inflammation in the metabolic syndrome: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2004;292:1440-1446. [Online]
- Liz Szabo, USA Today, We should all eat like a Mediterranean, 9/22/2004.
- Diet, nutrients, phytochemicals, and cancer metastasis suppressor genes.
Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2012 Jun 13. [Epub ahead of print]